“What’s the Matter with Kansas?” a 2004 bestseller asked. Thomas Frank’s book addressed why low-income whites vote Republican, “against their economic self-interest.” Leftist analysts argue that poor whites are “white supremacists” accustomed to “white privilege;” we suffer from “white fragility;” because of the “browning of America” we experience “white panic;” and we vote Republican.
What’s the matter with my vote? In the most recent gubernatorial and the past four presidential elections, I voted all five times, but only for one Democrat. Like Frank’s allegedly confused Kansans, I have voted against my own immediate economic self-interest. I do not do so because I have floated through life on a palanquin of white privilege. Since Democrats promise poor folk like me both money and compassion, why did I not vote for Democrats all five times?
The left advertises itself, not only as the party of economic handouts, but also as the party of compassion. A Google search of “Joe Biden” and “Kindness” turns up millions of pages. Below are the first three:
Leftists often don’t live up to such promises. Rather, leftists distribute resources, attention, and compassion unequally. Compare the saturation coverage meted to Trayvon Martin. Wikipedia devotes 71 pages to Trayvon Martin and his killing. Derrion Albert receives three Wikipedia pages. Derrion was a Chicago honor student beaten to death, on camera, with a railroad tie, by his classmates. Consider Jazmine Barnes, a seven-year-old black girl. When media reported that her killer was white, her death received international attention. When it was revealed that her killer was black, she dropped out of sight. The skin color of the officer and of the casualty informs choices about coverage of officer-involved-deaths. Compare Michael Brown to Justine Ruszczyk Damond to Tony Timpa.
Mere skin color is not enough to explain patterns of leftist embrace, rejection, and vilification. Asians have recently learned that they can be uplifted in the subject of a leftist sentence and decapitated in that sentence’s predicate.
The left’s meticulous manipulation of who receives compassion and who is cast into the outer darkness appears chaotic, but in fact it is consistent with an underlying mythos. This manipulation of compassion and economic resources occurs in one-on-one encounters, it occurs in local institutions, and it occurs nationally and internationally.
There’s more at work here than “selective outrage” or simple hypocrisy. There is an underlying rationale carefully serviced to support leftist mythology. Reality, that is, the power narrative, must conform to the leftist agenda, not vice versa. And that is why, though it is often against my own, immediate, economic self-interest, I vote Republican when I do.
Recent events prompt me to ponder anew the question of why poor whites like me vote Republican. These events include HBO’s airing of Allen v Farrow, the death of Metropolitan Opera maestro James Levine, and media coverage of the March 16, 2021 Atlanta shootings.
One such event is entirely personal. In my senior year of college, a member of my household violently and sexually assaulted me. Such assaults had happened before. This time, I, finally, ran out of the house. I was working as a nurse’s aide, but most of my income went to tuition. I was homeless for a while; I ate from dumpsters and leftovers diners didn’t finish in the school cafeteria.
I had purchased a budget-priced, “fancy” pair of shoes for my student teaching assignment. I traveled to this assignment the only way I could: I was hitchhiking. It rained. The glue holding my new shoes together melted, and the soles separated from the body of the shoes.
I needed to ask for help.
I had gotten the phone number of a women’s shelter from a bleary, photocopied flier taped to the wall in a ladies room – that’s what we called them, in those naïve old, days, and that’s what they were: ladies rooms. Oases for women, just women, where sexual assault survivors could exhale, enjoy female camaraderie, and escape from the background anxiety we feel around men.
A friend was allowing me, temporarily, to couch surf in her apartment. I stared at the rotary phone attached to the apartment wall. My guts were in a twist. I was about to tell an outsider, an American (though born in America, I felt foreign), a person with some power, truths I felt dutybound to carry to my grave. My childhood friends and I had been raised by parents who survived immigration and the Depression. Our parents had witnessed World War II, on the front lines of combat, and on both sides of the fences around concentration camps. These grizzled veterans taught us that you have to fend for yourself, your pain doesn’t matter, you should never ask for anything, and everyone hates a whiner.
The left, in contrast, extends an invitation: “Pay attention to your pain! Take the names of those who hurt you! Be offended easily! Spill your guts. We care. Solidarity forever! There’s no need to be afraid or ashamed! Just like in the Trust Fall exercise, close your eyes and fall backwards! We will catch you every time!” To accept the left’s invitation and ask for help is a big deal for us.
I picked up the handset. I dialed. I stopped breathing.
