Republicans should look upon Saturday’s “Women’s March” with dismay. Here was a multi-city demonstration organized at the grassroots level in which nearly 2 million people participated. The organizing force that catalyzed this protest wasn’t anything President Donald Trump had done—he had only been president for 24 hours. It was simply he. That’s all it took to mobilize enough voters to potentially reshape the political map.
More distressing for Republicans reveling in their moment of ascendance was the fact that, out of the hundreds of thousands of marchers in Washington, not one was arrested. This display of civility suggests that this is a movement that has the potential for growth. This demonstration’s non-violence also seems to have irritated some on the left. Wracked with self-consciousness, the New Republic’s Jess Zimmerman asserted that those praising the marchers’ courtesy are really only exposing their own lack of racial consciousness. There would have been more arrests, she averred, if there had been more black faces in that crowd.
Her essay is a remarkably ungracious display toward both the police and “white men’s white wives and daughters,” whom she describes as “property.” More resonant, it seems, is her argument that it is police who define what is and is not violence. What the lack of a police presence at the Washington march she attended suggests to her is that law enforcement was predisposed to view this event—and its predominantly white participants—as nonviolent. “If the police stay their hand with you, white women, it is not a compliment,” she wrote. “It is condescension.”
Zimmerman mentions in passing the fact that, just one day prior, the streets of Washington were set upon by gangs of self-described anarchists who protested Donald Trump’s presidency in an entirely different way. They destroyed storefront windows, smashed cars, set trash cans and stray vehicles alight, injured six police officers, and were dispersed by riot police using non-lethal ordnance. That is not because there were African-Americans in that crowd, although there were (as of course there were at the Women’s March); it’s because they were violent anarchists. One need only peruse the images of the protesters being pepper-sprayed or destroying private property to see clearly that the prevailing dynamic on those streets was not racial. Furthermore, those arrested at satellite demonstrations in cities like Portland, Oregon were entirely monochromatic, and many of them were female.
It seems a truly bizarre attack on the Women’s March—a demonstration organized by a politically active Muslim woman that was undermined from within by liberal organizers who protested the lack of color in leadership—to claim it lacked diversity. The only thing it lacked was a dangerous leftist ethos that increasingly views violence as a legitimate and even necessary element of political expression. The fact that this march was so wildly successful without any displays of brutality renders the liberal agitators who apologize for violence mere thugs. That is what Zimmerman finds so irksome.
There is, however, another factor fueling Zimmerman’s condemnation of a relatively righteous civic display: the penance of public self-flagellation. Writing in Current Affairs, Angela Nagle expounds elegantly on the bitterly divisive phenomenon afflicting modern political discourse in which ideological devotees feel compelled to take on and condemn the collective sins of their group. Be it race, gender, nationality, or religion; the “ritual confession of guilt,” as she terms it, serves as a barrier to entry into sophisticated circles. These rituals are not rote exercises; improvisation is rewarded. In the case of anti-Trump hysteria, these rites take on absurd forms in which the individual enduring his or her self-imposed struggle session indulges the crowd’s manic appetite for hyperbole. In the midst of a mob, circumspection and prudence are not virtuous.
“Rather than merely being of benefit to no one, it could be of quite a significant benefit to just one person – the self-flagellator themselves,” Nagle astutely observes. “Publicly declaring your sins makes you appear a better person than those who have not declared them. It is not really a put-down of oneself, but a put-down of others, who are less morally worthy for having been less forthcoming in their confessions.” Zimmerman is white, but she likely does not see herself as “property.” Nor, one presumes, would she characterize herself as a beneficiary of the beneficence of law enforcement, who graciously declined to ignite a riot by virtue of their collective bigotry. She’s one of the good ones, you see.
It’s not necessary to reach back into the era of segregation, as those sympathetic to Zimmerman’s argument have, in order justify the notion that political demonstrations dominated by African-Americans are often met with a disproportionate response from police. The absence of an excessive police response to politically charged demonstrations is not, however, also evidence of racism. What Zimmerman does inadvertently identify is a disturbing trend among her ideological allies not only to legitimize political violence but to glorify it. The Women’s March held an unforgiving mirror up to the violent left, and they don’t like what they see.