How to Lose Friends and Influence People

It wouldn’t hurt the woke left to be a little more pragmatic.

Democratic congresswoman Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts speaks at an event in Cambridge, September 8, 2018
Democratic congresswoman Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts speaks at an event in Cambridge, September 8, 2018 (Warren for President)

Social justice warriors can be their own worst enemies.

For the first time, an openly gay man is running for president in America — but queer activists like Greta LaFleur and Dale Peck (whose article was pulled from The New Republic for its obscenity) are still unhappy. Pete Buttigieg is white, married and middle-class, and therefore somehow not gay enough.

The current United States Congress is the most diverse ever, but for Massachusetts congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (one of the Democratic lawmakers President Donald Trump shamefully told to “go back” to their own countries, no matter that she was born in Ohio), this isn’t enough:

We don’t need any more brown faces that don’t want to be a brown voice. We don’t need black faces that don’t want to be a black voice. We don’t need Muslims that don’t want to be a Muslim voice. We don’t need queers that don’t want to be a queer voice.

If you thought the point of equality and liberation was that gender, sexual orientation and skin color would one day no longer matter, well, you’re just blind to your own oppression or an Uncle Tom for the patriarchy, heteronormativity, white supremacy — pick your poison.

Changing minds

There are always people who argue for taking it slow. I know I err on the side of caution. That’s because you don’t change people’s minds by hectoring them.

Gay rights didn’t happen because queer activists argued marriage was an instrument of patriarchy and sexuality needed to be liberated from bourgeois values. They happened when ordinary, middle-class gay men stepped out of the closet and convinced ordinary, middle-class straight people that they weren’t a threat.

You don’t convince people to be more welcoming of immigrants by arguing that borders are an artificial construct and patriotism is racist. You do it by showing that immigrants are people just like them who want a better life for themselves and their children.

Backlash

Another reason to be deliberate is that overreach can lead to a backlash, which can lead to rights being taken away again.

Barack Obama allowed transgender Americans to serve openly in the military and receive medical care to transition genders. Trump reversed that policy.

Obama deferred deportations of immigrants brought illegally to the United States as children; so-called Dreamers. Trump rescinded the policy.

Outside America, Vladimir Putin’s Russia has weaponized homophobia. Poland’s ruling conservative party is tapping into the same. Rainbow Europe now ranks the country as the worst for sexual minorities in the EU. Hungary’s government vilifies Jews, Muslims and immigrants. The formerly antisemitic and still-xenophobic National Front is supported by one in four French voters. In Spain, the far right has won seats in Congress for the first time since the end of the Franco dictatorship on a platform of anti-feminism, anti-gay rights and anti-immigration.

Is now really the time for purity tests?

Priorities

After Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, I urged conservatives to make common cause with the center-left to defend liberal democracy. It wouldn’t hurt the woke left to be a little more pragmatic as well.

We can go back to debating the finer points of identity politics once the authoritarians are defeated — but they won’t be if the rest of us can’t get out priorities straight.