Debates 2020

Why Are Democrats Working So Hard to Win the Woke Left?

Tonight's debate became an exercise in checking privileges.


Wednesday's Democratic debate was the first one that felt like it was taking place inside the classroom of a critical theory instructor. Several candidates confessed their various privileges, speaking in terms that might appeal to the minority of Democratic voters who are progressive activists but are likely to alienate everyone else.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee lead the way, admitting that he had no idea what it felt like to be a black teenager, or a woman being talked over in a board meeting, or an LGBTQ person hearing a slur. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D–N.Y.) quickly followed suit, vowing to berate suburban white women for being insufficiently woke.

"I don't believe that it's the responsibility of Cory [Booker] and Kamala [Harris] to be the only voice that takes on these issues of institutional racism, systemic racism in our country," said Gillibrand. "I think as a white woman of privilege, who is a U.S. senator, running for president of the United States, it is also my responsibility to lift up those voices that aren't being listened to. And I can talk to those white women in the suburbs that voted for Trump and explain to them what white privilege actually is, that when their son is walking down a street with a bag of M&Ms in his pocket, wearing a hoodie, his whiteness is what protects him from not being shot.

"When his—when her—when their child has a car that breaks down, and he knocks on someone's door for help, and the door opens, and the help is given, it's his whiteness that protects him from being shot. That is what white privilege in America is today."

This is Intersectionality 101, and it has become the operating system for progressive activists. People are oppressed because of their overlapping marginalized identities—for reasons of race, gender identity, LGBT status, class, religion, ability, size, etc.—and it's the job of everyone else to center the marginalized in every policy discussion. In practice, this often means policing language in a manner that is off-putting to all but the ardent progressives.

It's important to remember, as The Atlantic's Yascha Mounk pointed out in a writeup of a survey that found more than 80 percent of people despise political correctness, that the number of Americans who think people should routinely check their privilege constitute a tiny minority. It seems curious that Democrats are so determined to win them.

For more on this subject, check out my book, Panic Attack: Young Radicals in the Age of Trump.