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Opinion | Michelle Goldberg Grapples With Feminism After Roe


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ezra klein

I’m Ezra Klein. This is “The Ezra Klein Show.”

I think it’s important to say here at the beginning that the Dobbs decision doesn’t reflect the pro-choice side losing the argument. The Republican court majority that overturned Roe was appointed mostly by presidents who lost the popular vote but took the White House anyway. The Dobbs decision itself is really unpopular. Poll after poll shows Americans oppose it.

A recent YouGov survey went further and offered 11 choices, some positive, some negative, so people could describe how they felt. Disgusted led the pack, followed by sad, angry, and then outraged. Conservatives overturn Roe by winning power, not by winning hearts and minds.

Even so, feminism as a political movement is in fraught shape. This is an era of backlash, from polling showing that nearly half of Democratic men under 50 think feminism has done more harm than good, to the Republican Party’s embrace of Donald Trump as their standard-bearer and leader, to the abuse heaped, heaped on Amber Heard during the Heard-Depp trial.

And even if Roe didn’t fall because of persuasion, its restoration will require persuasion, and not just persuasion, but organizing and the attainment of a lot of political power. My colleague Michelle Goldberg has written a series of columns exploring these issues that I found provocative in the best way.

They raise really hard and uncomfortable questions, and they don’t pretend to find easy answers or that there’s any black and white here. And in particular, Goldberg has been asking, where did the women’s rights movement go wrong? How did it lose so much power, and what does it need to get it back?

As always, my email is at ezrakleinshow@nytimes.com.

Michelle Goldberg, welcome to the show.

michelle goldberg

Thank you for having me.

ezra klein

So you’ve covered reproductive rights and thought about feminism and feminist political power for decades now. I found that were writing about abortion in your student newspaper in the ‘90s. So what has the last week or months felt like to you?

michelle goldberg

I mean, it’s just it’s been so incredibly bleak, and the fact that we all saw it coming, that we all knew this moment was coming, and people have been warning about it for decades now, I mean, it really felt inevitable, the night Donald Trump was elected, and women all over this country were kind of sobbing and bracing themselves. And so it’s been this slow-motion inevitability.

But there is a difference between knowing something bad is going to happen and having it happen. And now we’re in just like a fundamentally new world. I think it’s really shocking, because most people alive — I mean, maybe there’s an example that I’m missing in sort of my blinkered privileged state, but I’m reaching for an example of people who are alive now who’ve kind of lost a right that was so fundamental to the way they conceived of their life trajectory.

ezra klein

I want to go back a bit, then, before the Dobbs decision, to this broader feminist backlash that you’ve been tracing in your pieces. I want to say, this isn’t why Roe was overturned, but it is part of the context in which the fight to revive it is now going to have to play out. So you brought a poll to my attention that I found genuinely startling.

The Southern Poverty Law Center asked whether feminism has done more harm than good, and 46 percent of Democratic men under 50 said that it had. So 46 percent of Democratic men under 50 say feminism has done more harm than good, and almost a quarter of Democratic women under 50 said the same. How do you understand those results?

michelle goldberg

Well, like you, I mean, I found them pretty flabbergasting. And I didn’t just want to use them in the piece without calling up the people who did the poll to help me understand it, right. I mean, like anyone else, I thought it could be an outlier. And it still could be an outlier. You don’t have a lot of people polling on this question.

But when the Southern Poverty Law Center — the reason that they asked that question in the first place is because they were picking up a lot of misogyny in online spaces. And I’ve written about this a bunch for the Times. One of the most striking examples of that was the reaction to the Amber Heard-Johnny Depp trial, you know, billions of views for this kind of outpouring of crowdsourced vitriol and mockery.

And so I can’t exactly explain it. It’s pretty well known that the kind of interests of younger women and younger men are diverging in a lot of ways. and there’s like a lot of polling that picks that up more generally, although not like among just Democrats.

Look, I think men and women, young people are having a really hard time connecting with each other. There’s a lot of resentment more generally. There’s a lot of depression and anxiety about sex and gender and kind of mutual disappointment among young heterosexuals. You know, some theorists have called this heteropessimism.

And at the same time, there’s been even, among people I think, who probably agree with feminist precepts, who are pro-choice, who believe in women’s equality, there’s been a reaction against the word “feminism” or against what’s seen as this kind of neoliberal, Sheryl Sandberg, throw yourself into work — it’s often derided as the quote unquote, “girlboss.”

And so it’s hard to say if the poll is picking some of that up as well. I think for older women, feminism has a pretty clear meaning, right? They went from a place where they didn’t have many rights, including the right to abortion, the right to open your own credit card — spousal rape was criminalized pretty late, relatively recently. And for younger people who maybe have not had the experience of not having all these rights, it can be less clear what feminism actually stands for.

ezra klein

When you said a moment ago, that there’s pretty clear evidence that the interests of young men and young women are diverging, tell me more about that.

michelle goldberg

So I know about this more from the young women’s side, right. I mean, I think there’s other people to talk to about young men doing badly, and being alienated and not being able to form relationships. But there is a lot of evidence, I think, that young people in general are having hard times forming relationships for all sorts of reasons.

The way that this manifests among some of the young writers that I’ve been reading recently, heterosexual women writers, is as just the kind of profound despair, a profound lowering of standards. And in some cases, in Christine Emba, a young “Washington Post” columnist, has a new book called “Rethinking Sex.” There’s a new British book that’s going to be released in the United States relatively soon called “The Case Against the Sexual Revolution.” There is Nona Willis Aronovitz’s book called “Bad Sex.”

They all come at it from slightly different angles and have quite different politics, but for each of them, there’s a sense that there’s a framework of, quote unquote, “liberated sexuality” that has been really unsatisfying, and I think for some of these writers, not all of them, has been kind of dangerous and led women to feel like they have to participate in their own exploitation.

ezra klein

One of the other things that struck me about that poll that you had mentioned in the column was the amazing generational gap. So I’d mentioned that 46 percent of Democratic men under 50 and about a quarter of Democratic women under 50 said feminism had done more harm than good. But over 50, only 4 percent of Democratic men said that. Over 50, only 10 percent of Democratic women said that.

And that brings up a question that sounds basic, but I think is actually pretty slippery and fundamental, which is when we say the word feminism, when we ask somebody has “feminism” done more harm than good, what do you think that word is referring to to most people?

michelle goldberg

Well, it’s a good question. I think it’s probably referring to something really different for different people, which might explain these really strange and counterintuitive poll results. Look, at its most basic, feminism is the belief in women’s equality. It is the belief that women deserve social and material equality with men, that they don’t yet have it, and that changes should be made in the social system and the economic system to effect it.