I was mindful of my natal culture’s demands for stoicism. I was determined not to cry or even whimper. I was also mindful that I’d soon be speaking to someone not from my natal culture. I’d probably be speaking to what I called, in those days, a “white” girl. Someone from a wealthier background, whose family had longer roots in America. Outsiders called people from my hometown “white trash.” I screwed myself up to do what I always did when speaking to outsiders: I tried to sound dignified. Not trashy. I spoke in Standard English, which was not my normal speech. No doubt I sounded as unnatural as I felt.
At the other end of the phone line, I heard what I expected to hear: the voice of a righteous, officious young feminist. The kind of enviable, radical cool chick, dressed all in black, who impressed professors and called them by their first names. The young feminist at the other end of the line said something I’ll never forget. “You don’t sound traumatized to me at all. What you’re describing sounds pretty traumatic but you sound calm and rational. Is this some kind of a prank? I don’t think we can do anything for you.”
This young feminist was the Official Helper Person. The person society had tapped to control the faucet of communal compassion. I didn’t perform the way she wanted. She never said this, but I could almost hear: “You aren’t pathetic enough, incoherent enough, blubbery enough, to satisfy my Messiah complex. You still retain the ability to speak in complete sentences; you still exhibit some personal dignity. Be gone.” She judged me, condemned me, and hung up on me. I froze. I just stood there, staring at the phone for a long time.
Maybe I did it wrong? Maybe I need to do it better next time?
I scraped myself up off the floor and I went to one of my professors, a lesbian with a national profile in gay rights. She has since passed away; the New York Times made sure to call her both “eloquent” and “compassionate” in its obituary. In our literature classes, this professor talked as much about left-wing politics as she talked about any poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley. She had said, in class, if we, her students, needed help, we should contact her. Again, summoning every molecule of courage I could, I asked for help. After a rambling, self-involved peroration that addressed nothing I said, she concluded, leaving me utterly confused and empty-handed.
I approached administrators. I explained. My mother’s factory and cleaning jobs, my father’s job carrying rich men’s bags in a country club, and my job as a nurse’s aide had provided the school with my full tuition for three and a half years. I maintained an A minus average. Surely the university had some rainy-day funds it could disburse for a student in my emergency situation? I was told then, and would be told later, in graduate school, and then still later in my search for a tenure-track job, that certain goodies, like meal tickets, tuition remission, emergency funds, and housing, had to be reserved for “underrepresented” populations. I was white, so I didn’t meet the criteria.
I was not able to buy new shoes that spring. In a pinch, rubber bands can hold shoes together. I ate literal and metaphorical garbage. I earned straight A grades, graduated magna cum laude, and got my first post-college teaching job within a couple months of graduation.
For the rest of my life, listening to sermons from rich, white, liberal friends, I would agree. Absolutely, America must thoroughly integrate African Americans into mainstream American life. Absolutely, the fortunate should help the unfortunate; that’s one of the foundational tenets of my religion. That’s why I put money in the plate every Sunday and a big reason I went into teaching.
But, I would add, skin color is not a foolproof method to separate the fortunate from the unfortunate, and, as Larry Elder argues in a devastating YouTube video, leftist approaches have had limited success and may have done harm. Let’s try conservative solutions, those proposed by John McWhorter, Shelby Steele, Jason Riley, Jason D. Hill, and Walter E. Williams. Black conservative solutions focus less on the virtue signaling of munificent white saviors and more on African Americans’ ability to accomplish good things for themselves.
I would haltingly struggle to cite my own experience. The leftist, white savior model forces black people to play small, to beg from whites, the way that I suspected the women’s shelter intake person wanted me to beg. To be pathetic in exchange for help.
My rich, white, liberal friends would cut me off with the terminal slice of a guillotine. They would take on a tone that was six parts benevolent patronizing, two parts sneering, and two parts threat, and would explain to me that my “lived experience” was invalid because I was blinded by “white privilege” and subconscious “implicit bias.” Until I repented and confessed their gospel, I should be shunned.
Every adult survivor of child abuse is, I have to guess, haunted by the same realization: I got out, but today, right now, some kid somewhere is hurting. We adult survivors want to rescue kids. At one of my first teaching jobs in a majority-minority city, a black student told me that a member of her family was taking her to the basement and raping her. Using a leather belt, a parent beat a child on the child’s exposed buttocks in front of me and other students. A young man cried in my arms. His last caring relative died, he had no idea where his mother was or who his father was, and a family member had kicked him out of his house. He was sleeping on park benches. Gang members were threatening him.
