In a column published Tuesday, The New York Times’ David Brooks tries to argue that the women and men who marched Saturday were wasting their time on what he dismisses as “mass therapy” and ineffective “identity politics.”
His rationale is basically: Oh, girls with their silly pink hats and trifling concerns, please stop; I know what’s best. Leave this stuff to the men in the political parties.
This is how he puts it: “The marches offered the pink hats, an anti-Trump movement built, oddly, around Planned Parenthood, and lots of signs with the word ‘pussy’ in them. The definition of America is up for grabs. Our fundamental institutions have been exposed as shockingly hollow. But the marches couldn’t escape the language and tropes of identity politics.”
This is a complete misread of what happened around the country on Saturday, when millions of men, women and children ― of all identities ― came together to fight for their rights around a platform that is powerful, far-reaching and economically broad. A platform that strikes back at the heart of what Trump and his administration have already begun to dismantle.
That Brooks can’t see this reveals the failings of his own identity politics ― the perspective of a conservative white guy (a “coastal elite” is how he’d put it) who hasn’t taken the time to consider issues that fall outside what he sees as “important.” Economic concerns that center around, well, the pussy, for example. These include affordable health care, reproductive rights and equal pay for women. They are concerns Brooks himself identifies as critical to the women’s march in his piece. (The other cause he dismisses as narrow identity politics is ― get ready ― global climate change.)
The real political problems, in Brooks’ mind, involve defending values he believes are now under attack from Trump and his followers. “All the big things that were once taken for granted are now under assault: globalization, capitalism, adherence to the Constitution, the American-led global order,” Brooks writes. “If you’re not engaging these issues first, you’re not going to be in the main arena of national life.”
(What is more in the main arena of national life than a massive global march involving millions of women and men of all backgrounds?)
Brooks acknowledges that reproductive rights, health care, climate change, etc., are important, but he quickly writes them off as the concerns of coastal elites.
This is so wrong. These matters aren’t about “identity politics” ― or girly liberal pink stuff ― they are massively important economic issues.
They are of concern to everyone. And they underpin much of the mass anger that push populist leaders like Trump right into office. Perhaps because these are concerns being raised by women who say “pussy” too much, Brooks misses this.
Let us illustrate the economics here by drilling into just one issue: equal pay. This is not simply a concern of elite media writers like me. It is an issue at the macro- and micro-economic level that impacts men and women around the world and here at home.
These issues are of concern to everyone. And they underpin much of the mass anger that push populist leaders like Trump right into office.
In the U.S., women make 80 percent of what white men earn. The percentage is far lower for African-Americans and Hispanics.
This not only affects those who identify as women ― which, by the way, is half of the world. When women make less money, they contribute less to the economy (surely an important issue to smarty-pants men like Brooks). If women participated in the workplace more equally to men, that could add an estimated $2 trillion to the U.S. economy over the next 10 years, according to a report from McKinsey and Company.
Upset the U.S. economy is stagnating? Pay women equally.
Equal pay is such a widely agreed upon value that even the ultraconservative state of Mississippi is contemplating passing an equal pay law. Activists there heard from women around the state who are in desperate need of economic help ― equal pay was on their minds. In other words, it’s not a coastal elite concern; it’s a Gulf coastal problem of “real Americans.”
Women provide for families. Right now 40 percent of households in this country have a female breadwinner. Equal pay for women would lift the economic prospects of millions of people, and take children out of poverty. For low-income women and men, the fight for equal pay is a fight for survival. It is a way out of an economic dead zone.
The gender pay gap contributes to rising income inequality. More and more money is going to fewer and fewer people. That makes most people ― the ones without the sweet monies ― very angry. They feel like they’re not getting their fair share. They get mad at the elites with the money.
And you know what they do next?
They vote for friggin’ Trump, who promises them jobs and a return to prosperity. They vote to exit the European Union. These are things Brooks doesn’t like.
Yet Brooks writes this stuff off as “identity politics.” It’s a confused and twisted argument that involves progressives living in bubbles and fixating on “difference.”
“The central challenge today is not how to celebrate difference,” he says. “The central threat is not the patriarchy. The central challenge is to rebind a functioning polity and to modernize a binding American idea.”
Patriarchy, of course, would not threaten someone who is already part of it. And it’s already proving to be a huge danger: Yesterday, Trump, surrounded by a gaggle of men, signed on to an anti-abortion executive order that looks to be just a piece of his administration’s assault on women.
Trump and his men are already moving to cut the protections to women’s health offered by the Affordable Care Act. That’s not going to be good for women’s economic freedom, their paychecks and, by extension, the economy.
And, for goodness sake, a massive march helps rebuild a polity. This weekend millions of engaged citizens came together to fight for real, pressing concerns that are right now under attack from a new president who poses a threat to their well-being.
That’s not identity politics. That’s democracy.