by Victor Davis Hanson
Tennis great Martina Navratilova until recently had long been coronated as a social justice trailblazer. She was one of the first marquee celebrity athletes to come out as gay, and then to advocate lesbian issues in and out of sports. But suddenly the icon seems out of step with her progressive legend status.
Navratilova had the temerity to suggest that one’s sex is biologically determined. In other words, transgenderism, even with the imprimatur of the social and biological sciences, cannot trump our innate genetic codes.
A frustrated Navratilova was editorializing mostly in the context of men “transitioning” to women, while in many cases still enjoying innate muscular and size advantages over females in same-sex sporting events. As a result, she is being demonized unfairly as an intersectional traitor (“transphobic”) and thus increasingly disinvited from a number of events by what is known as the LGBTQ community.
In other words, her intersectional femaleness and gayness are revoked by improper ideology.
Barack Obama, once the progressive “god” who was acclaimed to have the power to cool the planet and halt the rising of the seas, had the recent audacity to suggest, quite understandably, that young black teens need not ostentatiously show their wealth with gaudy chains, or highlight their sexuality with a cadre of “twerking” girls. Worse, the now multi-million-dollar-mansion-residing Obama sort of suggested that young inner-city African-Americans who do such gauche things might be insecure about either their income or their sexuality.
Now even the divine Obama is having his ankles bitten on social media as a counterrevolutionary, despite his prior denunciations of white bitter clingers, “the 1 percent,” and greedy capitalists who delusionally believed they had built their own businesses.
The new generation has forgotten that the now graying Obama once had the audacity to invite Kendrick Lamar into the White House. He also celebrated as his official portrait painter Kehinde Wiley. Remember the former was lauded for his album-cover showing a dead white judge, with eyes x-ed out, whose demise was being celebrating by toasting rappers on the White House lawn, while the latter for a while had a cachet of taking a couple of Old Master paintings of decapitations and redoing them with black decapitators and white decapitated – e.g., “It’s sort of a play on the ‘kill whitey’ thing.” Was that not revolutionary enough?
No, no – that was yesterday. Today the revolution has passed over the once-edgy Obama (“bring a gun to a knife fight”). Now to the Left he sounds more like a crabby Bill Cosby ranting about falling-down trousers.
At 86, six-term U.S. senator and lifelong liberal Dianne Feinstein should have no reason in her twilight years to remind progressives that she has been a front-line social justice warrior, most recently as an inquisitor during Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings. After all, to bring down Kavanaugh, she had her staff improperly leak the accusations and name of the once anonymous accuser Christine Blasey Ford, while doing her best to present as fact 35-year old uncorroborated rumors and allegations.
Omnis effusus labor as the poet Virgil once wrote. “All labor for nothing” – given that Feinstein recently grew snarly with some school-age kids who were being used as props by a radical green group called the Sunrise Movement to embarrass her into accepting Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s unhinged “Green New Deal.”
Feinstein, in apparently white-privilege establishment style, barked at her multiethnic visitors that she would not be bullied (“I’ve been doing this for 30 years. I know what I’m doing. You come in here and you say, ‘It has to be my way or the highway.’ I don’t respond to that.”) She added that she had just won a sixth term by 1 million votes, and had had enough of their whining. In other words, she was a dinosaur expecting deference due to her age, her office, and her progressive bona fides.
Instead, she was roundly denounced as emblematic of last-generation Democrats heading for the tar pits. As the 2020 race nears, Feinstein only confirmed that identity politics will be the new Democratic gospel, and that being a fabulously rich, elderly, and in-the-way politico makes one a rather low rung on the new intersectional ladder pole of progressive authenticity.
Senator Bernie Sanders, 77, also does not get it that the socialist moment of 2016 is now ancient history. Its ephemeral icons have largely been devoured by 2019 identity politics revolutionaries.
Yet in classic Marxist style, and in a fashion reminiscent of the ossified bolshies of the 1917 Russian revolution, the “democratic-socialist” from Vermont maintains that class will always trump all other racial, gender, and age claims. Or rather it will unite these disparate identities in a Manichean fight of good poor people against bad rich people – as if blacks, gays, Latinos, women, Asian, Native people, the transgendered and a host of other “sections” are like Cossacks, Ukrainians, Crimeans, and Georgians who inevitably could be pounded into the harmonious Soviet proletariat.
That Bernie wants to take things away from rich people and redistribute them to the poor in his view should negate the now bothersome fact that, in the new leftist lexicon, he is otherwise just an old white, and rather affluent career politician, still barking at the class-struggle moon.
Recently leftists have castigated Bernie for daring to run again in 2020, a gambit that would certainly drain support from a new generation of more deserving identity politics progressives. Or as National Review editor Rich Lowry recently put it, “In the language of the modern left, the straight, cisgendered Sanders is burdened by his utter lack of intersectionality.”
Recently Ocasio-Cortez attacked former Democratic vice-presidential candidate and long-time Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman for not supporting her Green New Deal. Ocasio-Cortez simply Trotskyized Lieberman as someone of so little importance that the new Democrat 29-year-old had never even heard of him: “New party, who dis?” Ocasio-Cortez, who now calls herself the “boss” in the matter of the porcine revolutionary leader “Napoleon” in Orwell’s Animal Farm, now claims that she is taking names and is making a “list” of counterrevolutionary “moderate” progressives (think of the ostracized “Snowball” of Animal Farm) who do unmentionable things like voting not to allow illegal aliens to purchase guns.
