The illusory solidarity of the Left

I am remembering today the instructor of my social inequality class, who warned us against only being concerned with the inequality that personally afflicts us. We need to be concerned with all of it, not only as a matter of justice,[1] I say, but because if we address only a single issue of injustice, we risk recreating the very system that now benefits wealthy white men but privileging a different group instead, much as the Russian Revolution simply reshuffled who was in power, who would oppress others.[2] Justice is justice for everyone; partial steps won’t do.

I have long supported abortion rights, indeed right up to birth,[3] even when I couldn’t support the movement due to their support for the neoliberal Hillary Clinton, directly pitting the issue of choice against the issues of class and labor. But my immediate response to a leaked first draft of a U.S. Supreme Court decision that would overturn,[4] as widely anticipated,[5] Roe v. Wade,[6] is how much warning—decades really—that the left has had this was coming down and how poorly prepared we are for it now that it is indeed coming down.


Next up may well be gay rights,[7] may well be contraception,[8] may well be an outright national ban on abortion.[9] And yeah, ain’t it something how that “freedom” we keep hearing about[10] extends right up to the bedroom door?

I think as well of a member of a subaltern group, not a woman, not gay, who had received his Ph.D., or so he claimed, who insisted that the voices of his particular subaltern group were going unheard and refused to consider other voices that are also insufficiently heard. His group’s grievances were, clearly in his light, the only ones that mattered.

I called him out, he tried and failed to defend himself, he went silent, and I think I either unfollowed or blocked him. But he should surely be feeling shame by now for that nonsense.


Fig. 1. Sign advertised on Etsy by CrowdSigns, May 1, 2022, fair use.

I refrain from naming the group that Ph.D. was a member of because it would be misleading to single out one group: I have heard something really very similar from other groups, clearly none of whom heed my social inequality instructor’s warning. We put up signs like in figure 1, performatively, to make ourselves feel righteous, but that is the limit of our so-called “solidarity.” We’re all in it for ourselves, according to whichever identity seems fashionable at the moment, really, no one else, just like the rich are in it for themselves.

An important difference is that the rich have the resources to enact their policy preferences and the rest of us don’t,[11] which surely has something to do with that long list of Democratic Party failures on issues that are existential for lots of folks:

The Democrats will see their reward in the 2022 and 2024 elections, and we will see it as their richly deserved defeat clears the way for a right-wing dictatorship,[12] and even more so than usual, I’m pissing into the wind here. Because that sign (figure 1) and “vote blue no matter who”—oh yeah, Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin[13]—are all that are needed to pretend we’re in solidarity.

