A Gen X Liberal’s Take on the New Woke Left
“I consider myself a liberal. I still consider myself a feminist,” says writer Meghan Daum. But the past few years have left her shaken. “I did not feel that the new left was necessarily representing my values all the time. There was a sort of purity-policing that interestingly we used to associate with the right.”
Between #MeToo, smugness on social media, the Covington high schooler incident, and an interest in the so-called “intellectual dark web,” Daum is carving out her own political path. Read a lightly edited transcript of our interview, posted below, or listen to the podcast:
We also cover the following stories:
- What happened during the first public impeachment hearing.
- Hillary Clinton says Margaret Thatcher wasn’t worthy of being in her new book about gutsy women.
- Disney warns viewers of its older films that they may contain outdated cultural depictions.
The Daily Signal podcast is available on Ricochet,iTunes, Pippa, Google Play, or Stitcher. All of our podcasts can be found at DailySignal.com/podcasts. If you like what you hear, please leave a review. You can also leave us a message at 202-608-6205 or write us at [email protected]. Enjoy the show!
Kate Trinko: Joining me today is Meghan Daum, the author of “The Problem with Everything: My Journey Through the New Culture Wars.” Meghan, thanks for joining me.
Meghan Daum: Thanks for having me.
Trinko: OK, so, I actually started reading your columns when you were at the [Los Angeles] Times. I was in college at the time, and I know you always had an interesting perspective. You seem to not be quite right, not quite left. But I recently rediscovered you when you were writing about the intellectual dark web and your flirtation with it.
So, that really interested me because, of course, you’re on the liberal side, and I was surprised to see some of the ideas and people you were listening to, and you also chronicled this in your book. … This is such a weird way of putting it, [but] what attracted you, I guess, to the intellectual dark web?
Daum: How did this all come to be?
Daum: I can best answer that with a personal story. So, I got divorced about four years ago, and my husband, for all of our problems, had really been my intellectual ally. We talked about things all the time. We always were on the same page. We saw the same world. Even if our friends seem to be having a different set of ideas, we always felt sort of aligned and we both considered ourselves liberals, but we were very skeptical.
We were both journalists. So we took the issues on a case-by-case basis, and were able to just constantly be talking about stuff. And the book is called “The Problem with Everything” because, like I say, we were always talking about the problem with everything.
Like when you have a great, sort of intimate conversational rapport with somebody, you’re always sort of chewing on this: What is the problem with the world? What’s the problem with everything?
So when we split up and I lost that, it happened to coincide with the time around 2015 when a lot of people on the left started to just engage in a rhetoric that was really extreme and very outrage-based.
And people who had once seemed very reasonable and questioning and like critical thinkers didn’t seem to be thinking as critically anymore. They were being enabled by social media. And this was well before [President Donald] Trump. Mind you, this was not a Trump effect yet.
So I had lost my intellectual ally in my husband, and a lot of my friends seem to be not occupying the same universe anymore. And I found myself watching people on YouTube talking to each other. Scholars and scientists and academics and politicians and all these sort of things.
So I sort of drifted into this world that would later become known as the intellectual dark web.
Trinko: So among those figures—and some of the ones that are associated with the movement are Joe Rogan, Sam Harris, you mentioned Christina Hoff Sommers, Ben Shapiro to a certain extent—are there particular voices you listen to especially, and why do you think you were open to that?
Daum: Well, what got me started was Glenn Loury and John McWhorter on Bloggingheads.tv.
Trinko: Oh, I forgot about that.
Daum: Oh, this is the best show in town, I’m telling you. So, Glenn Loury is an economist at Brown University. John McWhorter is a linguist and a cultural critic. They’re both African American. Their show is called “The Black Guys on Bloggingheads.tv.” And they would talk about all kinds of things, but especially issues of race in this incredibly nuanced, just really intellectually honest, thorough, thoughtful way that I had never heard anybody talk about race like that before.
And I was totally mesmerized. And I think Glenn is a little bit on the right, at least very centrist. John is a liberal, although I think he was affiliated with the Manhattan Institute at one point.
Anyway, they’re not hardcore left or right. I would say they’re certainly not Trump supporters. I doubt they vote Republican. I’m sure Glenn did at one point. Anyway, all this is to say it was not a partisan show. That was not the tenor of the conversation.
