Have we moved from an age of protest over specific grievances to an age of protest for the sake of protest? Women around the country have been urged to join a general strike in support of the Women’s March on Washington today called “A Day Without a Woman,” as a means of protest. But what are they protesting? Our friend Amanda Carpenter asks the same question, and comes up empty on an answer other than partisan grievance:
Third, what political remedy are they seeking? No specific requests are apparent. All the organizing material is bathed in vague blather about raising awareness without asking for any specific reforms. Unlike this month’s “Bodega strike,” in which immigrant businesses closed their doors in objection to Trump’s travel ban, or #GrabYourWallet, which seeks to protest the Trump family’s conflicts of interest, or even January’s “Women’s March on Washington,” which was at least reacting to President Donald Trump’s inauguration and history of sexist comments, “A Day Without A Woman” is a protest without a point. If women are going to put thousands of children out of school and consider grinding the American economy to a halt, they at least ought to have a good, clear reason to do so.
In fact,all Wednesday’s meaningless demonstration does is hand the Republican Party a wide-open opportunity to dismiss it as a hysterical hissy fit, staged by left-wing activists still mourning Hillary Clinton’s loss. While the strike may make progressives feel better about themselves, it will not have that effect on everyone. Many GOP voters will tell you they felt compelled to support Trump precisely because of the increasingly aggressive protest tactics exhibited by the left during the campaign. There’s a reason why Trump called out protesters and made a big show of escorting them out of his rallies. It wasn’t just because his law-and-order-loving base loved watching demonstrators get hauled out of stadiums all over America. Those on the fence about Trump were watching as well.
Amanda reminds them that relying on generic gender-based grievances as a protest agenda didn’t work out so well for their movement last November:
Because if these progressive protesters want voters to choose, yet again, between Trump and a disruptive mob driven by identity politics, Republicans should happily take them up on the offer. Americans—and yes, plenty of women, too—made that choice in 2016, and it worked out overwhelmingly in the GOP’s favor.
In the end, the gender agenda didn’t have much impact at all on the election, at least not in favor of Hillary Clinton, who seemed to be running on nothing else. Hillary won women by thirteen points 54/41 in November, but lost men by eleven for a +2 gender gap advantage nationwide while losing 29 states. Obama won women by a 55/44 ratio in 2012 but only lost among men by seven (45/52) for a +4 advantage while winning 27 states. As I pointed out earlier, Democrats have gone all-in on gender and identity politics over the last decade, and now sit at their worst position since the 1920s as a national party, and maybe the worst since Reconstruction. That should teach a lesson about the dead-end nature of identity politics and tribalism, but Democrats seem extraordinarily resistant to education.
Still, that doesn’t make a protest problematic if it’s actually about an issue that people find important enough to engage. That requires a much more specific approach than a general strike about womanhood in general, especially when (as Amanda points out) it will create a significant level of disruption in some voters’ lives. Protests over specific and actionable policies and injustices ave proven very effective, not just in the US but around the world. Protests for the sake of protests, on the other hand, are nothing more than an attempt to hijack that tradition for a false thrill of tribalism — in this case, for putting on “pussy hats” and reinforcing an ersatz sense of shared identity. It’s precisely this brand of arrogant and pointless politics that loses elections for the party to which these protesters are most closely aligned.
Tribalism isn’t just a problem on the Left, though. It’s seeping into every aspect of public life at the expense of real engagement, as I write in my column for The Week, and that’s especially apparent on social media:
So the question still begs: Does isolation derive from continued use of social media, or do people use social media more because they feel socially isolated?
Well, think about it like this: In almost every context of social interaction and politics, we see increased division to the point where tribalism has begun to eclipse debate, and isolation almost seems to be the point. …
On both sides, America’s political environment has devolved into a kind of tribalism, where those with heterodox points of view must not be engaged, but silenced altogether and terrorized from the public square.
So what’s the lesson? Social media may not cause social isolation so much as it channels it. Twitter especially seems most prone to choosing sides and shutting down those with opposing points of view, but Facebook may not be far behind, as politics intrudes on relationships with friends, families, and co-workers. Those platforms allow people of similar passions to form new tribes and to enforce orthodoxy of the tribal doctrines that unite them. Every heterodox utterance becomes the bait for an online version of a Berkeley or Middlebury riot, where all tribes can collide without ever engaging.
Despite the pre-emptive school closings, today’s “general strike” will almost certainly have the same success as similar stunts over the last seventy years — none at all, except for wildly disproportionate media coverage. Being about nothing more than gender identity, it will change nothing, not even gender identity. Most people outside of the Beltway and media centers will ignore it, except to recall that the activists behind these stunts have no insight at all into their lives, which makes outsiders from those systems all the more attractive — even when they come in the form of multi-billionaire real estate developers with egos as large as their skyscrapers. That’s because tribalism is about exclusion rather than inclusion, and identity politics almost always involves demeaning other tribes rather than engaging them. And don’t think for a moment that voters outside the media and Beltway enclaves haven’t already gotten an education on that point.