I went to my super-leftist and racially diverse superiors and begged for help. These superiors communicated to me that, yes, yes, these tales were “Sad, sad, so sad. Just a sign of how capitalism affects our students.” And they did nothing. In each case, I had to seek outside resources. In the case of the homeless young man, it was the local, white, police chief who unhesitatingly stepped in.
Compare: after video appeared on social media of one white student singing a rap song that includes the N-word, there was an all-day, all-campus conference, the commitment of big dollars to address “systemic racism,” and lengthy, public self-criticism from campus officials.
I’ve never responded to any TV show as I have to Allen v Farrow, HBO’s exhaustive four-and-a-half-hour documentary, and accompanying podcast, examining then seven-year-old Dylan Farrow’s accusation that her father, Woody Allen, touched her private parts on August 4, 1992. The documentary plays, for me, as a vindication of every child who has ever been violated, who has ever been disbelieved, and who has ever heard that his or her pain does not matter.
Child abuse affects everyone. In 1999, the New York Times, as part of coverage of welfare reform, reported that “Women who were raped or molested as children are more likely to become addicted to alcohol or drugs, to suffer disabling battles with anxiety or depression and to become victims of domestic violence.” These women were also disproportionately “hard cases” who couldn’t quit welfare dependency.
In 2013, The Atlantic reported that “Ninety-five percent of teen prostitutes and at least one-third of female prisoners were abused as kids. Sexually abused youth are twice as likely to be arrested for a violent offense as adults, are at twice the risk for lifelong mental health issues, and are twice as likely to attempt or commit teen suicide. The list goes on. Incest is the single biggest commonality between drug and alcohol addiction, mental illness, teenage and adult prostitution, criminal activity, and eating disorders.”
Allen v Farrow, given its thoroughness, its high-profile subjects, and its reservoir of social workers, prosecutors, and psychologists, presented the opportunity for a national discussion, something like that kicked off by the 1619 Project, but this time, devoted to child abuse. How many victims? What are the hidden costs? How do survivors learn to thrive in spite of their wounds? Finally, those kids out there who are suffering right now can hope for change. A survivor of child abuse doesn’t have to be humiliated by a woman’s shelter intake person. A girl who is being raped in a basement, or a boy sleeping on park benches, can assume that officials on a college campus might actually help.
And who might lead that change, but those self-deputized “kind” and “compassionate” people in charge of the spigots doling out societal compassion?
“Bob” is a prominent Catholic author and Facebook friend. Though I don’t always agree with Bob, I do value his Biblical “hunger and thirst after righteousness.” Bob had previously lent his considerable support to Jussie Smollett and Althea Bernstein, two African Americans who made dubious claims of being victimized by hate crimes, and Nathan Phillips, the so-called Native American elder who harassed Nick Sandmann and other Catholic schoolboys at the Lincoln Memorial.
Even so, I admire Bob’s use of social media to urge his thousands of readers to care about the unfortunate. I was, thus, gut-punched by a recent post. Bob’s fans repeatedly begged him to provide a social media signal boost for Allen v Farrow‘s groundbreaking exploration of incest.
Bob publicly announced that he refused to watch the program. Watching the program would be comparable to being forced to eat feces. “I don’t need to know more. Listening to [incest victims] recount their trauma [will not] help them or me do anything about it.”
I was aghast.
The New York Times, America’s paper of record, declined to post Dylan Farrow’s op-ed describing her abuse. The Times has published thousands of articles covering sexual abuse by priests. Nick Kristof had to post Farrow’s op-ed on his blog. Though the Times refused Farrow space to speak, it granted Woody Allen an op-ed in the paper itself.
The Times is the woke-est publication in the land. The Times published a couple of articles focused on the quality of films: one devoted to the charming, sophisticated Manhattan viewers discover in Woody Allen’s films, one, classified under “Screenland,” devoted to the film Mia Farrow shot of seven-year-old Dylan describing her allegations against her father. Can you imagine a Times article discussing the cinematography of the George Floyd video?
In Allen v Farrow itself, a slew of celebrities are asked about working with Allen. Cate Blanchett said that the accusation of child abuse is “A family issue and I hope they can resolve it.” Adrien Brody, who has also worked with confessed child rapist Roman Polanski, said, “People make mistakes. It’s not for me to delve into… It’s not my place.” Diane Keaton, in an interview with Matt Lauer, ironically enough, said, simply, that Allen gave her her career, so she was happy to praise him. Would any celebrity say anything similar if Allen had been accused, not of molesting his own daughter, but of saying the N-word on August 4, 1992?