I mean, there used to be a stereotype, right, that it meant hating men. I don’t know how often people still think that it means that. But I do think that it’s probably associated with a certain sort of ruthless ambition for some people, or a rejection of marriage and family. And it can be that, but that’s by no means an essential part of feminism.

You know, and some of them are rejecting the idea that women don’t already have equality, right, because there’s plenty of men who believe that it’s women at this point who are unduly privileged, and that it’s men who are kind of constantly on the defensive.

ezra klein

So I have a hypothesis about this, and I’m curious how it sounds to you, which is, I think one potential reason for that generational gap is that the two groups are referring to different things, and that to older people, feminism is/was a political movement, a recognizable organized political movement. It had and has an agenda. There have been fights around it.

And I think to a lot of younger people, people under 50, it is disproportionately something that the writer Elisa Gonzalez, who you quoted in that piece, calls a “discourse feminism.”

michelle goldberg

Yeah, no, I think that’s right.

ezra klein

Which is the more rhetorical, like media representations, you see people write about Beyoncé performing with the word “feminism” behind her. People talk about “girlboss.” but I don’t want to call it a vibe. That’s getting a little too on the nose for the moment.

But I do think there’s something about a transition from a definable political movement, where you could trace its organizational tendrils and what it wants, to a kind of hyperobject that exists in the media, an identity that some people claim and other people don’t claim, but something that is fundamentally politicized, but not in a more classical sense of the word “political.”

michelle goldberg

Right. That’s a kind of rhetorical style that some people find grating, and there’s a kind of ouroboros quality to it, right, because one thing that is part of this discourse is endlessly debating what is and isn’t feminist, even if it sort of has nothing to do with people’s real-life conditions.

You know, and part of what happened is that — and this is not the first time that this has happened, but part of what happened in the period of time that we’re talking about is that, you know, you spoke about Beyoncé dancing in front of the big screen with the word “feminist” on it, and sampling the speech, “We Should All Be Feminists” in one of her songs.

And that was a sign of, that was a part of a bigger moment when feminism became really, really fashionable. It was something that kind of all sorts of stars and celebrities wanted a piece of. It was associated with self-actualization and glamour and ambition.

And you know, you could argue that it was defanged, right, because it became, as you said, this like pop cultural object, although for people who grew up, as I did, at a time when feminism was either considered laughable or marginal, there was something thrilling about that moment. The problem is that if something becomes fashionable, it’s just kind of inevitable that it’s then going to become unfashionable.

ezra klein

One possibility that raises is that feminism is to some degree a victim of its own success, that enough of its core ideas have become mainstream that now, what people think of when they think of feminism, is more its brand than its arguments. Maybe many of the people — I think it’s quite possible — who would agree with a lot of ideas that we would understand to be feminist might say they don’t like feminism, sort of an analog to the endless polls that people didn’t like Obamacare but like the individual policies within it.

michelle goldberg

Mm-hmm. Yeah.

ezra klein

And so you have this detachment of what the movement wants from what the brand is to people. And you might even see that in this moment. I mean, we’re talking about these poll numbers for feminism in general, but the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision is very, very unpopular. It’s extraordinarily unpopular among Democrats in particular, extraordinarily unpopular among women in particular, young people in particular. And so there is at least some evidence that ideas or agenda items we might think of as feminist are nevertheless still quite potent.

michelle goldberg

Well, I think that’s right, although I mean, it feels weird for me to say feminism is a victim of its own success at this moment of maximum regression, right, at this moment when we’re going far — I keep catching myself saying backwards, and it’s not the right thing to say, because we’re actually kind of hurtling into this unthinkable future that’s going to not be at all like the past. But nevertheless, I mean, it’s not as if women won the major battles and now are just fighting about trivialities, right. They just lost one of the major battles.

But at the same time, I definitely understand what you’re saying in that they’ve succeeded in getting at least a lot of their assumptions broadly accepted. I mean, and even the anti-abortion movement now at least parrots a lot of the assumptions of the feminist movement, right. They’ll say, well, it’s no longer true that women need abortions to be able to succeed in the corporate world. They don’t say that women should be home raising babies anymore. They almost kind of lean into this superwoman image that feminists had lionized in the past, but have since discarded.

ezra klein

Let’s shift from discourse feminism to the actual political movement. How is feminism as a political movement today organized, if indeed you would say that it is?

michelle goldberg

No, I don’t think it is. I mean, as soon as you said, let’s shift to the political movement, I sort of felt like, what political movement? I mean, I’m relatively dialed in, and if I wanted to say, join a feminist group, I wouldn’t really know where to start, I mean, besides sending a check to NARAL or something, right.

There is no kind of organized feminist movement. I don’t think that this is something that’s really unique to feminism. It’s a problem on the left more generally, and a lot of people have written about this, the way a bunch of nonprofits kind of stand in for the grassroots. And then you have a lot of people who can be mobilized very quickly because of social media, but there’s nothing lasting there, right. They come together for huge events, and then they sort of melt away.

The exception to this was Indivisible and some of the groups that formed right after Trump’s election and after the Women’s March, and that was such an exciting time, because it seemed as if — I mean, these weren’t explicitly feminist movements, but they were a lot of women who were really outraged by the results of that election and had been galvanized, and were actually doing what the Christian right has always done, which is form local organizations, take over your precinct committee, run for the most local offices, sort of become the party rather than petitioning the party.

And so you have that, and it’s, I guess, maybe feminist adjacent. But in terms of what you would join if you just wanted to join an organization devoted to enhancing women’s rights, I’m not sure what that would be.

ezra klein

Historically, how is that different? When feminism was more of a political movement, what was the substance? What were the social connections, the groups around which it organized?

michelle goldberg

Well, you had a whole bunch of different organizations. Obviously, one kind of basic unit of feminism, at least second-wave feminism, was the consciousness raising group. So people would go to these groups, and they would talk about problems in their personal lives that maybe they didn’t realize were part of kind of bigger political problems until they started sharing them with other women — things like abortion, things like sexual harassment, things like domestic violence.

And a lot of those groups, they stayed together for a long time. I mentioned in that piece I wrote that Ellen Willis, who’s one of my absolute favorite second-wave writers, was in the same group for 15 years. And then you had kind of larger lobbying groups like the National Organization for Women. Now, the National Organization for Women still exists, but I certainly never kind of hear about what they’re doing, or hear them spoken about as a group that various politicians feel beholden to or feel like they have to listen to.

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ezra klein

You mentioned a couple of minutes ago the way, there are a lot of nonprofits that don’t have a lot of members but have a lot of centrality, I guess, in — if you’re a member of Congress and you want to ask the question of, well, what would the feminists think, there are organizations you call and they get consulted on bills.

