By Daniel A. Kaufman
The behavior of some of us on the political left lately makes me wonder whether we are trying to erase all the demographic advantages that should be leading us to electoral and legislative success for the foreseeable future. Indeed, some of what we have been doing is so stupid and aggravating that it’s almost as if we want to hand the upcoming election to Donald Trump. Echoes of freaky McGovernites and the Spiro Agnew set seem impossible to ignore.
The problem is between those who have embraced a deranged form of multiculturalism, “Social Justice Warriors,” and health, safety, and environmental nuts, on one side, and those whose concern is with traditional liberal interests and priorities, on the other. Two examples of recent exchanges I’ve had may illustrate what I am talking about, and I fear that if I have too many more like them, I may pull the Trump lever myself, in a moment of blind, splenetic rage. If one could just give some of these people a good kicking, it might defuse the tension, but with that being impossible today, voting for a foul-mouthed dick like Trump may be the only thing that offers any satisfaction, crude and temporary as it may be. Indeed, I find myself increasingly inclined to think that this is much if not most of The Donald’s appeal – sticking it to self-righteous jerks. Chalk it up as another casualty of the Empire of Nice. (1)
Religion Dispatches, an online, religion-focused magazine, published by UC Annenberg, recently posted an article on a new “hashtag movement” called #Reclaim the Bindi! (2) Apparently, some hippieish white chicks and pop stars have been wearing Bindis – and Saris and other Eastern garb – which excited the ever excitable Social Justice Warrior crowd into collectively shrieking “Racism!” and “Cultural Appropriation!” and starting #Reclaim the Bindi! which, perhaps in the grip of some hallucination, they think is the same as actually doing something.
Unfortunately, the more one tries to figure out what all the outrage is supposed to be about, the less sense it actually makes. When people used to make fun of Indians wearing Bindis, calling them “dot-heads” and the like, it was obviously bad. But now that sexy hippies and top-tier celebrities have started wearing them – when the thing actually has become popular — it’s also supposed to be bad. And not just bad. Hashtag worthy. Callout worthy. In the discussion thread that followed the article, a commenter compared my skepticism about #Reclaim the Bindi! to being a racist and a homophobe and calling people “faggots” and “retards” and worse. When I said that I was a longstanding liberal and unequivocally support same-sex marriage, civil rights, prison reform, ending the drug war, and the like — she told me that she “doubted it.”
Despite having read a number of articles on the subject, I still have no idea what’s supposed to be wrong with cultural appropriation. Every culture does it and always has done it. And with the open, global communications we have today? Every minute, every day, we can see what people around the world are wearing, listening to, watching, reading and the like. How could this not have an influence? How could it not lead to a widespread syncretism? One of the saner commenters in the discussion pointed out that suits and ties are Western and asked whether we should tell people in Japan or China — or India — that they shouldn’t wear them, because it’s “cultural appropriation.” Of course, no one in his right mind would ever say any such thing. This stuff only goes one way. It’s about whichever community is lucky enough to be one of the checklist-people-of-the-month (which can change at any time, so don’t get too comfortable), and the purpose of the movement and all the “campaigns” is to signal to others that one is right with the current checklist. At bottom, it’s not about policy or legislation or even persuasion, but about identifying who “we” (the good people) are and who “they” (the bad people) are. Sort of like peeing on the floor or spraying musk out of your rear end, and exactly the kind of thing that thinking – and liberal — people should not be about.
Encounter with an Anti-Smoking Hysteric
Recently, I was in New York for a few days, helping out my mother, while my father was away on business. I was fortunate enough to be able to steal a half-day to spend with my dear friend and co-founder of The Electric Agora, Dan Tippens, something that I only get to do a handful of times a year.
We crammed as many activities as we could into the short period of time that we had, and one of them included walking from the Upper West Side, across Central Park, to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It was a lovely day and along the way, we decided to sit on an empty park bench and have a nice smoke, the two of us sharing an enthusiasm for high-quality, hand-rolled tobacco. We don’t do it very often, but really enjoy it when we do.