So I started watching them, and they would have these about hourlong conversations every couple of weeks, maybe every month. So I started watching them on YouTube, and then the YouTube algorithm started taking me down the rabbit hole of all sorts of other people. And I would watch Camille Paglia talking to Christina Hoff Sommers. That’s where I started. I saw a little bit of Joe Rogan at that time.
And some of these figures I liked more than others, but this world of people talking to each other for long periods of time became a sort of sustenance for me and it just became a huge part of my life, in my sort of brain life.
Trinko: I think you used the phrase “echo chamber” and how this moved away from it. And why do you think that liberalism is moving in this direction where there isn’t as much room for disagreement right now? What’s going on there?
Daum: Well, I would say I think it started on the right. Rush Limbaugh was the original outrage machine, and now the left has just sort of co-opted it. The left has become in some corners, not all, but in many, like a bunch of little, teeny-tiny Rush Limbaughs, right?
So that’s what we see on Twitter. I think that social media has just flattened discourse in such a way that it’s much, much easier to just say something very simple, very reductive. Something that you know the people who follow you are going to approve of and therefore give you likes, and it’s like a dopamine hit.
… We’re not really participating in conversation as much as saying things in order to have other things echoed back to us, so it all feels good. To me, it really comes from a place of loneliness and I think that’s true for everybody.
This is a universal human problem right now … we’re all so much on our screens and so much of our social interactions are happening in this mediated way that we’re sort of desperate for any kind of connection. And connection online can only be found if you say something immediately translatable and very easily hashtagable or memeable or whatever it is.
Trinko: Yeah, and I would agree that’s a problem on the right, too, I’ve noticed. … I’ve been on Twitter since ’09, it seemed to me in the early years it wasn’t as much like this.
Daum: Yeah. That’s about when I joined, too, I think.
Trinko: Did it seem to you that around ’13 or ’14, I felt like there began to be a shift, and you would say, “What is the most partisan thing you can throw out there?” And then that would get all the retweets, and it changed it completely.
Honestly, I stopped tweeting a lot because it felt like, what’s the point of preaching to the choir?
Daum: Well, exactly. To me, especially if you’re a journalist, if you’re a writer or somebody whose job it is to think in the world, preaching to the choir is a dereliction of duty, in my opinion.
It is our job to look at the world and see where the hypocrisies are, and see where the cognitive dissonance is and think about, “OK, well, this is what’s going on in the world. And these are the assumptions, and the approved messages, and do I think those are true? What do I think people are getting wrong about that?”
And it’s our job to take all of that and metabolize it into something that’s interesting and provocative and that’s going to make people think. And that very process is disincentivized now because of the value system of social media discourse.
Trinko: Yeah. And I think about your Rush Limbaugh example, I was like, “I don’t think that’s true.”
The reason I would push back a little on that one, and this might be my own bias showing through, is I think that conservatives, and I was homeschooled, I know the conservative bubble. But … there’s no media that reflects it. You get the opposing view in your face all the time.
Daum: Oh, the mainstream media is left.
Trinko: Yeah. I think, and just in terms of story selection, The Daily Signal’s a conservative outlet, that affects what we choose to cover. So, I don’t know. In some ways I would say that Rush was an alternative, but … the ability to stay in that bubble was pretty hard.
Daum: … What actually really interests me about conservative talk radio is that it coincided with people moving to the exurbs. So, the longer people had commutes in their cars, the longer distances they were driving, the more they were listening to Rush Limbaugh and the AM radio guys.
I find this fascinating because I’m a huge radio fan, I always have been, and so that kind of dynamic is I think compelling and worth thinking about. But now people are listening to podcasts while they’re driving.
Trinko: And no commercials, which is nice. But I remember growing up, my mom switch[ed] the dial between Rush Limbaugh and then at commercials we would go to the liberal station. And it was great. We would get both perspectives.
Daum: That’s good parenting.
Trinko: So on the social media, you also get into one chapter, “The Infamous United Airlines Leggings Incident,” and that’s—
Daum: It is the controversy of our time.
Trinko: Right. For readers who aren’t familiar, a girl was told she couldn’t go on a United Airlines flight because she was wearing leggings. It turned out she was on a discounted ticket because she was with a United Airlines employee.