But they’ve been in a pretty rough state, and in your big article here, you write about an article that Ryan Grim published in The Intercept about how a lot of progressive organizations, not just feminist ones, have quote — this is you here — “essentially ceased to function because they’re caught up in internal turmoil, often blending labor disputes with fights over identity.”

I’ve been really struck myself talking to people inside the reproductive rights world who will, off the record, just tell you the entire, entire sector is in shambles, that the movement is completely consumed with internal politics in a way that has really deformed its external politics. And so I’m curious how you assess it. What has gone wrong there? And has what has gone wrong there actually mattered, or is that just kind of another problem somewhere else?

michelle goldberg

Well, I think it’s complicated. And it’s something that I think people have to keep in mind, is that there are employment grievances that are really valid, right. There are kind of racial grievances. There are Black women saying that they haven’t been promoted or that they haven’t been paid equally, people who made really credible accusations against discriminatory behavior by Planned Parenthood — I mean internally.

And so those have to be taken seriously. I don’t think that it’s all just kind of oversensitive millennials and members of Gen Z who have ridiculous demands. I think you have a problem on the left in general of a kind of ossified leadership, young people who are both frustrated and in some cases feel sort of hopeless. They feel like the opportunities or the possibilities for change in the world are being shut down.

And so you sort of turn inward, and you start trying to make change within or seek justice within your own organization. And it just doesn’t work. I mean, Joe Freeman wrote about this back in the ‘70s in this great essay called “The Tyranny of Structurelessness” that wrote about how the feminist movement was kind of allergic to hierarchy. But in the effort to get rid of hierarchy, you just ended up empowering a lot of clique-iness and passive aggression disguised as politics, right.

You need, especially in a nonprofit organization, you need a degree of hierarchy and authority to function. And there needs to be a sense, the kind of legitimacy around the leadership. So at the same time, you know, look, I’m a person in my 40s. I probably would see it differently if I was 20 years younger.

There were demands that kind of younger people make, both about how organizations are supposed to function internally that are, I think, a little bit stupefying for older people who kind of aren’t used to thinking of the workplace for good or ill as being a place that is supposed to provide people with a whole bunch of emotional support and validations.

And then there are kind of, I think, substantive differences, especially around language. I mean, I can tell you that most women I know over 40 seethe at the word “women” being taken out of reproductive rights activism. I mean, I can’t tell you how many conversations I have with people about this who are just so angry about it, because it feels to them like feminism has become another place where cisgender women are supposed to defer and kind of back off and be self-effacing, and worry about other people’s problems. It drives people really crazy.

And these aren’t people — I mean, I’m not going to say whether or not they’re transphobic. That’s not my determination to make. But I can say that these are people who definitely would oppose bathroom bills, right, would oppose laws that try to stop young people from transitioning, that would probably support their own kids transitioning under some circumstances, and that would take a sort of more watchful waiting attitude under other circumstances, you know, but definitely believe that it has a place.

Everybody I know kind of know knows people who have kids who are either transitioning or nonbinary, and maybe they’re confused by that. But they’re not hostile to it. But there is a sense, I think, among a lot of older women that if you can’t explain the way that abortion bans are rooted in misogyny, that they’re rooted in the kind of fundamental desire to control women’s reproduction, then it becomes very difficult to organize, right.

Like, ‘some people oppress other people on the basis of their reproduction’ is just not really an accurate way, I think, of describing centuries of patriarchy.

ezra klein

Something that makes me think a bit about is, I think there’s a difference between seeing your output as an organization, as a staffer at an organization, as being built around organizing, and the various goals and measures you might look at to see if your organizing is successful, and being about purity, organizational communications, organizational stance, right.

I think there’s a difference between seeing your success inside an organization, being how many people have you added to it, versus how much have you made it a bolder, more thoroughly liberal or radical, or however you might define it, organization.

And one thing I have seen across a lot of dimensions of the left in the past couple of years is that for all that people on the left get attacked for wanting safe spaces, actual left organizing spaces feel incredibly unsafe to the people in them. And the number of people who are going to persevere through that, who are going to go and sit in on a bunch of meetings, and be part of an organization where they’re terrified they’re going to say the wrong thing; where they feel like they’re going to get jumped on; where they feel like if they have some disagreements — if they’re there for one reason and they have disagreements with people on another, that they’re going to be made into the enemy in the room.

I think people don’t always love talking about this, but there’s also just an ongoing howl from within these movements of people who feel very turned off within them. And I almost never meet anybody who really denies this. It’s more just considered unhelpful to talk about too much publicly. But there is this tension between organizing for purity and organizing for numbers.

And one thing that seems to me to have happened to a lot of groups is either they’re not really organizing at all, or to the extent they are, they’re organizing for purity under a theory that will create enthusiasm that gets them numbers. And that theory is just not bearing out.

michelle goldberg

Well, this thing you’re talking about on the left is so old. And there must be a study out there kind of tracing this tendency back to the French Revolution, because you just see it over and over again. And I don’t know that anybody has actually diagnosed, like, psychologically what it is that keeps happening, right. It’s the oldest cliché in the world, that — I believe it was Michael Kinsley who said some version of this — that the right makes converts and the left hunts heretics. But it’s something that you see over and over again. I mean, the feminist version of this is Ti-Grace Atkinson’s maxim, “Sisterhood is powerful. It kills. Mostly sisters.” So this is obviously something we saw in the Students for Democratic Societies’ devolution into the Weathermen. You saw it in the kind of collapse of a lot of feminist organizing in the 1970s.

And somehow, we can’t learn those lessons, because you see so many of these dynamics being replayed over and over again. And what’s so frustrating to me is that it’s so different than the way the right organizes. There’s a documentary I wrote about recently called “Battleground,” which is a pro-choice filmmaker following around — most of it is her following around three different women leaders of the anti-abortion movement. There’s other people in it as well, but that’s the bulk of it. And I wrote about this, and people were like, I can’t believe that you’re amazed by this. It’s so basic. But there was this one scene where these members of Students for Life are in a training to learn how to try to persuade people in comments sections on Facebook, right. So Students for Life took out ads that were targeted at young pro-choice people with the idea of drawing them into comment section debates that would, if not change their minds, at least kind of sow some doubt.

And so just — there is no emphasis on the left on persuasion. There’s often a kind of contempt for any discourse about persuasion, because it’s either, I shouldn’t have to argue with you; I shouldn’t have to defend my fundamental rights. And trust me, I believe that it’s frustrating to have to defend your fundamental rights. Unfortunately, we do have to do that.

Or if somebody is going to be kind of turned off by my rhetorical style, then they were already a sexist or a racist — which again, I think, might be true, but the world is what it is. And you kind of have to approach people where they are. It’s about trying to get people to join a coalition or take political action, not kind of be your friend or show themselves worthy of entry into a club.

ezra klein

I do always wonder how different the left and the right really are on this. And I wish there was some way to gather data on it or polling or something. I think there are very, very distinctive pathologies that have been true in left organizations for the past couple of years. And yet, it feels to me like when you bounce around different areas, you see different things here.