  1. [1]I see from a copy of my unofficial transcript that I took the class in Summer of 2007 at California State University, East Bay, but I do not recall the professor’s name.
  2. [2]Emma Goldman, “There Is No Communism in Russia,” in Red Emma Speaks: An Emma Goldman Reader, ed. Alix Kates Shulman, 3rd ed. (Amherst, NY: Humanity, 1998), 405-420.
  3. [3]David Benfell, “No way,” Not Housebroken, July 9, 2008, https://disunitedstates.org/2008/07/09/no-way/
  4. [4]Robert Barnes and Ann E. Marimow, “Roberts directs investigation into leaked draft of abortion opinion,” Washington Post, May 3, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2022/05/03/supreme-court-leak-investigation-abortion-roe-wade/
    ; Josh Gerstein and Alexander Ward, “Supreme Court has voted to overturn abortion rights, draft opinion shows,” Politico, May 2, 2022, https://www.politico.com/news/2022/05/02/supreme-court-abortion-draft-opinion-00029473
  5. [5]Irin Carmon, “This Is How Roe Ends,” New York, December 1, 2021, https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2021/12/supreme-court-looks-likely-to-kill-roe-in-mississippi-case.html; Marjorie Cohn, “For the First Time, Supreme Court Is Poised to Retract a Fundamental Right,” Truthout, December 3, 2021, https://truthout.org/articles/for-the-first-time-supreme-court-is-poised-to-retract-a-fundamental-right/; Linda Greenhouse, “The Supreme Court Gaslights Its Way to the End of Roe,” New York Times, December 3, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/03/opinion/abortion-supreme-court.html; Ed Kilgore, “Is Roe v. Wade Now Doomed?” New York, May 17, 2021, https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2021/05/is-roe-v-wade-now-doomed.html; Adam Liptak, “Mississippi asks the Supreme Court to overrule Roe v. Wade,” New York Times, July 22, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/22/us/politics/mississippi-supreme-court-abortion.html; Ruth Marcus, “The question is not whether ‘Roe v. Wade’ is overturned — but how,” Washington Post, December 1, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/12/01/supreme-court-ponders-how-to-overturn-roe/; Claire Cain Miller and Margot Sanger-Katz, “What an America Without Roe Would Look Like,” New York Times, December 5, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/05/upshot/abortion-without-roe-wade.html; Amber Phillips, “4 takeaways from the Supreme Court arguments on abortion,” Washington Post, December 1, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2021/12/01/takeaways-scotus-mississippi-abortion/; Nia Prater, “Supreme Court to Hear Case That Threatens Roe v. Wade,” New York, May 17, 2021, https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2021/05/supreme-court-to-hear-case-that-threatens-roe-v-wade.html; Daniela Santamariña, “What abortion policy would look like in the U.S. if Roe v. Wade fell,” Washington Post, September 2, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2021/06/11/abortion-rights-roe-v-wade/; David G. Savage, “Supreme Court agrees to hear major abortion case challenging Roe vs. Wade,” Los Angeles Times, May 17, 2021, https://www.latimes.com/politics/story/2021-05-17/supreme-court-agrees-to-hear-abortion-case; David G. Savage, “Supreme Court justices sound ready to restrict the right to abortion,” Los Angeles Times, December 1, 2021, https://www.latimes.com/politics/story/2021-12-01/supreme-court-weighs-future-of-abortion-rights-and-roe-vs-wade; Amy Davidson Sorkin, “The Supreme Court Looks Ready to Overturn Roe,” New Yorker, December 2, 2021, https://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/the-supreme-court-looks-ready-to-overturn-roe; Ariane de Vogue, “Mississippi asks US Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade,” CNN, July 22, 2021, https://www.cnn.com/2021/07/22/politics/mississippi-roe-v-wade-abortion/index.html; Paul Waldman, “At the Supreme Court, the bell tolls for Roe v. Wade,” Washington Post, December 1, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/12/01/bell-tolls-for-roe/; Mary Ziegler, “The End of Roe,” Atlantic, December 1, 2021, https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2021/12/abortion-abortion-oral-argument-supreme-court/620874/
  6. [6]Robert Barnes and Ann E. Marimow, “Roberts directs investigation into leaked draft of abortion opinion,” Washington Post, May 3, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2022/05/03/supreme-court-leak-investigation-abortion-roe-wade/; Josh Gerstein and Alexander Ward, “Supreme Court has voted to overturn abortion rights, draft opinion shows,” Politico, May 2, 2022, https://www.politico.com/news/2022/05/02/supreme-court-abortion-draft-opinion-00029473
  7. [7]Mark Joseph Stern, “Alito's draft opinion explicitly criticizes Lawrence v. Texas (legalizing sodomy) and Obergefell v. Hodges (legalizing same-sex marriage). He says that, like abortion, these decisions protect phony rights that are not ‘deeply rooted in history,’ Twitter, May 2, 2022, https://twitter.com/mjs_DC/status/1521296185977417732
  8. [8]Molly Jong-Fast, “The Anti–Birth Control Movement Is the New Anti-Abortion Movement,” Vogue, July 1, 2021, https://www.vogue.com/article/anti-birth-control-movement