The discomfort I felt about how the Times handled Allen v Farrow came into sharp focus when I read a salute to Metropolitan Opera maestro James Levine, who died March 9, 2021. Anthony Tommasini, the Times classical music critic, wrote that Levine built the Met’s “orchestra into an ensemble that rivals the world’s great symphonic orchestras … He established a young artists program that has become a model for companies everywhere.”
James Levine leveraged the god-like power his fans bestowed upon him to coerce boys as young as 15 to service him sexually. The Met knew all about it and quashed investigations. The Times knew about it, too. A reader commented, “A multitude of sins are shielded and enabled by the transactional ethics of access journalism … a host of music critics knew … Why didn’t they turn it over to the investigative desk? … generations of entertainment journalists, for fear of being frozen out, turned a blind eye when they should have shone a spotlight. The road to hell is paved with the blacktop of opportunistic complicity.”
Note to journalists: One must get huffy about sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. One must also remain silent about celebrity sexual abuse. Some pain matters. Some pain does not matter. On March 16, 2021, a twenty-one year old white man allegedly shot nine people at massage “spas” in Atlanta Georgia, killing eight. Most of his victims were Asian-American spa workers. The alleged shooter is said to have blamed his sex addiction for the shootings. We may eventually discover that he is a white supremacist, but as of this writing, no such evidence has been advanced.
Mainstream media didn’t want to talk about sex addiction, or misogyny, the proliferation of pornography, or how dangerous sex work is. It wanted to blame the shootings on Donald Trump and his “racist” supporters. Whiteness caused the shootings; whiteness that must be destroyed. The left was not just deciding that some pain matters and some pain does not. It was actively purloining pain from female victims and apportioning it to the left’s project of demonizing all whites.
Ben Shapiro was fearless. He cited statistics showing that African Americans, not whites, are disproportionately represented among those committing violent crimes against Asians. In fact the web had been replete, in recent months, with reports and videos of African Americans attacking and insulting Asian-Americans. One video shows Antoine Watson murdering 84-year-old Thai grandfather Vichar Ratanapakdee. Black-Asian tension extends back at least as far as the L.A. Riots. Shapiro further pointed out that leftists are happy to discriminate against Asian-Americans when it comes to admission to elite education institutions.
Courageous feminist Phyllis Chesler insisted, “It’s Not Always About Race.” Chesler cited a depressing and overwhelming fact: “Most of the corpses that litter our American landscape belong to women … women presumed to be prostitutes.” Statistics support Chesler’s point. “According to a recent study, 22 percent of confirmed U.S. serial murder victims between 1970 and 2009 were known prostitutes. And those numbers are climbing – over the last decade, 43 percent of victims were sex workers … Prostitutes make up just over 0.3 percent of the nation as a whole.” More statistics on sex worker victims here.
K. Lee wrote, “Dear White Liberals: Asians Aren’t Your Pawns.” Lee pointed out that attacks on Asian-Americans had been occurring for months, but leftists only showed his family concern when the assailant was a white, Christian male from the South. “You use our victimhood, turning it into your political gains… You sided with the rich NBA players over the freedom fighters of Hong Kong. You sided with Disney and NIKE over the lives and the dignity of the Uighurs in western China. You praised Antifa while they harassed and doxxed a gay Asian journalist. You sided with the rioters and looters that stole, robbed, and burned down our shops and businesses all last summer.”
Why? Why does the pain of a child raped by a priest matter, but the pain of a child raped by a celebrity matter less? Why does a woman killed by a white supremacist matter, but a woman killed by a sex addict matter less?
Your pain matters if your pain can be weaponized to denigrate Western Civilization. A child molested by a celebrity says nothing about how bad Western Civilization is. The molestation of a child by a priest can be used as proof that the Catholic Church, and, by extension, Christianity, is hopelessly corrupt and should be jettisoned. Christianity is one of the foundational pillars of the West. When a white authority figure like a police officer harms a person of color, that victim demands compassion and attention. Police officers are metonyms of law and order. A white police officer’s corruption and failure can be used as a symptom of a sick system, one that needs to be overturned. When my student was sleeping on park benches and living in fear of gang members, he was being victimized by black people. His pain didn’t matter. His pain could not be used to indict American society.
Similarly, in my recent online discussion with an Atheist, I insisted that to understand child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, one must understand child sexual abuse period. Yes, talk about priests. And include talk of celebrities like Jimmy Saville and Michael Jackson who got away with child sexual abuse in plain sight for decades. Include the high status granted films by Woody Allen that depict his obsession with sex between teen girls and old men. The Atheist would have none of it. He wanted to talk only about abuse in the Catholic Church. That is not a pro-child or anti-abuse position. That is simply an anti-Catholic position. It is an exploitation of children’s pain to attack an institution one hates.
