by Victor Davis Hanson
Progressives do not see the United States as an exceptional uniter of factions and tribes into a cohesive whole – each citizen subordinating his tribal, ethnic, and religious affinities to a shared Americanism, emblemized by our national motto e pluribus unum. Instead, they prefer e uno plures: out of one nation arise many innately different and separate peoples.
Progressivism’s signature brand is now tribalism: all of us in different ways are victims of a white male Christian heterosexual patriarchy – or a current 20 percent hierarchy that past and present has supposedly oppressed anyone not like themselves. In contrast, our differences define who we are, and are not incidental to the content of our characters. The salad bowl, not the melting pot, is the new national creed. America is to be a conglomeration of competing tribal parties in the fashion of the Balkans, Rwanda, or contemporary Iraq.
How does the relative victimhood work politically? Progressive elites (oddly often white, but “woke,” males) serve as umpires who adjudicate familial spats and intersectional fractures. Like good cowboys, they ride herd, directing the squabbling and snorting flock in the right direction without losing too many strays on the way to the election booth.
Is Mayor Pete Buttigieg, recently confronted as an unwoke white guy by Black Lives Matter activists, a white male elite, or an oppressed gay male victim who feels the Christian faithful, like his former working associate Mike Pence, supposedly oppress him to the degree he cannot ever be slurred as an oppressor of others who are nonwhite, not affluent, and non-male? In this world of collective woke stereotypes, are inner-city blacks and Catholic Hispanics victims of white males like Buttigieg, or disproportionately insensitive victimizers of such gays as Buttigieg?
Class is a factor, too. Part of the reason Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J.) cannot speed through the Democratic intersection is that he talks and dresses like what he has always been – a rich kid of privilege, son of corporate elites, who glided through Stanford, was a Rhodes scholar, and has little idea of the experience of the black underclass that he now champions as an African-American activist. The middle-class Barack Obama faced the same problem but far more successfully camouflaged his prep school elitism by dropping the old preppie persona of Barry Obama, and reemerging as Barack Hussein Obama – authentic child of an African diplomat and well-acquainted with Islam as an expatriate youth in Indonesia. Booker, whose patois and schooling are akin to Obama’s, can hardly in the same fashion reinvent himself linguistically or ancestrally into the multifaceted Other.
Senator Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), an elite offspring of an immigrant Jamaican Stanford academic and a surgeon from Madras, is now running not as a child of privilege, or the former paramour of political fixer and San Francisco pol Willie Brown, or the hard-nosed city prosecutor who hounded parents of truant kids, but as an intersectional child of the Caribbean and the Indian subcontinent. And yet despite the authenticity of Harris, she, like Joe Biden, is reckless: she was a loud megaphone for reparations until her obviously embarrassed father, who is apparently proud of past parental efforts to ensure that Harris successfully assimilated and integrated into the dominant culture, reminded his daughter that their shared ancestry included Jamaican slave-owners: in effect, schooling Kamala that the Harrises would have to seek reparations for the descendent Harrises from the descendants of the Harrises.
Give Jussie Smollet credit, the son of a Polish-Jewish father and African-American mother. He took no chances when he set off intersectional megatonnage to ensure that he was a multifarious victim of white male, right-wing, MAGA-spouting, homophobic racist oppressors – and therefore deserved another season on “Empire”or else! That Smollet is still believed by millions is a testament to the insidious power of intersectionality.
After all, we are asked to believe that the actor at 2 a.m., in subzero temperatures, bumped into the lidless eyes of white Trumpist racist America. Indeed, we learned that he by chance encountered two patrolling MAGA-hatted, white burly males, who were curious watchers and fans of the black cult series, (“Aren’t you that f—-t ‘Empire’ n—-r?”) and on constant vigilance in the wee hours in African-American neighborhoods of progressive Chicago (“This is MAGA country!”), with lynch rope, bleach, and a barrage of obscenities for randomly targeted gay, black, left-wing, and famous victims – coincidentally just like Jussie Smollet.
And Smollet was no slouch. In he-man style, Smollet single-handedly beat back these white Trumpist demons, and he did so in apparent jiu-jitsu style while managing to keep his cell phone and Subway sandwich – and lynch rope around his neck. A sane person may conclude this is low farce – especially after two of his associates confessed that they were paid to play the role of MAGA thugs – but not so the industry of intersectionality. The hip woke magazine GQ immediately after the “assault” weighed in on Smollett’s “attack” in iconic fashion:
America’s choice to embrace the blind rage of late-stage whiteness in decline is an explicit longing for this kind of crime, a version of America in which those who do not assimilate to the satisfaction of their white, straight, and Christian betters are subject to the impunity of law enforcement, the scorn of the media and the fury of racist homophobes stalking the streets of your city, who want you to know that they could lynch you if they really wanted to, and maybe get away with it too.
So do not mock the tortuous labyrinth of mutually exclusive intersectionality. Treat it instead with fear as if one enters the crossroads with Dante’s warning at the gates of hell, Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate (“Abandon all hope, ye who enter here”).
Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) assumed that a white woman from Oklahoma, with a 1990s interest in house-flipping and voting Republican, does not end up at snooty Harvard Law School. So she successfully reinvented herself as the law school’s first woke Native American professor. While Warren was later goaded by Donald Trump into a disastrous decision to prove her Indian fantasies by taking a self-incriminating DNA test, she otherwise did not have to go to the trouble of Ward Churchill, who wore a get up of beads, buckskin and a headband, or Rachel Dolezal who wore blackface (and now, apparently, bixsexuality) to recalibrate as an edgy social justice warrior.