They all have a dress code that all got lost and it became a huge thing about, why is United policing what girls wear? And you said this particularly rankled you. Why?
Daum: Well, it particularly rankled me because I am a fuddy-duddy when it comes to how people should dress on planes. I lived in Los Angeles for a long time and I always said, “I think it is actually against the law to fly in or out of LAX without wearing sweatpants with ‘Juicy’ written across the butt.” I think that is required. I think it is [a Federal Aviation Administration] regulation that you cannot land or take off from LAX unless you are wearing this.
It rankled me because it was just such an example of, first of all, somebody butting their nose into a situation that they really did not know was going on. So specifically, yeah, it was a family traveling on an employee buddy pass and there were maybe three kids, there were some girls.
And so there were little girls, and they were wearing leggings and were allowed to keep the leggings on. But because there was a girl over 12 or something like that, according to the regulations, she had to just put on a skirt over the leggings.
The family, by the way, was completely fine with this. It was not an issue. They were not politicizing this moment. They were just trying to get on the plane. They were like, “OK, OK.”
And what was happening was there was a woman in another line, not even for the same flight, kind of a few gates away.
Trinko: I don’t think I knew this. This is perfect. Some busybody who’s just watching.
Daum: Yeah, and the woman who was watching, she was observing this from afar and seeing this going on and she starts tweeting, “Oh, a little girl is being body-shamed and not allowed to get on this flight because of sexist gate agents at United.” Or something like that.
This woman happened to have a lot of followers. She was herself a very well-known activist and gun control activist. So she had a lot of followers, she starts tweeting this, and then a bunch of celebrities picked it up.
… I don’t know if it was the usual suspects. Alyssa Milano, I know William Shatner tweeted photos—everyone started tweeting photos of themselves in leggings, including William Shatner, who had a very hilarious shirtless photo of himself in leggings and everyone was jumping in on this. Male celebrities, female celebrities, trying to show solidarity with this girl that was being body-shamed, and the whole thing was absurd. And nobody connected that this was just a normal dress code because they were traveling on an employee buddy pass, which is actually a pretty serious perk.
And until recently, men flying on this pass had to wear suits, coats, and ties. This is a serious thing. Yes.
Trinko: That’s insane, in my view.
Daum: It’s not insane. I think everybody should wear coats and ties to fly.
Trinko: I hope you never run an airline.
Daum: Really? I think many people would fly my airline. It’s called Fuddy-Duddy Air.
So that was an example, and it just exploded. Every celebrity was using it as a vehicle for their own self-promotion and to virtue-signal and to really gain social capital off of this situation that was effectively a fictional one, because this is not what had happened.
So I use that as an example of something that can just catch fire and has no meaning whatsoever. And in fact, what happened with the Covington High School kids a year or so later is exactly the same dynamic, and it caught fire in a much bigger way and with much greater repercussions for people. … Just the absolute lack of will to understand that situation. I don’t know if we need to remind our listeners what that was.
Trinko: Well, I think they’re familiar with the boy who was at the March for Life and smirked in front of a Native American activist.
Daum: And when in fact what he was doing was holding his ground because … what was the group, there was another group, the Black Israelites or the whatever—
Trinko: Yeah, they [say] really crazy things. I can’t remember their name.
Daum: So this kid was shamed for supposedly smirking at a Native American activist, when in fact he was trying to keep calm because there was another group yelling absolutely appalling, and I’m sure to a high school kid from Kentucky, totally baffling and shocking things.
So actually the kid should’ve been commended for his composure, and it totally went the other way. And it became a calling card for a lot of people on the left. Just, once again, reaffirm where they stand, and signal to their tribe that they’re on the right side. And that to me is just the height of not only dishonesty, but laziness.
I see that more and more with the way the media handles any number of stories. There’s no will to actually scratch beneath the surface and see what’s going on because complexity is not only not rewarded, it’s penalized in the current landscape.
Trinko: It’s also interesting because … and this is going to sound very old-fashioned of me, but we seem to ignore that there are vices of, I think you used the word “schadenfreude” in your book?
Trinko: OK, that’s how you say it. Sometimes it just seems that so much of the internet is making fun of other people, and sometimes it’s people who deserve to be made fun of.
