The left is experiencing another outbreak of traitor talk.
President Donald Trump’s nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court on Saturday prompted predictable overreactions by partisans on the left, but a few stood out for their invocation of traitorousness: “Consider her out of context, and Amy Coney Barrett looks like a personal and professional success,” writes New York magazine’s Sarah Jones. In fact, Jones claims, Barrett is “a familiar specter: a traitor to her sex.”
Jones (who, earlier in the weekend, went on a Twitter rant claiming that Justice Elena Kagan, who had no experience as a judge when she was nominated to the Court, is more qualified than Barrett, who does) compares Barrett to conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly. She denounces them both for their offenses against motherhood, an odd position for a self-described feminist to embrace. “Schlafly, famously, was no housewife, and Barrett is even more of a career woman,” Jones sniffs. But both women, according to Jones, were only successful because they embraced something she calls “professional anti-feminism.”
But Jones’ “professional anti-feminism” looks less like an apt description of Schlafly’s or Barrett’s career arc than a liberal rationalization for attacking a successful woman with whom Jones disagrees. In Jones’ rendering, women like Barrett, because they live their lives on the opposite end of the ideological spectrum of people like Jones and make different life choices, can’t possibly think for themselves (if they did they, would agree with Jones, natch). Rather, they must be the pawns of conservative men.
Jones was explicit about this in a tweet: “Amy Coney Barrett is perfectly legible as the product of professional anti-feminism, which has no problem empowering (certain kinds of) women within a specific and limited context for a specific and limited purpose.” Jones doesn’t bother to spell out what that “purpose” is. Jones lives and writes in enough of a liberal bubble that she assumes readers know it’s some sort of patriarchal mischief.
Another self-described feminist writer, Vanessa Grigoriadis, also harked back to old stereotypes of women when expressing her dislike of Barrett, tweeting, “I guess one of the things I don’t understand about Amy Comey Barrett is how a potential Supreme Court justice can also be a loving, present mom to seven kids? Is this like the Kardashians stuffing nannies in the closet and pretending they’ve drawn their own baths for their kids.” She continued, “When she’s trotted out as an icon of motherhood, which she will be now, often, let’s remember that she may make young women have kids they didn’t want and aren’t ready for.”
Like many progressives, Jones and Grigoriadis are clearly annoyed that people might actually admire Barrett and her beautiful family, seeing in Barrett’s personal and professional life something to aspire to rather than criticize. Because they are so enmeshed in identity politics themselves, Jones and Grigoriadis are unable to discuss Barrett’s ideas and jurisprudence on their own merits without attacking her sex (or her faith). The fact that Barrett has not complained about being a woman or a mother, but instead expressed gratitude for the efforts of earlier generations of women like Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg during her nomination acceptance speech, no doubt only adds to their animosity.
They aren’t the only progressives on the lookout for traitors: This weekend, Women’s March co-founder-turned-professional race activist Tamika Mallory spoke at a press conference reacting to the grand jury decision in the Breonna Taylor case. She demonstrated astonishing ignorance about how the justice system works, but also inadvertently revealed the strict boundaries progressive black activists police when it comes to black people with views that differ from their own.
Mallory attacked Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron, who announced the grand jury’s decision not to indict two of the three officers in the raid and who is black, personally, saying, “Daniel Cameron is no different than the sell-out negroes that sold our people into slavery and helped white men to capture our people, to abuse them, and to traffic them while our women were raped, while our men were raped by savages.” In other words, because Cameron allowed the grand jury process to take its course, which is his job as attorney general, he was a traitor to his race.
Mallory wasn’t the only activist policing race traitors: Another black activist who appeared on MSNBC made a similar allegation, saying Cameron was “skin folk but he is not kinfolk,” and CNN pundit Sophia Nelson tweeted that Cameron was an “Uncle Tom” and a “Step & fetch Negro.”
Mallory is not a fringe character; she’s a member in good standing of the progressive left, despite her on-the-record anti-Semitism, so much so that Joe Biden’s senior campaign adviser, Symone Sanders, has appeared with her on panel discussions and praised her as a friend when giving her (and fellow anti-Semite Linda Sarsour) BET’s Social Movement Award in 2018.
The eagerness to ferret out traitors in their midst is not a new impulse on the left, but those engaging in it seem not to understand its provenance, nor the irony of their effort to police their fellow women and black people.
The original liberal traitor was President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He was called a traitor for rejecting his own privilege in pursuit of his progressive New Deal goals, not for turning his back on the progressive left. Indeed, so common a theme is FDR’s class betrayal that one biographer titled his book about FDR’s presidency, Traitor to His Class. For FDR, being called a traitor to his own class was a badge of honor he wore proudly. So, too, should Barrett and Cameron wear those monikers today, because the supposed traitorousness is in fact evidence of independence of mind and a refusal to bow to the limiting principles of identity politics.
Progressive activists and journalists who call people like Barrett and Cameron traitors to their sex or race (and Democratic presidential candidates like Biden who claim that black people who don’t vote for him “aren’t black”) might think they are enforcing a mantra of inclusiveness and tolerance. What they are doing in fact is highlighting the close-mindedness and puritanical litmus-testing that has overtaken so much of the Democratic left.