So for instance, I always think that after 2016, it’s very notable how much energy the Democratic coalition put into thinking about Trump voters, Obama-to-Trump voters, white working-class Midwesterners, et cetera, right. There’s this huge ongoing endless discourse about how to win them back, whereas the right is like, if you live in a city, well —

michelle goldberg

Right, well they don’t need us.

ezra klein

So much the worse for you. We’re done with you. Donald Trump, I would not say a hugely inclusive figure. Like the Republican Party and Congress seems very narrow. But what’s interesting is, I do think you’re right specifically. I do think there’s a distinction here specifically around abortion. And I’ve always wondered if that’s because a lot of the anti-abortion movement is not first and foremost organized around the political issue. It’s first and foremost organized around the separate social infrastructure of churches.

And in that way, it’s more like Democratic organizing that is first and foremost organized around organized labor, which has long been much more inclusive in the way they do organizing when they then sort of move on to economic and other political issues than the sort of single-issue groups, because organized labor by nature has so many people in it with so many different views. They have to be more open, right. You can’t be on your own shop floor telling people they’re not part of the coalition. And so it’s this kind of weakening or this asymmetry around civil infrastructure on this issue that makes a big difference.

michelle goldberg

Right. And the asymmetry isn’t just on this issue. It’s the right and the left in general that maybe used to have some equivalency between churches and unions, but as unions have declined, you really don’t. And so there it just is very little real-world community infrastructure for the left, I mean, maybe outside of Black churches in the South. And you know, those ties are just much thicker and more sustaining.

There’s a book by a sociologist named Ziad Munson called “The Making of Pro-Life Activists: How Social Movement Mobilization Works.” And one of the things that he finds that I think is really interesting is that people who join pro-life organizations, or get involved in pro-life activism or anti-abortion activism, what sets them apart is not that they’re particularly ideological. And oftentimes, they’re not even particularly anti-abortion when they go to their first event. It’s going to the event that sort of makes them anti-abortion.

So what sets them apart is usually having some kind of social connection with someone who’s somehow involved in anti-abortion activism, being at a point in their life when they’re open to kind of changes or meeting new people or doing something new, maybe being in college or moving to a new city or something like that.

And they get kind of invited into this organization, and then in the process of doing the activism — going to the march, going to the protest — they become politicized. And I mean, I feel like it intuitively makes sense. If you think about what would make you go to a meeting, right, it’s intimidating or weird to show up in a meeting where you don’t know anyone. I think people are just more likely to be invited along to something.

And so it’s hard to see what the equivalent thing, especially on the feminist side, that you would be sort of invited along to, and then be like, oh, this is great. This is a community that I want to be a part of. We just don’t really have that anymore.

ezra klein

I want to note something we’ve done in the conversation, which is as we’ve been talking about feminism as a political movement — and there are obvious reasons why we would go in this direction this week, but I think we would have gone in it a year ago too — we’ve moved very quickly to questions of reproductive rights. And again, not for no reason given everything that is going on. But I do think it raises this question of what is feminism about beyond reproductive rights? Where is the energy in the movement there?

I mean, so far, the things we’ve tagged are reproductive rights and transgender issues. You have a great quote from Gonzales in that piece where she’s describing her mother, who’s a home health aide and a special-education teacher. And she writes, quote, “My mother’s life is hard, much harder than it needs to be, and when I take stock of feminism’s current offerings, I see little that would actually ease it.”

Tell me a bit about that. What does feminism want or organize on behalf of, for women who already have kids, already have a family, or want to have kids, right, and need something different in order for the choices they’re making to work out for their lives?

michelle goldberg

I mean I think there are obvious political demands, and definitely, there’s, you know, Ai-jen Poo and the National Domestic Workers Alliance. There are people organizing on behalf of caregivers and on behalf of nonelite women.

There were people inside Democratic circles, certainly, mostly women, Patty Murray and others, who were organizing to try to get Joe Biden to include what was sometimes called the care agenda in Build Back Better before Build Back Better’s demise — or at least for now, its demise.

And they were demanding things that exist in most other developed countries, or almost all other developed countries, paid family leave, child care. Child care is a huge one. I mean, child care, we talked about reproductive rights as being the right not to have kids, but for a lot of women, having kids feels like it’s out of reach because of just how shatteringly expensive it is, and how little social supports there are.

So there’s definitely feminist demands for those things, but like in terms of what are the organized groups that are fighting for them, I mean, they’re there, but they’re not really visible. And they’re definitely not as visible as the pro-choice groups, in part because the long assault on abortion has made abortion just the flashpoint of feminist politics for almost 50 years. And it’ll probably be the flashpoint of feminist politics far into the future.

ezra klein

I want to dig in on something you just said a minute ago that I’ve heard from some people in the reproductive rights world who are trying to think about what the research and strategy looks like, what they should be fighting for over the next 30 years, and how to make it more than just the resuscitation of Roe.

And you talked about the idea that choice should really truly be about either choice, right, the choice to be able to not have children or not have another child, or not have children right now, but also the choice to have children and be able to have them economically, be able to also work and make sure they’re well cared for.

And I’ve really heard people beginning to talk about these frames that would put that much more at the center, that would really try to have that kind of economic justice, that ability to maximize the number of choices somebody can make in their life to make that the North Star, as they put it, of the movement. Do you see much around that? Do you think that has organizing potential?

michelle goldberg

Well, I certainly think that a lot of people are trying to do that. I mean, that’s what the whole idea of reproductive justice is all about. Reproductive justice has been sort of the watchword among committed activists for a long time. It was a kind of approach to reproductive rights and feminism that was pioneered by a lot of Black activists, including Loretta Ross.

And so I don’t know how much people out there in America hear the word “feminism” and associate it with a demand for the supports that would make raising a family possible if you wanted to. And I think Democrats have a real opportunity here, and I have — we can talk about this if you want — I have some disagreements with both the way the big reproductive rights organizations are approaching the post-Roe environment, but also how the Democratic Party is.

And enough smart people disagree with me that I think maybe I’m wrong, but I can’t help but think that it would be really smart for Democrats to say, yeah — actually, I don’t think there’s a lot of disagreement with me on this next part. But I think it would be smart for Democrats to kind of call the kind of, quote unquote, “national conservatives’” bluff and bring a family subsidy up for a vote, right.