But I sometimes wonder when I catch myself spending time doing this, I’m like, “Is this really the best use of my life?” And it’s a little uncomfortable. It strikes me as interesting that there’s not more attention in our culture where we wonder, “Ought we to do this?” But, anyway.
Daum: Yeah, I was thinking we should ask ourselves, if we’re about to tweet something or put something up, say, “Am I doing this? Do I feel a moral obligation to say this, or am I actually just self-soothing?” Because I think that’s a lot of what’s going on.
You say it because you have a moment of insecurity or loneliness or anxiety or whatever. And I’m going to say this thing and I know it’s going to get a response, and it’s going to give me a little jolt and make me feel better. For one second. And then you’ll have to do it again 10 seconds later.
Trinko: Yeah. Those jolts are real. I realized how bad my own addiction was a few months ago. My sister is like, “OK, I’m not going to check my Instagram likes after I post this picture for three hours.” And I was like, “Whoa, what? Self-control.” And then I was like, “What is wrong with me?”
Daum: Right. “I’m going to go to a meeting during these three hours to my 12-step, so I cannot look at Instagram. It’s Instagram Anonymous.”
Trinko: Do you think there’s any hope for social media? Is there anything that could make it better?
Daum: I think we’re already starting to see the tipping point. People are really, really sick of this, and I can tell you a few things about this book. A lot of people told me not to write it, so I consider myself a liberal. I still consider myself a feminist. I always have, but it really came out of a certain increasing disconnect with the contemporary iteration of both of those things.
I did not feel that the new left was necessarily representing my values all the time. There was a sort of purity-policing that interestingly we used to associate with the right, right? We would associate it with Jesse Helms and Tipper Gore, even though she was a Democrat. But remember when she was putting labels on records and so there was this sort of moral authoritarianism that the left really never had anything to do with?
And suddenly it was coming from there, and I thought, “My gosh, everything that I stood for, the rights of the individual and just letting people do what they want and not being such a prude—other than in flying, of course, I remain my prudish self—suddenly the left is espousing all of these things.”
So I felt very alienated from it, and I wanted to write a book that really captured that very confusion. And it wasn’t just that I wanted to hammer away at things like trigger warnings and radical campus activists, because a lot of people have done that and I think there are very obvious things to say about that.
I wanted to really examine my own confusion and I wanted to do a self-interrogation. What is it about growing up when I did in the ’70s and the ’80s that made me identify as a feminist in certain ways, and why is the contemporary version of feminism so alienating to me?
So I wanted to do that kind of book. And this is to your question, people were saying, “Don’t do it. Don’t do it. We can’t,” for so many reasons. First of all, “Everyone will annihilate you on Twitter and your career will be ruined. You’re a person in the media, you need your tribe.”
Another thing that the left continues to say, and I hear this, [is] that the Trump emergency is so dire that we need all hands on deck and we need to be totally on message, and anything that might tease out any issue in a way that requires talking about it for more than 30 seconds, or thinking about it deeply and considering other points of view, might give leverage to the other side.
And it might be an opportunity for the other side to take your point and twist it up and use it for nefarious purposes. And you see it happen all the time. You try to have an intelligent conversation about something like the gender wage gap, for instance, and the other side will go and just say, “Oh, yes, you’re right. It is women’s fault that there’s a gender wage gap.”
And I’m actually saying, “Well, it’s the result of a lot of things, including choices women make and on down the line.” But the other side will take it and run with it. And then the left will say, “See, you shouldn’t have brought it up. You should not have brought it up because this is what happens.”
That makes me so crazy. And really the crux of the book is a call for nuance, and a call for people to just calm down and have conversations and entertain complexity.
I think that social media makes that difficult. But I also am seeing more and more people listening to podcasts. They’re listening to three-hourlong podcasts, they’re listening to people talk to each other for hours and hours. And I can tell you, going around and talking about this book, doing events, there is such hunger to have more nuanced conversations.
People come up to me and say, “Oh, my God, just thank you for saying all this.” And so that really makes it worthwhile, even though a lot of my colleagues in the media still think I’m crazy.