The self-appointed security hothead George Zimmerman never got the intersectional message. The half-Peruvian Zimmerman became infamous for his lethal encounter in 2012 with Trayvon Martin. In the subsequent lead up to the trial, where he was found not-guilty on grounds of self-defense, Zimmerman’s 911 calls were selectively edited and the police photos of his injuries were photoshopped to downplay their severity. But had the mix-up not been between an armed white man with the scary Germanic name Zimmerman and a victimized black teen, but instead one of an African-American and a Latino Jorge Mesa (Zimmerman ethnicizing his first name and adopting his matronymic), the story might not have been so easily caricatured as a morality tale.
Good-ole gaffe-prone Uncle Joe Biden, 76 and time-tested liberal, can’t make it through the roundabout of intersectionality without a major crack-up. He flipped upside down to assure primary progressive media and primary kingmakers that he was once wrong about cutting off Anita Hill during the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings three decades ago, and that he was actually a cutting-edge feminist back when it counted, an abortion advocate, a once deluded but now woke supporter of reduced prison sentencing.
But even so, in our new age when touching the opposite sex is a window into a sick mind, how can Joe, a chronic shoulder squeezer and hair and ear breather of young girls and women, escape #MeToo only on the basis of his progressive fides? True, Joe tried to talk his way out of his prior race, class, and gender incorrectness, but his intersectional wreckage only got worse as he crowed about his prior coziness with segregationist Senators James Eastland and Herman Talmadge.
Did Joe not know that the one red line in Democratic politics is never to remind the nation that Democrats were the party of the Confederacy, Jim Crow, segregation, and opposition to the Civil Rights Act? Joe, in Neanderthal fashion, apparently thought that the fact that two old Southerners of the Senate once called him “son” instead of “boy” proved their mutual workmanlike Democratic admiration—a model for contemporary tolerance.
Others of his political affinities were not amused. As Politico put it, “New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, whose wife is African American, noted that one of the segregationists Biden invoked, James Eastland of Mississippi, would have outlawed his marriage. Sen. Cory Booker, who is black, took offense that Biden seemed to make light of Eastland calling him ‘son’ but not ‘boy.’”
This was not the first time that Biden had tried to prove his racial sensitivity fides. Do we not remember that he praised his one-time rival Barack Obama as the first “clean” and “bright” and “articulate” black presidential candidate (so much for Shirley Chisholm, Jesse Jackson, and Al Sharpton), and did so with such effect that Obama picked him as his vice president and would occasionally turn him loose on a predominantly black audiences to lecture them that Mitt Romney and his Wall Street white devils would “put you allback in chains.”
How does one adjudicate the legacy of feminist trailblazing athletes and the agenda of men born biologically male who transgender into females with the help of hormonal drug therapy, and thereby find advantage in their innately larger frames and muscularity to erase the landmark records of feminism? After all, day by day, sports records of a prior generation, at the local, state, and national level, are insidiously being erased by trans athletes. When sports icon and lesbian feminist Martina Navratilova objected to the innate advantages of former male, now female, athletes, she was ostracized as some sort of anti-progressive heretic.
Does ideology trump difference? Do white rich whiny pajama boys with impunity condemn black conservatives as traitors to the progressive cause? Did the woke left-wing Garrison Keillor still have to be sacrificed on the altar of alleged #MeTooism? Does race or ethnicity win, English or Spanish, the domestic or the foreign oppressed: do illegal aliens trump the concerns of non-Spanish speaking African-Americans worried over the driving down of wages by imported cheap labor? Is Hillary Clinton a rich, entitled insider who mastered leveraging and monetizing her political clout, or a feminist trailblazer who battled the sexist exploitation of alpha males—like her husband, empathetic, progressive and pro-abortion sexual harasser Bill Clinton?
The French Revolution devolved into an intersectional destruction derby of factions, each claiming the greater leftist frenzied fides. Serbs, Albanians, Montenegrins, Croatians, Slavs, and Macedonians ended up killing each other, in the fashion of Iraqi Shiites and Sunnis, on the premise that each faction had endured more historical grievances than the others and thus had a greater right to use their own tribalism to achieve political power and snuff out the others.
The race to the bottom of victimhood logically ends in Smolletism, an absurd effort to invent as many oppressors as possible, all beaten down by one’s own singular bravery, prowess, and overarching victimhood.
In the end, the only logical survivor of intersectionality is the multifaceted Smollet-like victim, not just black, but black and gay, not just a homosexual African-American, but a hip and left-wing victim, and not just black, hip, gay, and leftwing, but a young woke activist courageously on the barricades, and not just all that but also master of martial arts put only in the service of the oppressed.
The 2020 Democratic primary is a showcase of these intersectional Balkan wars – race, sex, class, and comparative claims on victimhood that cannot be reconciled by comparative set-asides, quotas, and reparations, much less by a self-appointed, supposed all-knowing, all-powerful old white guy like Biden, playing the role of Alexander among the squabbling city-states and Macedonian tribes, or Napoleon both channeling and transcending the bloody factionalism of the French Revolution, or Tito suppressing tribalism by an all-encompassing authoritarian leftist dogma.
Intersectionality ends not by compromise, but by implosion through its own utter nihilism that sees humans as collective cardboard cutouts rather unique individuals who transcend their superficial appearances.
– – –
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. Hanson was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2007 by President George W. Bush.
Photo “We Are Trayvon Martin” by Daniel Arauz CC2.0.