All these people who are saying, well, now Republicans are going to have to figure out how to support women and girls who are having children that they would have in an environment where abortion was legal that they wouldn’t have had. They’re saying that they’re open to policies to support these women and girls, to support families. Why don’t we try to vote on some, right? Vote on some version of the thing that Mitt Romney has proposed. And either we pass it and make people’s lives better, or they filibuster it and show the kind of lie behind their pro-family rhetoric.

ezra klein

Tell me, then, if that part is not so controversial, what are your disagreements about how the Democratic Party or the reproductive rights movement have been approaching in the postwar world?

michelle goldberg

This is something I’ve heard but haven’t done enough reporting on to substantiate. I wouldn’t want to say that all of the groups have this position, but it is what I’m hearing, both from some of the groups themselves and from some politicians, is that there’s a lot of resistance to putting forth anything short of the Women’s Health Protection Act, which is an act that the House passed which both codifies Roe and goes a little bit beyond Roe, you know.

And it couldn’t even get 50 votes in the Senate. It’s obviously not going to pass. But Nancy Pelosi and her “Dear Colleague” letter after Roe was overturned suggested that they might bring it up for a vote again, and again, sort of show people the contrast, make clear the contrast.

There’s a real reluctance to get behind anything that’s seen as a retreat, and so people don’t really want to vote on anything that falls short of Roe. But from where I sit, again, and I can be talked out of this, but I just think that we lost. And so you do kind of have to regroup, and in some cases, retreat after you lost.

When you look at the way the anti-abortion movement organized legally over the last 50 years, I mean, there were certainly people who tried to bring up personhood bills in the states. And there was a referendum in Mississippi that actually failed in Mississippi, which shows you how unpopular that approach is.

But they also passed a lot of laws that were far short of what they really wanted to do. There was the quote unquote “partial birth” abortion ban. And part of what that was meant to do was it outlawed a very specific abortion procedure. I mean, partial birth abortion doesn’t have a real scientific meaning, but in practice, it outlawed this pretty specific procedure.

And Democrats voted against it, because by outlawing that procedure, it meant that in some late-term abortions, including late-term abortions where there was really severe fetal abnormalities, you had to use a more dangerous technique. But what it ended up doing was making Democrats defend a late-term abortion procedure that sounds kind of really gruesome in practice, and that most people can be convinced to oppose. And it made them seem extreme.

And when you look at what is happening now already in the post-Roe landscape, a lot of states that have banned abortion, they either have no exemption. They have exemptions for the life of the mother, which is itself usually a pretty poorly defined concept. And they have no exemptions for rape and incest.

Now, rape and incest exemptions are not actually that meaningful in practice, because if you don’t have any abortion clinics, you don’t have anywhere to go to get an abortion when you’ve been raped. And abortion clinics aren’t going to stay open to serve the few people who need abortions in those circumstances. Those people are still going to have to go across state lines.

Nevertheless, both because a bunch of states are now trying to criminalize interstate travel, and because just the concept of it is so outrageous, and because there are private doctors that will perform abortions, I think that there is a lot of reason to try to codify rape, incest, life and health of the mother exemptions, both because right now, there’s all kinds of confusion about, can doctors prescribe methotrexate, which is a drug that treats lupus and rheumatoid arthritis and is used for some sorts of cancers, but is also an abortifacient.

There’s some question if a woman is probably or maybe going to die, does that count as saving her life. And so I think that Democrats, there’s both substantive reasons to try to do this. But also rape and health exemptions are very controversial among Republicans. They’re not controversial among the public. And so I would like to see Republican senators have to take a vote on them.

ezra klein

It’s funny, because I agree that I don’t know if I think the advice is controversial, but I definitely think it’s not being followed, even though from any standard political playbook, on any issue I’m familiar with, what you want to do when you’re down, when you have gains to make, is begin to split the other coalition.

And so like you, I thought it was very strange when Democrats after the Alito leak, I think, primarily brought forward a bill that they didn’t have unanimity on, right, a bill they couldn’t even get the votes in the Senate for. There’s been this talk that you can’t pass an abortion bill in the Senate because of filibuster, and that might be true. But you couldn’t have passed that one even if you didn’t have the filibuster, because you were losing Democrats on it, because it was significantly more liberal than Roe — or expansive, I should say, actually, than Roe.

And in a way, I think that this sort of unites both of the things you’re saying, which is that it seems to me that there are two pretty profound ways that you could build a bigger tent here and split the right, which is, one, sort of beginning to pick off the many, many, many, many, many, many, many unpopular positions the right holds on choice. But also, the right has a rhetoric around family that is not at all matched by its practice or its policies. I did, on the podcast over the past couple of months, a series on the rising right.

michelle goldberg

Yeah, no, I’ve heard it.

ezra klein

I spoke to a couple of people, Patrick Deneen and Erika Bachiochi in particular, who really focus on the idea of the family, right. They’re very, very pro-life. They’re very intent on making the argument that the left is hostile to or has abandoned the family. And one of the things I came away from those conversations thinking is that there’s a funny asymmetry right here, where I think the right knows how to talk about families but doesn’t know how to support them. It doesn’t have, within its own coalition, support for supporting them.

And the left has a lot of very good family policies, but it doesn’t know how to talk about them, because it’s worried about seeming to pass judgment on nontraditional families. It is coming out of the legacy of concerns about the family being weaponized in a very racist way against Black communities. And so you have, I think, a lot of good policies. I mean, Biden’s Build Back Better agenda had more pro-family policy than any Democratic agenda I can think of.

But in terms of the way it was framed, it was framed as infrastructure, of all things. And there just is not a focus on trying to capture, I think, rhetorically, some of the highest ground in American politics, some of the ground that I think is most important to people in their everyday lived lives, and ground that the left actually has a good agenda on, which is the family.

michelle goldberg

Right. And sometimes, this debate is kind of framed as like a popularist debate. You know, should you try more to appeal to the median American voter, who’s maybe more conservative than you would like? I know that one reason there’s resistance to bringing up rape, incest, health of the mother exemptions is because they don’t want to imply that there are good abortions and bad abortions.

And I actually understand that combating the stigma around abortion is something that’s really important. That’s been an important feminist gain. But I think if you kind of have to constantly check all these rhetorical boxes and make sure that you don’t kind of run afoul of any rhetorical land mines, it can just really curtail your ability to create wedge issues. It can really curtail your ability to speak to people who don’t already share all your presuppositions.

ezra klein

I think that’s a really very, very well said point. I want to go to something you wrote here, which has been on my mind, which is, quote, “a backlash isn’t just a political formation. It’s also a new structure of feeling that makes utopian social projects seem ridiculous.”