Trinko: Yeah, it’s awful. You get really scared to think out loud at all because it’s like, “Oh, well, what if I misphrased something?” Or if—
Daum: But that’s our job. I always say, “If the smart, thoughtful people don’t step up and speak the truth and try to make complicated, honest points, the stupid, thoughtless people are happy to do the job for us.”
Trinko: So, you mentioned feminism, you talked about #MeToo in the book and that you felt you were an older feminist in that movement. What did you think of #MeToo? And what did you think of the feminist response to #MeToo?
Daum: It’s such a hard question because #MeToo is so big and it’s so evolving all the time. It’s a spectrum. Obviously, cases like Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, that’s not negotiable. I don’t think any sentient person would argue that was handled improperly.
But then you have cases like Aziz Ansari, where something that, to somebody my age, I’m 49, I’m going to interpret that as a bad date, a yucky experience. And women 20 years younger will say, “We need to put this in the category of real harm done and some kind of violation that requires adjudication or some sort of corrective.”
And that was the moment where I think the generational divide became totally pronounced. We were sort of onboard for a while and then that happened. There was a real split. And so what I wanted to do to answer your question is to, again, not just say, “Well, you guys are wrong and the older ones are right and you guys should just toughen up,” and all that, but I wanted to go back and think about what it is that made me that way. And I don’t know how old you are, I think you’re a lot younger than I am.
Daum: OK. But I can tell you that growing up in the ’70s as a kid, as a girl, it was a great gift. … Maybe it’s the first you’re hearing about this, [but] it was a time when there weren’t super girly girls or super macho boys. Everyone was just sort of a kid. There was a sort of weirdly—
Trinko: That actually sounds great.
Daum: It was, and there was this sort of androgynous, this aesthetic. Everybody watched “The Bad News Bears,” there were not pink toy aisles and blue toy aisles. There were not Disney Princesses. It was cool for girls to be tomboys, and the girls were doing better than the boys. I never had any sense of myself as anything but equal to, if not better than, boys.
And that continued as I grew up into the ’80s, by the time I got to college, and the late ’80s, early ’90s, there were more women than men going to college. I got into my 20s and 30s and [there were] women who are buying their own real estate and having babies and adopting babies on their own. And the guys were just twiddling their thumbs waiting for their lives to start. I’m talking in huge generalizations, but that was observable. So it was quite striking to me.
Fast-forward a couple of decades, when maybe starting about five years ago, the default premise of the conversation around women was that we were this monolithic, oppressed class under the thumb of the patriarchy. And it didn’t resonate with me, but, frankly, it resonated with enough of my friends, even my same-age friends that I wanted to really investigate what, if anything, I was missing.
Trinko: Yeah. And I think #Me Too … it was complicated for us, too, at The Daily Signal because as you said, there were the very clear-cut cases and then there were the ones that were just so much more complex and it was like, “Where does due process fit in?”
But at the same time, women obviously shouldn’t be pressured. And I think one thing in the Aziz Ansari case was, what really drove this home for me was that I thought the way he behaved was, we’ve never really heard his side of the story, but it was reprehensible.
And the sort of thing that struck me is he ought not to have done it. … And there’s certainly no criminal offense. I guess what struck me is there is something deeply wrong in our culture that he thinks this is OK, and that this resonates with so many women, which suggests a lot of men think this is OK. But I don’t think #MeToo is the way to fix it.
Daum: Well, and it depends what we mean by #MeToo fixing something. But this is really interesting, actually, because you’re on the right and I still claim that I’m on the left, but I actually would push back at that a little bit, because it’s not clear to me.
I wouldn’t call what he was doing reprehensible. I would call it pushy. And from what I remember of the case, weren’t they both sitting on the couch naked together and watching TV?
Trinko: Yeah, to be fair, it’s been a year since I read the article.
Daum: Let’s not, I don’t want to … fact-check me on this, I’m just like, flashes of memory.
But I as a 49-year-old, I’m going to look at that and say, “Well, if she wasn’t being kept there against her will, she could have walked out at any time. She wasn’t sure what she wanted. It seemed like she was sort of disappointed in his level of commitment, potentially.” I don’t know, all of these things.