  9. [9]Caroline Kitchener, “The next frontier for the antiabortion movement: A nationwide ban,” Washington Post, May 2, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2022/05/02/abortion-ban-roe-supreme-court-mississippi/
  10. [10]David Benfell, “On ‘freedom,’” Not Housebroken, August 7, 2021, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/09/13/on-freedom/
  11. [11]Noam Chomsky, “The U.S. behaves nothing like a democracy,” Salon, August 17, 2013, http://www.salon.com/2013/08/17/chomsky_the_u_s_behaves_nothing_like_a_democracy/; Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page, “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens,” Princeton University, April 9, 2014, http://www.princeton.edu/~mgilens/Gilens%20homepage%20materials/Gilens%20and%20Page/Gilens%20and%20Page%202014-Testing%20Theories%203-7-14.pdf
  12. [12]David Benfell, “My 2024 forecast,” Not Housebroken, March 10, 2022, https://disunitedstates.org/2022/03/10/my-2024-forecast/
  13. [13]Michael C. Bender, Andrew Duehren, and Lindsay Wise, “Sen. Joe Manchin Says He Won’t Vote for ‘Build Back Better’ Bill in Blow to President Biden,” Wall Street Journal, December 19, 2021, https://www.wsj.com/articles/manchin-says-he-won-t-vote-for-build-back-better-bill-11639924048; Jordain Carney, “Manchin joins with Senate GOP to block bill guaranteeing abortion access,” Hill, February 28, 2022, https://thehill.com/homenews/senate/596223-manchin-joins-with-senate-gop-to-block-bill-guaranteeing-abortion-access/; Jonathan Chait, “Joe Manchin Has Put Biden’s Presidency in Mortal Danger,” New York, September 2, 2021, https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2021/09/joe-manchin-pause-biden-presidency-failed-danger-congress-democrats.html; Jonathan Chait, “Kyrsten Sinema Threatens to Kill Her Own Infrastructure Bill,” New York, September 20, 2021, https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2021/09/kyrsten-sinema-threatens-infrastructure-bill-biden-build-back-better.html; Jonathan Chait, “Democrats Have Two Long-Shot Plans to Deal With Kyrsten Sinema,” New York, October 21, 2021, https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2021/10/biden-kyrsten-sinema-build-back-better-taxes-congress-will-it-pass.html; David Dayen, “Manchin’s Cherry-Picking of Budget Estimates,” American Prospect, November 5, 2021, https://prospect.org/infrastructure/building-back-america/manchins-cherry-picking-of-budget-estimates/; Mike DeBonis, “Joe Manchin gets all the attention. But Kyrsten Sinema could be an even bigger obstacle for Democrats’ spending plans,” Washington Post, September 15, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/sinema-reconciliation-manchin/2021/09/15/8c583f96-162d-11ec-9589-31ac3173c2e5_story.html; Mike DeBonis and Seung Min Kim, “Sinema and Manchin confirm opposition to eliminating filibuster, likely dooming Democrats’ voting rights push,” Washington Post, January 13, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/biden-set-to-visit-senate-democrats-in-a-final-improbable-pitch-for-voting-rights-action/2022/01/13/fde533b6-7475-11ec-8b0a-bcfab800c430_story.html; Democracy Now! “‘We Need to Deliver’: Anger Grows at Sens. Manchin, Sinema over Obstruction of Democratic Priorities,” September 21, 2021, https://www.democracynow.org/2021/9/21/35_trillion_spending_bill_ro_khanna; Maureen Dowd, “Sinema Stars in Her Own Film,” New York Times, October 2, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/02/opinion/kyrsten-sinema-congress.html; John Harwood, “Why Democrats haven’t given up on Joe Manchin and voting rights,” CNN, January 2, 2022, https://www.cnn.com/2022/01/02/politics/joe-manchin-voting-rights-filibuster/index.html; Siobhan Hughes, “Manchin Deflates Democrats’ Hopes of Changing Filibuster, Passing Election Bills,” Wall Street Journal, January 4, 2022, https://www.wsj.com/articles/manchin-deflates-democrats-hopes-of-changing-filibuster-passing-election-bills-11641328293; Julia Ioffe, “Inside the Manchin Gossip Swirl,” Puck News, December 21, 2021, https://puck.news/inside-the-manchin-gossip-swirl/; Glenn Kessler, “Why Biden says his plan is ‘fiscally responsible,’ while Manchin decries ‘gimmicks,’” Washington Post, November 2, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2021/11/02/why-biden-says-his-plan-is-fiscally-responsible-while-manchin-decries-gimmicks/; Olivier Knox, “It’s Bernie vs Manchin as spending breakthrough remains elusive,” Washington Post, October 7, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2021/10/07/its-bernie-vs-manchin-spending-breakthrough-remains-elusive/; Marianne Levine and Burgess Everett, “Democrats grit their teeth after Manchin lists demands,” Politico, September 30, 2021, https://www.politico.com/news/2021/09/30/democrats-grit-teeth-manchin-demands-514836; Abby Livingston and Carla Astudillo, “Sen. Joe Manchin, key Democratic holdout on federal voting protections, coming to Texas for fundraiser hosted by several GOP donors,” Texas Tribune, June 16, 2021, https://www.texastribune.org/2021/07/15/joe-manchin-texas-fundraiser-republicans/; Amanda