Like many Democrats and liberals, I’ve been doing a fair amount of soul-searching since Hillary Clinton’s how-could-we-blow-this loss to now-President Donald Trump, who I’ve previously described as a clear and present danger to the country. Since the election, he has largely carried out his platform, dismaying those who were looking for him to mellow out a little. At their lowest ebb of national power in decades, Democrats have been able to do little but watch the horrors pile up. There are many reasons why we suffered these losses, but there’s one that we can easily fix and should do so right away: Democrats have become the party of self-righteous indignation.
We’re like that annoying friend you have that points out why nearly every word or expression you say is racist, sexist, or otherwise prejudiced. Want examples? Here’s the biggest one, in my mind: When Carrie Fisher died – RIP Leia 😦 – fellow actor Steve Martin sent out the following Tweet:
What a moving tribute to an amazing actress, right? Wrong. Twitter lit up with so many irate responses that Steve Martin was forced to take the Tweet down. Take it down? Over what?! Some were annoyed that he had noted her appearance first, even though in literally the next sentence he noted her witty and bright personality. That, to these “activists,” was objectification, the same as if he had never noted her personality at all. Never mind that it shows that as men mature and age, we come to appreciate women for more than just their appearance. Never mind that it was sincere and heartfelt. Because he hadn’t used exactly the right language, he got slammed.
Okay, but that’s just one example, right? Let’s go to the videotape again. Avril Lavigne made a video for her song “Hello Kitty,” in 2014 that was heavily influenced by Japanese pop music and EDM. Here’s the video:
Setting aside how good or bad the song is (not her best, if you ask me…), Lavigne earned the ire of the Internet world for her supposed “appropriation” of Japanese culture and racist depiction of it. But here’s the thing… the video was filmed in Japan, with a Japanese record label, Japanese choreographers, and a Japanese director. The video was well-received in Japan and most of the people who said the video was racist were not actually Japanese themselves.
This cuts to the core of why this sort of phenomenon is annoying. Many times, liberals feel the need to be offended in the name of someone who themselves aren’t offended. The idea of “cultural appropriation,” the notion that people of a certain culture can’t adopt or appreciate anything of other cultures, is a particularly insidious form of this. This idea has pervaded liberal discourse so much that it results in the devotion of time and energy to creating sets of long, complex rules for simply enjoying a dumpling, or articles like this that probably wouldn’t have been written even 5 years ago. The problem with this is that it’s frequently used to divide people, which is contrary to the American spirit, if you ask me. We’ve always been all about mixing and matching from cultures to produce something new. If you don’t believe me, go listen to a jazz fusion record, or eat at a creative, off-the-wall restaurant like Takorea. To be clear, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be sensitive to other cultures and call people out when they really do portray them in an insensitive way (I’ve written in this space before about how I think the Cleveland Indians should retire their Indian-head logo, for instance). But liberals are going way overboard with it, and we need to cool it.
One may think that this isn’t such a bad problem. Sure, it can get a little annoying, but does it have any real consequences? It most certainly does. When liberals look for racism and sexism in almost everything, and turn these instances into gigantic fake controversies, people eventually stop listening. We become The Boy Who Cried Wolf, writ large. Then, when someone is actually saying and doing prejudiced things, our outrage doesn’t carry the same weight or make the same impact. Don’t believe me? We have a President now who during the campaign bragged about sexual assault, mocked a disabled reporter, advocated a religious test for people entering the country, and refused to disavow the support of a white supremacist. Any one of these things, and many others, should have disqualified him, but they didn’t. Enough voters rolled their eyes and tuned out those who tried to call him out on his sexist/racist/every other -ist rhetoric. And liberals are partially to blame for that.
How do we fix it? We need to deemphasize identity politics. Democrats have become so obsessed with having a big tent that we got away from the bread and butter of campaigns: issues. Bernie Sanders tried to run a campaign like this on the Democratic side. He talked a lot about income inequality, equal access to health care and education, and other core issues, and fired up a lot of Democrats and independents. While Sanders’s vision was rather fantastical, we should take some lessons from his playbook, and have more substantive discussions. Maybe instead of constantly policing people’s language, we should more forcefully advocate for policies that would actually help minorities, such as the mandatory use of body cameras by police officers. And here’s a dirty little secret: most Democratic positions poll well. On everything from the minimum wage to environmental protections to most every provision of the Affordable Care Act, people generally agree with the Democrats on a lot of issues. Which is why they should be the focus of every campaign from here on out. And we should shout down our fringe elements that insist on tactics such as primarying every Democrat who doesn’t toe the party line on absolutely everything. Such tactics are just as divisive as anything Republicans do, and could cost us elections, just as the Tea Party did for Republicans. We can’t afford to make the same mistake.
Remember, fellow liberals. Hillary Clinton got more votes than Trump did. We can, and will, win again if we take an honest look in the mirror.