And so for someone like me, my reaction is that kind of case diminishes the important parts of #MeToo. When we have that sort of thing, it makes us less able to fight the more clear-cut cases. And I think if you care about #MeToo, you care about due process and taking a testimony like that and publishing it without doing your due diligence and getting a comment from the person who’s accused, that’s just a blatant violation of due process.
See, this is exactly what’s so interesting, because we’re ostensibly on opposite sides ideologically, but you’re much more harsher on Aziz Ansari than I am.
Trinko: My impression was he behaved very selfishly. And I think that, ideally, with dating and relationships you should be thinking about the other person’s good, and if you’re just out to get some—
Daum: You should be, but this is not reality.
Trinko: Right. And to be fair, I do agree, I do think one of the things about #MeToo that was frustrating was the number of cases where it wasn’t … And obviously there can be an act of rape without any violence or whatever, but at the same time, women do have an amount of agency and that sort of got lost.
Daum: Yeah. And one of the interesting things about agency, if you notice, like around the conversations around race and gender, we’re in this moment where when we’re talking about racism or misogyny, for instance, those concepts are being applied onto systems and groups of people and not individuals.
You don’t think, “This person is racist.” You think, “White people are white supremacists,” or, “We live in a white supremacy.” And so we’re taking these ideas and putting them on gigantic entities and it really robs individuals of their agency. It’s quite an interesting thing that’s happened that way.
Trinko: Speaking of that, [there’s] a subway incident you recount in the book that I think touches on some of these themes. Can you share that with our listeners?
Daum: Yes, and I’ll try not to take forever to describe it. So, I was on the New York City subway maybe about a year or so ago, and it was probably 11:30 at night or so. I live way up town past Harlem, and the subway was pretty full, which is always remarkable to me because I lived in New York City 20 years ago, and the city was very different. There was a lot of crime.
If you were on the subway that late at night, you were probably by yourself or with one other person, so you would just be dying for a lot of people to be on the subway.
So the car was fairly full. I was sitting there reading my phone, there were two guys across from me, probably in their early 20s. White guys, kind of hipster guys. And there was this group of giggling girls a little bit further down in the car and they looked like they were from the suburbs. They were white, they had a lot of makeup on. They seemed a little tipsy, like maybe they had come into the city for a bridal shower or birthday party or something.
So everyone’s going along their way and a guy gets into the car at one point and he’s pretty clearly homeless.
He’s panhandling, he’s asking for money. He’s black. And he comes up to me and he starts kind of trying to talk to me and he says, “Oh, you have blonde hair. You’re so pretty. Can you give me some money or something?” And I did the thing I usually do, which was, “No, no thanks.” Just kind of friendly, wave him off.
And then these girls across from me, he goes over to them and they find him this novelty. They think he’s just so exotic and exciting. And so they’re flirting with him and, “Oh, what are you doing?” And he sits down with them, and they’re laughing and they’re joking and you’ve just got the feeling that they were exoticizing him somehow, or so pleased with themselves that they were out on the town and now they were having this experience with this guy who was clearly mentally ill, or homeless, or both. Probably both.
He was very wiry and sort of unsteady on his feet. He didn’t pose a threat to anybody. And the other people on the subway car were kind of rolling their eyes or looking around.
So finally after this visit with them, he decides to get off of the subway, and I’m sitting there, and he’s saying goodnight to them. They’re saying, “Goodbye, goodnight, have a great night.” And he passes me, and he gets right down in my face, and he says, “You have a f—ed up night.”
I just kind of laughed. I was like, “OK.” I kind of put my hands up, and was like, “OK, OK.” And then he goes, “B—-.” And he gets up, and I was kind of chuckling a little.
The two guys across from me, the white hipster guys, said, “Oh, my gosh, I’m so sorry that happened to you. I’m so sorry. I’m just so sorry you had to go through that.” And I was like, “Oh, you know, whatever.” And they go, “No, no, no, really, that’s just really wrong. It’s really wrong that you had to go through that.”
And I realized at that moment they weren’t really concerned about me. They were apologizing on behalf of the patriarchy. They felt that what this guy with absolutely no agency, no power, nothing whatsoever, that he represented some patriarchal force that was threatening me, and that they had to answer for it.
And I don’t know anything about them. They could have been anybody, but I just imagined them as being recent liberal arts graduates and they received the full complement of intersectional doctrine, and they had assumed that this was the power hierarchy.