Marcotte, “Kyrsten Sinema’s run out of excuses: Supreme Court leaves Senate Democrats with little choice,” Salon, July 2, 2021, https://www.salon.com/2021/07/02/kyrsten-sinemas-run-out-of-excuses-supreme-court-leaves-senate-democrats-with-little-choice/; Hans Nichols, “Manchin backs as little as $1 trillion of Biden’s $3.5 trillion plan,” Axios, September 8, 2021, https://www.axios.com/scoop-manchin-backs-as-little-as-1-trillion-of-bidens-35-trillion-plan-91d079e0-84a7-4f8f-94d4-212827a61339.html; Amara Omeokwe, “Manchin Rejected Biden Bill Over Inflation, Debt Concerns. How Founded Are Those Worries?” Wall Street Journal, December 20, 2021, https://www.wsj.com/articles/manchin-rejected-biden-bill-over-inflation-debt-concerns-how-founded-are-those-worries-11639958265; Manu Raju, “Democrats cut deal with Manchin to get party behind long-shot voting overhaul bill,” CNN, September 14, 2021, https://www.cnn.com/2021/09/14/politics/democrats-manchin-voting-overhaul-bill/index.html; Tony Romm, “Sens. Manchin and Sanders square off as Democrats clash over $3.5 trillion economic package,” Washington Post, September 12, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/us-policy/2021/09/12/manchin-sanders-reconciliation/; Tony Romm, “Manchin says he ‘cannot vote’ for Democrats’ $2 trillion spending package, drawing sharp White House rebuke,” Washington Post, December 19, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/us-policy/2021/12/19/manchin-build-back-better-biden/; Greg Sargent, “Biden’s frustration with Manchin and Sinema captures a dark truth,” Washington Post, October 5, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/10/05/biden-manchin-sinema-frustration-reconciliation/; Greg Sargent, “Bernie Sanders erupts at Joe Manchin, and a deeper dispute is revealed,” Washington Post, October 7, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/10/07/sanders-manchin-reconciliation-democrats/; Greg Sargent, “Joe Manchin’s ugly new demands expose the absurdity of arbitrary centrism,” Washington Post, October 18, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/10/18/manchin-climate-reconciliation-child-allowance/; Greg Sargent, “The damage done by Joe Manchin is likely to get much worse,” Washington Post, December 10, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/12/10/manchin-filibuster-protecting-our-democracy-act/; Greg Sargent, “Rep. Jayapal on what’s next: Tell us what you support, Sen. Manchin,” Washington Post, December 21, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/12/21/pramila-jayapal-joe-manchin-talk-build-back-better/; Greg Sargent, “Joe Manchin finally makes it plain: He is in favor of minority rule,” Washington Post, January 19, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/01/19/joe-manchin-filibuster-voting-rights-minority-rule/; Elana Schor, “Magical thinking vs. Manchin,” Politico, December 20, 2021, https://www.politico.com/newsletters/politico-nightly/2021/12/20/magical-thinking-vs-manchin-495524; David Siders, “‘Her calculation is off’: Sinema dares the left to take her out,” Politico, October 5, 2021, https://www.politico.com/news/2021/10/05/sinema-arizona-democrats-congress-515108; Marianna Sotomayor, “Waiting for ‘Manchema’: House liberals grow exasperated with two Democratic senators as Biden agenda struggles,” Washington Post, September 30, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/manchin-sinema-reconciliation-liberals/2021/09/30/3aa2b376-2130-11ec-8200-5e3fd4c49f5e_story.html; Jeff Stein, “Manchin’s $1.8 trillion spending offer appears no longer to be on the table,” Washington Post, January 8, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/us-policy/2022/01/08/manchin-white-house-talks/; Veronica Stracqualursi, Daniella Diaz, and Ethan Cohen, “Sinema censured by Arizona Democrats over filibuster stance that blocked voting rights legislation,” CNN, January 22, 2022, https://www.cnn.com/2022/01/22/politics/sinema-censured-arizona-democratic-party/index.html; Kimberley A. Strassel, “On Reconciliation Bill, Senate Moderates Hide Behind Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema,” Wall Street Journal, November 18, 2021, https://www.wsj.com/articles/reconciliation-bill-moderates-let-joe-manchin-kyrsten-sinema-hassan-kelly-build-back-better-11637276328; Daniel Strauss, “Can Pramila Jayapal Stare Down Manchin and Sinema?” New Republic, September 29, 2021, https://newrepublic.com/article/163811/pramila-jayapal-infrastructure-manchin-sinema; Sean Sullivan and Seung Min Kim, “From charm offensive to scorched earth: How Biden’s fragile alliance with Manchin unraveled,” Washington Post, December 19, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/manchin-biden-alliance-rift/2021/12/19/674b6e02-60e3-11ec-a7e8-3a8455b71fad_story.html; Paul Waldman, “Kyrsten Sinema needs to show us what she believes in,” Washington Post, September 20, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/09/20/kyrsten-sinema-needs-show-us-what-she-believes/

2 thoughts on “The illusory solidarity of the Left

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.