And I wanted to ask about both sides of that. One is whether or not there is still a utopian social project here, even one to be made to sound ridiculous. And then the other is to ask you about how you understand the backlash that is formed, and the ways it is the same or different than the backlash we saw in the ‘80s. But let me start with a utopian question. Is there still utopian feminist thinking that you can see that has a political constituency?

michelle goldberg

You know, I’m not sure that there is. I do think that there’s utopian thinking around gender, and this is probably a generational division. And I’m in some ways the wrong person to speak to. There’s someone I interviewed for the piece that I didn’t end up quoting for that bigger piece that we were talking about. I didn’t end up being able to work it in, where she was saying that the thing that really excites her now is the movement for trans rights and these new ways of thinking about and talking about gender.

And it’s not feminism per se, but the idea of making the gender binary, kind of irrelevant as a social organizing principle, I mean, that’s pretty utopian. We’ve never seen anything like that in, as far as I can tell, the history of the world. I mean, this is something that Margaret Mead the anthropologist wrote about, that every society organizes gender differently, assigns different roles to male and female. So those roles, there’s nothing really natural about them. And there’s also a ton of societies that have different iterations of like a third gender, or that allows some sort of flexibility.

Nevertheless basically every society is organized in some sense around the gender binary. You know, so I think there are younger people that have a vision of a society in which that is not true. And it might just be my own lack of vision or creativity that I find it hard to even envision. So I think that is where a lot of the utopian energy on the kind of part of the left that is really concerned about gender.

I think that if you look at the consciousness raising groups in the ‘70s, as they became more radical, there were certainly some of them that rejected heterosexuality. There was lesbian separatism. There was people who decided that you can’t sleep with the enemies. There was a sense among a lot of women that feminism was going to give them like more fulfilling, egalitarian, sexually healthy, sexually expressive relationships, that it was going to allow for kind of romantic love without sadism.

I don’t mean sadism in the like kink sense. I just mean kind of naturalized dominance and cruelty. People really thought that that’s where they were going. And this is why I think the concept of heteropessimism, it’s both a sort of expression of despair about the current state of male-female relations, but it’s also an expression of despair about even a vision in which people are relating to each other in a kinder and less oppressive way.

ezra klein

Oh, I think this is so rich. I’m going to come back to the backlash question in a minute because I want to stay here for a little bit. I want to key in on a word you used, which is excitement, which is the idea of exploding the gender binary is a vision that particularly, I think a lot of younger activists find exciting.

And I think there is something exciting about it. I mean, I always think it’s good for there to be political movements that are imagining things, a little bit like you, I have trouble actually imagining. I think that if people are not pushing the frontiers of the imagination of old people like me, then there’s an actual political problem. You want ideas you don’t understand. You want that kind of ferment.

And I also think at the same time, that a real failure mode for movements is that what is exciting becomes the only thing that there really is versus what people are living through. There’s another thing in one of your essays that I think relates to this, which is, you had mentioned the series of pieces in the journal Drift about what’s wrong with feminism. And you noted that a lot of them talk about how feminism has become, the word is “cringe,” cringe.

And I think there is an argument — I will make the argument. I’m not going to passive voice it — that leftism in general has become really weakened by its distaste for its fear of being cringe. It’s like, it has this withering contempt sometimes for things that are popular, earnest, mainstream, liked by uncool people or simply by too many people.

I think the backlash to “Hamilton,” where at one hand, it’s this unbelievable cultural phenomenon and the most popular thing on Disney Plus, and also, I mean, all the kids in Brooklyn know “Hamilton” is super cringe. And there’s something of that here, where there’s the exciting, very non-cringe work of exploding the gender binary, which I think has real reason to it. I mean, there are a lot of people who don’t fit the binary, and trying to build a world in which they are free to have their choices in their life is a genuine, I think, central political challenge.

And at the same time, to the conversation we are having a couple of minutes ago you could very much have imagined a utopian project that’s simply around care, right, a utopian project that embeds choice, right, the choice to have or not have a child in a broader effort.

michelle goldberg

I guess is that utopian or is that Scandinavia?

ezra klein

Well, maybe it’s Scandinavian, but sometimes Scandinavia, given where we are now, it feels a little bit utopian. And I’m not even sure Scandinavia has it, right. It’s still — I mean, there’s a motherhood penalty in most Scandinavian states as well. The wage gap often resolves down to, did you choose to have a child. And so we do hurt people economically for continuing life, human life on this planet, which is, I think weird. I think you could imagine utopian political agendas that would make that no longer the case.

And I do wonder if there’s not a — there’s a lack of excitement, it sometimes seems to me, about focusing on the more boring work of what is it like to have a family when you make $75,000 a year and work in a city?

michelle goldberg

So I think these are a couple of things that need to be disentangled, right. There’s this attitudinal thing, where yes, I mean, in a democracy, a kind of winning coalition is normie by definition, right. Like the avant-garde is not the majoritarian position by definition. And so as long as you make kind of acceptance of the avant-garde the litmus test, right, the avant-garde is important, but the avant-garde can’t be all that there is. And it’s not even something that you necessarily want your politicians to embrace if you want them to build a kind of majoritarian coalition.

I also think there’s something specific to feminism that’s matricidal, right, where sort of every generation reacts against the generation before it. But part of what happened with the backlash in the 1980s was just embarrassment over the giddy hopes and kind of over-the-top earnestness of the feminists of the 1970s.

And there’s contempt for aging in our society, but there’s a very special contempt for aging women. And so kind of middle-age and aging women were kind of always the marker of something that’s uncool, at least if they get to a certain — it’s possible, I guess, to kind of transcend that and get to icon status. But in general, if you’re kind of always trying to distance yourself from the middle age, you’re both distancing yourself often from the people who are the sort of people who make a lot of local politics run, because who keeps your local Democratic committee alive in many places. Who are the people after 2016 who poured into Democratic organizing?

In many cases, it was cringe wine moms. And in many cases, those women are still there. So that’s part of it. And then I think the other part of it is maybe just about like geographic concentration or geographic polarization, where it’s really easy to live in a place where the kind of questions that you’re talking about, how you raise kids on $75,000 a year, are just — you just don’t encounter those people. And certainly, you don’t encounter them maybe until you have kids yourself.

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ezra klein

So then let’s go to the question of backlash and the different kinds of backlashes we’ve seen. How does the critique that you hear in this moment, or the backlash you see in this moment, seem similar to you or different from the backlash you saw in the ‘80s or even before that?

michelle goldberg

So there are obvious differences, although when I went back and reread “Backlash,” and I’ve gone back to that book many times, I was like marking up my pages like crazy. There is so much in that book that it’s just happening over again.

And so when I was corresponding with Susan Faludi, you know, to her, part of the difference is that this backlash in general doesn’t frame itself as being about protecting women or saving women from feminism, right. The earlier backlash was like, feminism made women miserable, and now they’re single and they’re these kind of dried-up old career women, and their biological clock is ticking, and it’s too late for them to have kids.