Here’s the irony about this. … In trying to protect me or apologize on behalf of the patriarchy, they were actually patronizing me. They were not seeing the big picture at all.
This had nothing to do with the patriarchy. It had to do with the mental health system, it had to do with drugs, it had to do with homelessness, the whole wounded city and wounded world. But they had reduced it to misogyny.
It just seemed to me the ultimate irony. How far are we getting in this conversation about sexism if we’re going to reduce situations to the lowest common denominator that is actually incorrect?
Trinko: And that’s also interesting because it hearkens back to what you were saying earlier about the fake stories we tell on social media. Where in some cases the facts are correct, but the context is so removed that the essence of what happened really does make it fake news in a weird way.
Daum: Yeah. And there’s also just this currency in being harmed. I don’t want to throw around words like victim. That’s become ridiculous at this point. But it’s being traumatized, there’s social capital in that, I’ve noticed, and sharing a story about how you were microaggressed or somebody did something to you.
And you’ll notice that this is coming from the most privileged people in the world. And because they’re privileged and really not that much has happened to them, they have to seize onto the microaggression idea, because otherwise that’s the only hand they can play.
Trinko: It’s something. So, last question. I’m very impressed by your open-mindedness. Do you think there’s any areas where liberal and conservative women can work together right now? [Are] there ways that we can communicate better? Obviously, there’s some areas that we’re just not going to agree on, but is there some hope?
Daum: Well, the irony of all this polarization, to me, is that I think it’s fair to say that the majority of people do not like our president. I think that’s fair to say. I don’t know. I’m not going to speak for you. I don’t know. Yes, he does have some supporters, but for the most part, we have a common enemy.
We can come together no matter what our small differences are to fight this thing that I think at least, certainly more than 50% of the population would rather not the situation in the White House be what it is.
There’s this concept that came from Sigmund Freud, the narcissism of small differences. And what that refers to is the way that the more and more people have in common, and the more that the society is actually glued together, the more people start fighting over the little things.
And so it’s a paradox, right? We think we’ve never been more polarized, but in fact, we’re all sort of enjoying the benefits of prosperity and relative safety. And in a lot of ways, the country’s never been better. We’ve never been freer, we’ve never been safer.
… I know that a lot of third- and fourth-wave feminists like to talk as if we’re living in a Third World country when it comes to women’s issues. We’re not. And so it’s much easier to argue over these little differences.
Trinko: It’s interesting [that] you hit on that because I think one of my most vivid 2016 memories is a friend of mine saying to me, “If you voted for Trump, I don’t want to ever know it.” And I’m not actually going to say what I did.
Daum: We didn’t know anything. That’s how he got voted in.
Trinko: … The president has said many things I don’t agree with and wish he had phrased differently. I appreciate his work on judges and the pro-life issue, but I remember that sort of stayed with me, especially in a town like D.C. I don’t know, it’s just interesting. I do get afraid. You feel like if you say—
Daum: I’m sure.
Trinko: But no, I don’t want to overexaggerate it. It’s just in a social capital way. …
Daum: I would say yes. I have to say I am encouraged. People are getting tired of the blunted discourse, and I really think are hungry for real conversation. And the fact is people are probably friends with all sorts of people who have views that they don’t even know they have those views. And lo and behold, they’re still friends. They’re still playing golf together and hanging out together.
Trinko: We should all have “Political Outing Day,” where everyone tells their friends and colleagues, because I do think there’s so much self-censoring.
I actually remember … I grew up near San Francisco, and I used to work at Borders Books, may it rest in peace. And, this was back in the 2000s, I had a colleague and I mentioned that I liked George W. Bush and she just stared at me and said, “I thought you were a nice person.” And I was—
Daum: Well, you should call her up now and ask how she feels about that now. She would probably walk across glass for a mile to get George W. Bush back in office.
Trinko: No, but no. I’m going to try to make “Political Outing Day” a thing.
Daum: All right. #PoliticalOuting.
Trinko: I don’t know, I got to come up with a better term. …
Meghan Daum, the author of “The Problem with Everything: My Journey Through the New Culture Wars,” thanks so much for coming on.
Daum: Thank you. It was really fun.