By Robyn Stein DeLuca, Ph.D.
This week NY Times columnist David Brooks pronounced his judgment of the women’s marches on Saturday, and declared them a misguided waste of time. He wrote that the marchers focused on the wrong issues, used the wrong methods, creating a pointless, feel-good social gathering rather than a meaningful protest of the policies of Donald Trump. It was mansplaining at its superior, know it all best, and Brooks was completely off the mark in a stunning display of faulty reasoning.
His most searing criticism was that the marchers protested the wrong issues: which included reproductive rights, equal pay, affordable health care, and action on climate change. He trivializes and diminishes their relevance by writing that these are only the issues of “upper middle class voters in university towns and coastal cities.” This is nonsense, when you see that there were women’s marches in 500 American cities and a total of approximately 3.3 million people attended to support these causes. This was no fringe, elitist political protest. It was likely the largest protest in American history, and it united a wide swath of Americans.
Brooks should be able to understand the supreme relevance of these issues to all Americans. In particular, as an astute social critic, he should know that one of the most powerful foundations of economic stability is for women to control their fertility. When women control the timing and number of pregnancies, they and their families thrive, plain and simple. It’s tough to imagine that I need to do this, but I will explain how this works. Women can manage their fertility with this special medicine called birth control. The most effective birth control often has a monthly cost, and requires the care and monitoring of a physician.
In its first days, the Trump administration has already threatened women’s ability to control their fertility. He is working to overturn the provisions of the Affordable Care Act, which covered the cost of birth control and annual reproductive exams. Trump is also joining the efforts of Republican legislators to defund Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood has provided reproductive health care at a reasonable cost to low income American women for a century. But for some reason, Brooks finds it “odd” that the marches featured strong support of this American institution.
Trump has already curtailed the reproductive choices of women across the world by reinstituting the “gag rule.” This policy denies funding to international aid groups if they perform or even inform their patients about an abortion as a possible resolution to an unwanted pregnancy. This policy which has been enacted by every Republican president since Ronald Reagan, immediately results in fewer women getting appropriate reproductive healthcare across the globe.
Brooks also criticizes the focus on “women’s issues” as identity politics, and a major weakness of the marches. He sees the ubiquitous pink hats and signs about pussies as representing a small and marginal group. Identity politics is usually understood as a political strategy that advances the goals of a specific and small group defined by individual characteristics like religion, or race. This form of political protest is generally criticized by conservatives, who see broad political movements as more effective, and characterize identity politics as whiny and self-centered.
By designating the marches as identity politics Brooks has erred in two ways. First, once again it seems that Brooks has not done the math. Who does he think wears pink and has a pussy? Half the American population! It makes no sense to describe a march to support the interests of half the American population as identity politics. In our fractured political landscape, I can’t imagine a broader constituency. At marches in the U.S. and around the world, women of different social, racial, religious, and ethnic backgrounds came together to support their rights. When Brooks refers to women’s political interests as identity politics he places women on the margins, and their concerns as secondary at best.
Second, despite the broad background of those engaging in the marches, identity politics as a form of protest seems to be particularly appropriate at this time. Trump and his supporters mock, denigrate and attack our very identities as women, Jews, Muslims, and the disabled. He is planning and carrying out policies that limit rights based on these identities. How better to fight back than to demand our individual rights?
Finally, Brooks aims to educate us on what our proper goals as citizens and anti-Trump protestors should be. He exhorts us to build “a nation that balances the dynamism of capitalism with biblical morality.” I couldn’t agree more that capitalism needs regulation. Unregulated capitalism has brought us global warming, which threatens humanity’s very existence. Unregulated capitalism also brought us the mess that is American healthcare. A for-profit approach to healthcare is driven by the desire for returns on stockholders’ investments, not the health of patients. The Affordable Care Act helped by making it illegal to deny insurance based on pre-existing conditions, and made healthcare available to millions of people who had gone without, but it was clearly no panacea. And it is now being dismantled by Trump and the Republicans, despite lacking any workable replacement. Capitalism run amok does not do well at caring for the planet or people’s health.
But we should balance capitalism with “biblical morality?” What exactly is that? Based on which bible and from which part? I refer Brooks to the first amendment of the constitution, which prohibits the establishment of any state religion.
We live in the melting pot that is America, not Judeo-Christianland. The founders made it clear that our laws should not be based on the dogma of any particular religion. Laws should embody secular ideals of democracy and individual rights. Ethical morality, not biblical morality should guide us in limiting the extremes of capitalism.
So, Mr. Brooks you don’t need to tell us what today’s important issues are because millions of Americans have already told you. Time to stop pontificating and listen up.