I think there’s some of that, but there’s also just much more kind of like raw misogyny, right. We’re not doing this for your own good. We’re just doing this to you for our own good. So I think it’s much more aggressive, often. There’s a backlash against the #MeToo movement that I think is based in something real and legitimate, and I have a piece coming out of it, that it was, I think, a real mistake for feminists — and I include myself in this — to be cavalier about ideas of due process.

And sometimes there would be an argument when somebody was accused of something that, well, due process doesn’t apply to the workplace. Or due process is a legal term. You don’t have the presumption of innocence in a social world, right. These terms aren’t necessarily portable.

That’s true to a point, but there’s also a kind of colloquial way that you use the term due process to mean a sense of fairness, a sense that there was a process to go through. So if we take Al Franken, and this is something that there’s a huge amount of embittered moment among Democrats about what happened to Al Franken.

And so I had heard, long before any of this broke with Al Franken, a friend had told me that this had happened to his friend, that Al Franken had grabbed her butt once at a political event. And I didn’t really know what to make of it. It seemed so weird and anomalous.

But because of that, when Al Franken was accused, I really panicked and thought like, he has to resign. More is going to come out, and feminists shouldn’t have to defend this, and it’s going to make the campaign against Roy Moore, the Senate candidate in Alabama, it’s going to make that more difficult.

And since somebody is going to have to pay the price for it, because female Democratic senators were being asked constantly, should Al Franken resign — so even if it was unfair, if it was going to be unfair to someone, it should be unfair to him, not to them, right. If somebody kind of had to take the hit for this, it should be him.

And where I was really, really wrong, I think, was both in thinking that there was a way that they weren’t going to take the hit for it, because they ended up, right — I mean, this ended up, the only person whose career was derailed as much as Al Franken’s was Kirsten Gillibrand. Who knows if her presidential campaign would have gone anywhere anyway. But it certainly was kind of a nonstarter, because there was so much anger about her being seen as the one who had led the call for Al Franken’s resignation.

But I also think that there was all these women who came forward and said that Al Franken pinched their butts or tried to kiss them. I to this day don’t know what to — I mean, I believe all those women, whether it was kind of sexually aggressive or whether it was just kind of clownish, kind of prankish, is still hard for me to sort out. And whether Al Franken needed to leave the Senate, or whether there was some other way for him to make amends, I’m still ambivalent about.

I actually think if there had been a process to go through, he might have had to leave at the end of it. But if there was a process, the process itself would have been important, that there was a perception that people aren’t just being jettisoned. And I think this applies not just to Al Franken, but more generally, that there was a sense that people were just being kind of written off, and that many different crimes of many different degrees were being collapsed together.

So all that’s like a big windup way of saying that I understand why sort of #MeToo, why people felt like it needed a correction or a recalibration. But what you have instead is just this ferocious backlash, which to return to Amber Heard, it was really symbolized. I don’t think there’s been any single figure in the entire cultural universe of #MeToo, men or women, who has been demonized the way she is. And I think that tells you something about the kind of subterranean energy that was just kind of seething in opposition to this movement.

ezra klein

You can correct my recollection of this. One thing I remember about the Al Franken period was that Franken had asked for an investigation, and that had not fully carried out. And then there was this organizing around him led by Gillibrand and some others, and the Roy Moore set of concerns, and he sort of got pushed out before that had a chance to go forward or at least complete itself.

And it gets to something that — this is one of my kind of ongoing arguments about a bunch of things, about a lot of the debates around wokeness. now some of the debates around looking back at #MeToo. But a lot of people seem to me to have taken the view that the underlying ideas of a lot of these movements were wrong, not their application. They still love Twitter and everything.

And to me, what I see in a lot of this is that a lot of the ideas were right, but the communication environment, the place where this organizing happens, where these conversations are had, where process has, in the absence of agreed-upon process, migrated, is terrible.

A lot of it just happens on social media. I think this was really the true story in that Ryan Grim piece. He talks about it for a minute, where he says, Twitter may not be real life, but inside an organization, Slack certainly is. Definitely what I’ve seen. But it’s the interaction to some degree of Slack and Twitter, and then administrators or leaders of organizations feeling like they have to respond, as opposed to they have time to think to run a process. I think that happened a little bit in the Franken case. I think goes in the other direction too. I mean, I think the social media dynamics around Amber Heard made that look even worse than it probably was.

But in all these different directions, I think that one place where I seem to have a slightly different view than a lot of people I otherwise agree with is that I see less of a case that the underlying ideas of a lot of these movements were wrong, but much more of a case that social media, Slack organizing, all these things that people really, really quickly took as tools of justice, took as a belief that the underlying communications environment, was becoming friendlier to marginalized people, was making the unheard heard, that that was going to pan out, that that was really proven wrong.

michelle goldberg

Yes.

ezra klein

And when you simply orient a society around people having to respond to whatever is generating the most intense engagement and whatever people are bandwagoning around, you sometimes get outcomes from that you like, but you very often get ones you don’t. You very much incentivize a cycle of the arising of an idea, then the huge backlash the idea, then the resurgence of the idea. We’re really in this oscillating thing depending on engagement in a way that I think we have trouble separating from the underlying ideas, arguments, policies that are being proposed.

michelle goldberg

No, I think that that’s right. I mean, look, obviously the problem that #MeToo identified, that there was a huge amount of sexual victimization of women, that they were routinely disbelieved, that there was an expectation of impunity for powerful men, that was true then, and it’s still really true now.

You know, part of the reason that so many of the people defenestrated by #MeToo were famous men or men in the media were because those are the sort of people who can be most affected by a social media campaign, right. Like, nobody’s going to wage a social media campaign about some asshole bank manager who’s making life hell for his subordinates, and it’s an open secret in their professional circles. It’s kind of only a tool that’s really optimized for high-profile people. And so you have a movement that ends up disproportionately being about high-profile people.

And then there’s just the general mercilessness of internet dynamics. And I guess, this is, I think, just a fundamental tension or contradiction on the left, is that the left, at its best, is about mercy, right. It’s about an alternative to a culture that’s like excessively punitive and excessively punishing. But its internal culture is so rarely able to reflect that.

ezra klein

One thing that I think is interesting about the cycle of the idea coming up, and then the backlash and then the resurgence, is they’re often very literal. So when you look at the ‘80s backlash, a lot of it actually revolves around this idea that it would be very uncool to be a feminist. You’d be no fun. You wouldn’t laugh at anything. No man would ever like you.

And I understand the peak, I guess, of call it “cringe” feminism, that is now seen that way, as a very literal response to that, right, all these people like wearing feminist shirts and putting “feminist” onstage, and saying, I am a feminist, right, I mean, to the extent that a core critique was, well, you would never adopt this label, because look what it would say about you. Then everybody adopts it, and then, of course, the label to some degree becomes unfashionable.