Liberals at warp speed became progressives who have now become radicals who are becoming before our eyes socialists – as ending capitalism, the internal combustion engine, and so-called white privilege become, for now, the new revolutionary agendas. The old party elite might be able to pay lip service to the first two tenets, in talking loudly of more redistribution and passing cap-and-trade, but the third canon of race unfortunately is not apparently, like gender, a social construct, but innate, unchanging and genetic – and historically an igniter of tribal strife every time it is elevated to being essential rather than incidental to identity.
The rosy-cheeked and blond Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) learned that. At least she early on grasped the nature of the revolution under way when she fabricated a Native-American identity and milked it for career advantage, but then crashed and burned with desperate pleas about high-cheekbones, plagiarized native cooking recipes, and suicidal DNA tests that unfortunately showed she was less an Indian than most of her 330 million fellow Americans. Under the new revolutionary rules, wealthy white female Warren is not all that much more intersectional than the harder left socialist Bernie Sanders.
Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, John Kerry, the Clintons and other senior Democratic grandees forged late-life careers on loudly talking about this and that “community”, and dropping “race and gender” into almost every sentence. But as in every historical leftwing stampede into extremism, and eventual nihilism, yesterday’s radical is today’s reactionary. Certainly, they never quite realized they themselves would eventually lose their exemption and be rendered white-privileged incorrect. Compared to Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton may not be deemed a deplorable, but compared to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez she may be an elderly white and privileged irredeemable.
Not building most of the border wall, leads to not building any of the border wall, to Beto’s (whose Warrenization into a Latino is losing adherents) suggestion to tear down what wall is already up. Obama’s 39 percent top tax rate now looks passe compared to Ocasio-Cortez’s 70 percent, which is now right-wing compared to new calls for 90 percent rate, which in turn is not much compared to an additional wealth tax on private, already taxed capital. And on it goes.
For progressives, that revolutionary purity now is defined by race is an ironic return to the values of the Old South, which sought to calibrate privilege by skin color. The reprehensible Confederate idea of the whitest has now morphed into the least white being the most authentically grieved and thus deserving of the greatest reparatory privileges—the constant, of course, remains that superficial appearance based on race trumps all individual characteristics.
What started with affirmative action became “diversity,” which in turn during the Obama Administration was redefined not as minority groups with either historical grievances against the majority or accepted claims of ongoing racial victimization. Instead authentically diverse were all who claimed to be racially or linguistically distinguishable from the white majority.
Then diversity as a revolutionary moment was further expanded by including gays and woke women, which essentially took the initial African-American population whose plight was the aim of affirmative action and expanded it to in theory a majority of about 200 million Americans who were either non-white or women or both.
Now the revolution cannot figure out its own hierarchy of authentic grievance groups. So it has agreed on a loose “intersectionality,” in which over a dozen and often overlapping victim cadres agree that each degree of non-white-maleness adds authenticity and become a force multiplier of left-wing radicalism.
Among leftists, Kamala Harris, as black and female, trumps Cory Booker who is just black, who trumps Elizabeth Warren who is exposed as just female, who trumps Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders who are reverse threefers as white, male, and heterosexual. None of the progressive revolutionaries ever stopped to ponder whether much of the country targeted by the new racialism might not like it and mirror image this sad descent into tribalism.
In such a revolutionary scramble to be the most diverse and hard left, the logical trajectory ends up with a race to transcend the physical limits of victimhood. Think of the devolution of French anti-monarchists to republicans to Girondists to Jacobins – and on to Napoleon. Or remember how the anti-Czarists aristocrats were overwhelmed by Mensheviks who were crushed by the Bolsheviks as Lenin radicalized everything prior and in the end his Soviet became Stalinized.
So now appears Jussie Smollett.
He is not just left-wing, but a rabid hater of Donald Trump. And he is not just black, but gay as well. And he is not just a victim, but a hyper-victim of white bullies. And not just bullies, but bullies with MAGA hats. And he is not just a victim of white red-hats, but a victim of ski-masked racists. And not just of their blows, but of (frozen?) bleach. And not just of bleach and blows, but of lynch rope as well. And they did not just hit, but smeared and slurred. And not just MAGA sloganeering, but anti-gay, anti-black – and perhaps, worst of all, in our performance society, they slandered his “Empire” TV show!
Progressives are like a worn rope being pulling apart at both ends. At one end, there is an effort to radicalize prior radicalization, and on the other end victimhood is heading toward parody.
And what is left is the emblematic Jussie Smollett – the logical result of the revolution, who alone has staked out the only authentic and ultimate revolutionary stance: nihilism – a state where no one can possibly rival Jussie’s revolutionary grievance credentials because they cannot exist in a reality based world.
Or put another way, when no one is revolutionary enough, the revolutionary auditors end up ridiculous in their zeal for power and celebrity – sort of like Orwell’s radical pigs finally prancing about on two legs and feasting on silver, sort of like Jussie Smollett leveraging the ultimate state of victimhood for a better deal on “Empire.”
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Victor Davis Hanson is an American military historian, columnist, former classics professor, and scholar of ancient warfare. He was a professor of classics at California State University, Fresno, and is currently the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. He has been a visiting professor at Hillsdale College since 2004.
Image “Animal Farm” by Carl Glover CC2.0.