Ruth Marcus delivers a warning: Over the past four-day weekend, we read Chanel Miller's new book, Know My Name: A Memoir.
Last Sunday, Jennifer Weiner's review of the book appeared in the New York Times' Book Review section. Weiner describes Know My Name as “a beautifully written, powerful, important story” which "marks the debut of a gifted young writer."
We aren't here to say that those judgments are wrong. Miller plainly is a writer, though we see remarkable flaws in her approach which Weiner and others move past.
In the larger sense, we also think that Miller's book, and Weiner's review, offer snapshots of a deeply disordered tribal culture—a tribal culture which helped allow Donald J. Trump to end up where he is.
Miller's book involves so many markers of that culture that a commentator will hardly know where to begin. Next week, we'll attempt to offer some reactions to the various things Miller says in her book, and to the various things she omits.
The culture on display in Miller's book is, in fact, a tribal culture which exists at a time of "cultural revolution." In our view, this tribal culture has been, and remains, deeply, destructively flawed.
We'll wrestle with the multitudes in Miller's book next week. In the next few days, we'll wrestle with a few other snapshots from our current tribal culture.
We start today with a warning from Ruth Marcus.
Marcus delivers her warning in a column in this morning's Washington Post. The column discusses a quip delivered by Candidate Warren at CNN’s forum on LGBTQ issues last week.
Uh-oh! Annie Linskey described the quip in this unusual front-page report in last Saturday's Washington Post. Below, Marcus offers her summary at the start of this morning's column:
MARCUS (10/16/19): Elizabeth Warren had a good line, a zinger, deftly delivered.What's wrong with people who just don't get it? We used to ask that question ourselves! Then, a gang of anthropologists began to help us out.
How would she respond, Warren was asked at CNN’s forum on LGBTQ issues, to a voter who told her, “I’m old-fashioned, and my faith teaches me that marriage is between one man and one woman”?
The Massachusetts senator and Democratic presidential candidate couldn’t resist the opportunity for a double dig. “Well, I’m going to assume it’s a guy who said that,” she began, giving the audience the chance to snicker along about the evident cluelessness of the male gender. “And I’m going to say, ‘Then just marry one woman—I’m cool with that.’”
Warren shrugged, as if to say, no biggie, live and let live. The audience whooped with delight. Warren shrugged again. Then she went in for the easy kill. “Assuming,” she said, “you can find one.” She turned, clapped along with the audience, nodded in evident satisfaction, put palms up as if to say, what is wrong with people who just don’t get it?
At any rate, Marcus goes on to describe Warren's "double dig" as an example of "bad politics" reminiscent of past bungles by Candidates Obama and Clinton. But "it's something worse than that," Marcus writes. "It reflects an attitude of intolerance and disrespect toward people of faith."
For us, the apparent bad politics of Warren's presentation is bad enough all by itself. This presentation strikes us as the latest way our routinely unimpressive tribe goes about the business of alienating American voters and helping put Trump where he is.
In our view, Warren's presentation was dumb in various ways. For starters, it suggests that only men oppose marriage equality, an assumption which is ginormously bogus.
It ignores the fact that older people are most likely to oppose marriage equality—and older people are the group which is most likely to vote! Beyond that, it ignores the fact that African-Americans have been more likely to oppose marriage equality than other demographic groups—and neither Warren, nor any other Democrat, can afford to alienate black voters as next year's election draws on.
Donald J. Trump is behaving so crazily that he may make his own political survival impossible. But that possibility remains undetermined, and it sometimes seems that Warren will be doing everything she can to "keep hope alive" in this crazy man's camp.
Please understand—in mocking those who don't support marriage equality, Warren is mocking voters who hold the position our own infallible tribal stars held ten minutes ago.
As of Campaign 2012, President Obama opposed marriage equality, as did Secretary of State Clinton. Whether by plan or by happenstance, Vice President Biden broke the logjam surrounding the issue, and our infallible tribe's infallible leaders began to bring themselves in line with the new position.
That was then, and this is now. Just seven years later, people like Warren parade about, mocking the troglodytes who still hold the previous Obama/Clinton position.
Needless to say, Warren herself has always been morally pure. In her original news report, Linskey reported this further exchange:
LINSKEY (10/12/19): Warren’s staff argued that the comments will not hurt her standing. They pointed to the second, less viral portion of her answer.Frankly, Warren was always really shocked by the hatefulness of people like President Obama. No doubt she grabbed herself a beer whenever he stated his view.
These additional remarks came after CNN host Chris Cuomo pressed her on whether, in her earlier years as an Oklahoma Republican, she had ever opposed same-sex marriage. She said her position has been consistent, citing her religion.
“It is about the worth of every human being,” Warren said. “The hatefulness frankly always really shocked me, especially for people of faith, because I think the whole foundation is the worth of every single human being.”
Just this once, we'll be honest. We like the overall arch of Warren's politics, are less impressed with many of her instincts as a politician.
At times of moral panic and cultural revolution, tribes like ours are strongly inclined to blow past all such matters of nuance. We're strongly inclined to create moral fables which separate the Good People, people like us, from the Very Bad. We're strongly inclined to dismiss The Others, propping up the moral self-assessments of Determined Losers Like Us.
For more than thirty years, our thoroughly unimpressive tribe has slumbered, slept, burbled and snored as our various interests and values were thrown under various buses. We aren't very smart and we aren't real alert. We've rarely missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity during those long, gong-show years.
Despite these facts, we're deeply invested in our belief in our unsurpassed brilliance and moral greatness. Trump is trying hard to lose. We often seem amazingly eager to deny him his shot at this pleasure.
Coming: The New York Times gets letters