But I wonder here, if there isn’t another sort of literal path forward, which is what is undoing feminist gains right now is not really the popularity of the opponents. It’s the Supreme Court nominated by presidents who lost the popular vote. It’s a decision that is highly unpopular. But what it is a group, a movement, that has relentlessly organized for decades. And you can really trace it as an organizing phenomenon.

And the question, I think, that this raises, is whether or not in response, the feminist movement can become much more of an organized movement. Is there this capacity to organize in this moment? And you wrote in a piece that there had been a desperate hope among reproductive rights activists and Democratic strategists alike that the end of Roe v. Wade would lead to an explosive feminist mobilization, that people committed to women’s equality would take to the streets and recommit themselves to politics. So now we’re there. Roe v. Wade has been overturned. Casey has been overturned. Are you seeing that?

michelle goldberg

I mean, I’m seeing some of it. You know, I mean, I don’t think you’re seeing anything on the scale that you saw after Donald Trump’s election. Writing about this backlash, I mean, there’s some sort of explicit anti-feminism. But then there’s also just a lot of disaffection. It’s not necessarily people being converted to the right. It’s just people kind of dropping out of politics, tuning out politics, becoming really cynical about politics.

I mean, people feel as if every avenue of change is being closed off. How do you organize to win the next election when the elections are so tilted by gerrymandering, and the structures of our institutions, and the fact that you have a Supreme Court whose direction was changed by the loser of the popular vote? This is all like a very old story about minority rule.

But people have to feel like there is some avenue in which change is possible. And I think there is. And this is, again, I keep coming back to this idea that we can find some lessons in what the right has done, because in some ways, they were in a worse position when Roe came down. The decision wasn’t nearly as controversial as Dobbs has been, and the path to undoing it was extremely long and required a real long game of this march through the institutions.

The advantage that they had was what we talked about before, that people were embedded in a community that made kind of going out and fighting this long, long, long war of attrition feel rewarding as opposed to depleting.

ezra klein

I do agree with you that this is where the pro-life movement should be understood, including on the left, as genuinely inspirational, because it isn’t just that they lose on Roe. And they lose on Roe in a really big way, right. The right to abortion, to a certain point, at least, isn’t written into the Constitution and isn’t just a law somebody can overturn.

But then they get a more Republican court later on, and Casey comes down, and it leaves most of Roe standing. So Roe now is an affirmed, for the most part, decision. And the “abortion is murder” position is an unpopular position in American life, and they just keep going. And I don’t want to say that it’s inspiring to imagine you could have a multi-decade effort to get Roe back. I think that there are things that can happen, particularly through legislation, quicker than that.

But particularly if you end up with a bigger vision of what you want in a 20 or 30 or 40-year period, I think you have to look at what they did as showing that much more as possible in American politics than people often give it credit for. There’s a line elsewhere that people always overestimate what they can do in a year and underestimate what they can do in ten. And I think politically, that’s very true.

You know, I’ve been getting the question a lot of, well, you know, what now, right. The court is 6-3 Republican court. Like, what are you going to do now? And the answer in the next year or two is, aside from win elections, there isn’t a tremendous amount of reversal power. But over 10 years, I mean, who knows, right? Who knows what is possible? Who knows what can be done? I mean, there’s a lot you can do to the court. Vacancies that could open up. There’s a lot of ways to organize. There are whole new political identities that could be formed.

I think that people are very despairing, correctly, about the immediate future. I’m frankly feeling a lot more despair over the immediate future than I tend to feel. But that doesn’t really tell you anything about the 10, 15, 20-year future. I mean, 10 years ago in 2012, Democrats were riding high on demographic triumphalism, right. They believed that the demographics of the country were all turning in their favor.

I mean we hadn’t even had Obama’s re-election win yet. And then after that, you have Republicans trying to capitulate on immigration reform. And then, of course, after that, everything changes again. But I think people way overestimate political stability. The next year is typically pretty predictable, but in my experience in American politics, five years isn’t, and 10 years really isn’t. And 15 years, you’re almost better off not trying.

michelle goldberg

There’s a real problem, and I don’t know how to solve it, of left-wing infrastructure building. I mean, maybe part of it is because the right, if you have this of chiliastic vision of redemption, then you really can keep going without immediate, tangible rewards.

But, and this is a very old complaint, right, that the right invests in and builds organizations for the long term, and the left, including left-wing funders, kind of run around like a chicken with their head cut off. And there’s been efforts.

The Democracy Alliance was initially an effort to get big funders together to think more strategically and invest in the long term, and they did that with some organizations. I mean, I think Media Matters has been a really important organization in the kind of progressive firmament, but there’s also just not nearly as much stability and long-term planning on the left.

ezra klein

I think there’s a lot to that. And I think that rather than try to solve it here, it’s a good place to think a little bit more broadly. So always our final question, which is, what are three books you’d recommend to the audience?

michelle goldberg

Well, obviously, you should go out and reread “Backlash,” or read it if you haven’t read it yet. There are some things that are specific to its time, but there are a lot of things that I think feel like shockingly relevant to today. I spoke before about Ellen Willis. She’s a writer that I always return to, either when I’m feeling confused or despairing, because she’s just such a clear thinker. And so I’ve been rereading a book called “No More Nice Girls,” which is essays that were written in the ‘80s, in another time of kind of feminist disappointment and retrenchment.

I’m also going to recommend a book that is coming out, I think, in a couple of months. It’s by W. David Marx, and it’s called, “Status and Culture: How our Desire for Social Rank Creates Taste, Identity, Art, Fashion, and Constant Change.” And it is one of those books that I kept reading it, and I kept thinking — like I would be like, wait, is that a mind-blowing insight, or something that’s so obvious that I’ve always known it?

But it’s this book about how kind of internal status struggles lead to cultural evolution, kind of in a good way. I mean, the point is that this is an engine of dynamism. And it really gave me a new way to think, I mean, a lot of it is about art and taste as opposed to politics. But it still really gave me a new way to think both about sort of these hidden forces of the zeitgeist and also about this feeling that I think a lot of people have of stuckness with where we are now and the particular role of the internet in kind of creating that feeling.

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ezra klein

Michelle Goldberg, thank you very much.

michelle goldberg

Thank you so much.

ezra klein

“The Ezra Klein Show” is produced by Annie Galvin and Rogé Karma. Fact-checking by Michelle Harris and Kate Sinclair. Original music by Isaac Jones. Mixing by Isaac Jones and Sonia Herrero. Audience strategy by Shannon Busta. Our executive producer is Irene Noguchi. Special thanks to Kristin Lin and Kristina Samulewski.



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