We’re not talking, here, about compassion. We’re talking, rather, about the callous, calculating, systematic, exploitation and commodification of pain. Like the Hindu goddess Kali and the Aztec Coatlicue, who both wear necklaces of human skulls, leftists festoon themselves, ornament themselves, with human suffering, through virtue signaling. Last summer, they used black squares as social media avatars to show support for BLM. Now, they use a frame saying “Stop Asian Hate.” Note that neither action requires any work, investment, or preparation, or actually helps anyone. Always, they select, from life’s all too abundant menu, a form of suffering that can be commodified, not just as an ornament, but as a battering ram to tear down their ogre, Western Civilization.
The left is not loyal to the tribes it, however fleetingly, patronizes. Decades ago, the left championed working class white ethnics like Joe Hill, Emma Goldman, Sacco and Vanzetti, and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn. The left became disenchanted with white ethnics when too many advanced through bourgeois values like hard work and obeying the law. Ethnics remained true to their church and their folk identities, and refused the all-erasing identity of “worker,” as in, “Workers of the world, unite.”
The left’s betrayal of the working class is never so clear as in a not-to-be-missed Triggernometry interview. Jodi Shaw was a library worker at elite Smith College, where tuition, room, and board run $78,000 annually. In July, 2018, Smith student Oumou Kanoute accused employees of harassing her because she is black. An investigation found no evidence of racist harassment, but those Kanoute accused, including a janitor, a police officer, and a cafeteria worker, were damaged by her allegations. Kanoute doxed the cafeteria worker, who has a chronic illness, which flared up from the stress of a false allegation. Strangers phoned the worker at home and told her she should die. She had to be hospitalized, and when she sought other work, her potential employers identified her as an alleged racist. Shaw outlines how Smith turned on its innocent workers, out of fear of its elite, Woke, student body.
The fickle favoritism the left shows African Americans turns on a dime. Witness Juan Williams, who was betrayed by the left for saying that he feels anxiety when he sees Muslims on airplanes. More recently, in March, 2021, Alexi McCammond, a 27-year-old African American journalist, was fired from her job at Teen Vogue before she could even begin working. McCammond, when she was a teenager, had posted tweets critical of Asians, including an Asian teaching assistant who was not helpful to her. Given the timing of the Atlanta spa shooting, in this instance, leftist fealty to African Americans was trumped by leftist exploitation of Asians’ pain.
Jesus was asked to provide the way to get to Heaven. He responded that one must love God and love one’s neighbor. Jesus was asked, who is our neighbor? Jesus responded with a parable about a Samaritan, that is, a member of a despised outsider group. This parable smashed tribalism in a way that no other text ever has. Its ethic is echoed in Genesis. One loving God created two ancestors, Adam and Eve, for all mankind. As the Talmud explains, God did this “so that people should not try to feel superior to one another and boast of their lineage in this wise: ‘I am descended from a more distinguished Adam than you.'”
Other ethical systems reflect a tribal mindset. “Be good to people who are members of your tribe; apply a lesser ethic to those not members of your tribe” is a common precept. Jesus’ words and Genesis are revolutionary.
In his essential book, Dominion, Tom Holland, himself an atheist, demonstrates clearly that the universality of Judeo-Christian ethics remade the world. A key to this reformation was the Good Samaritan parable. We are not best understood as members of competing tribes. We are best understood, all of us, as brothers and sisters, children of a loving God. That concept has fueled liberation movements across the globe and throughout history for the past two thousand years. There is no other concept that can compare to it.
We are entering an increasingly secular, post-Judeo-Christian world. The left has dragged the golden calf of twisted tribalism to center stage.
There is a velvet rope around the leftist Kumbaya campfire, and a roided-out bouncer ejects anyone who doesn’t meet the left’s criteria. The left picks and chooses which pain, and which victims, deserve leftist balm.
Why do I vote against my economic self-interest? The right doesn’t lie to me like that telephone feminist at the women’s shelter did. The right doesn’t demand that I surrender all dignity before I deserve compassion. The right doesn’t say to me, or, these days, to anyone, “The color of your skin, and the flavor of your ancestry, and the skin color of the person hurting you, exempt you from the terms of our contract. Your coupon for kindness or justice or even just simple human decency is void.”
Danusha Goska is the author of God through Binoculars: A Hitchhiker at a Monastery