Not two minutes after we had lit up, a small, sixtyish man approached us, literally shaking with rage. He didn’t so much speak as splutter.
“Did you know that it is illegal to smoke in the park?”
“You mean, here? Outside?!”
“Outside, in the park. You’re allowed to smoke outside, on the benches that border the park.”
“Uh… didn’t know that. Thanks for the information.”
“I hope you’ll heed it.”
The man stalked off, and we made our way to the indicated bench, which was just a few yards away from where we had been sitting before, and began to analyze the encounter. What could the point of such behavior possibly be? It couldn’t be that the man feared for his health – for one thing, we were out in the open air, and for another, he had just been walking down a city street, inhaling the carbon monoxide from the scores upon scores of cars and trucks that were passing by at every moment. It couldn’t be that he objected to the odor of our smoke (for the same reason). Could he be some law-and-order type, who felt it was his duty as a patriotic American to bring law breakers to justice? We doubted it – his disheveled but expensive corduroys and tweeds and nebbishy demeanor, when combined with the fact that we were on the Upper West side, just screamed “liberal, wealthy Manhattanite,” and regardless, who chases people down like that, when there’s nothing at stake? I mean, it’s also illegal to drive 40 in a 30, but no one follows violators to the parking lot and accosts them for breaking the law.
The more we talked it over, the more we were forced to conclude that the man simply wanted to spoil our smoke. He hated smoking, hated smokers, and just relished the chance to chase us off, even if what we were doing had no effect on him whatsoever. His petty little gang had won this war and they were going to rule over their turf, which in this case meant the entire city, including the outdoors.
As we came around the front of the museum I noticed a number of people huddled in doorways and alcoves, at the edges of the building, smoking. Who were they? Museum guards. Parking attendants. Janitors. Cooks. All the people who actually work in the Met. Lower class. Blue collar. Exactly the people whose interests liberal, Upper West Side, Bernie! types so loudly claim to care so much about. It made me sick. And it made me want to bash Mr. Upper West Side’s fucking face in … and vote for Donald Trump.
Just yesterday, when listening to NPR, I heard a political analyst remark that Trump’s path to the White House will be paved with the votes of Reagan Democrats – the largely white, blue-collar, labor-oriented, centrist Democrats, who, feeling alienated by the post-1960’s identity-politics driven Democratic Party, crossed over and voted for Ronald Reagan, against Jimmy Carter. (They might as well be called “Nixon Democrats,” as the loss of them also contributed to George McGovern’s disastrous loss to Richard Nixon, a decade earlier.) And I think the analyst was right. If a coalition of hippies, feminists, and black activists wasn’t enough to win a presidential election, back in the early 1970’s, how could anyone in their right mind think a coalition of vegans, health-obsessives, and Social Justice Warriors are going to win one in 2016? The point isn’t just that there simply aren’t enough of these sorts of people to win – and never will be – or that the entire country has shifted to the right since the 1980’s, making their brand of leftism even more far out than the 70’s version, but that they are so obnoxious and irritating and confrontational that it is difficult for more moderate liberals to form any sort of coalition with them.
Perhaps with a skin as thick as the armor on a tank and the patience of a saint, one could put up with the incessant language corrections and health and safety admonitions. Maybe, with the forgiveness of Jesus, one would turn the other cheek to being told constantly that one is transphobic or insufficiently trans-friendly or excessively cis-gender normative or whatever the hell it is this week. But how many people are like this? I’m certainly not. And if Mr. Upper-West Side’s anti-smoking histrionics made me want to vote for Trump, just to spite him, how likely is it that some harmless young woman sporting a Bindi is going to put up with being screamed at for being “racist” and “culturally appropriating” or that some assembly line worker with a nudie calendar in his locker is going to tolerate being accused of “misogyny” and “contributing to the rape culture,” just so that we can all come together to vote for Hillary Clinton?
Not very likely. Which is why I think Trump could win. And if he does, it will be our own damned fault.