The rejection of Elizabeth Warren is personal
On surviving the end of the greatest presidential candidate in American history
America is an oligarchy organized by the hierarchy of the white supremacist patriarchy. Pancake Brain is a (free) Friday newsletter dedicated to replacing the status quo with equitable public power, and a community dedicated to building the discipline of democracy that equity requires. We move through the world committed to a daily practice of activism and critical thinking. We reject limitations and embrace the possibilities of social imagination, certain that the queer future is better than anything we’ve yet dreamed up. We insist on our right and duty to the political conversation, and empower others to join us. Out of love for ourselves and the collective, we are engaged in a sustainable practice of freedom, endlessly un-fucking our brains.
Dearest Pancake Brains,
I’m sending this one early, because, Elizabeth Warren has officially ended her campaign, and I couldn’t wait. Before I begin, I should tell you that I wrote a lot of this while sobbing into my partner’s chest. You should know that I took breaks to eat peanut butter with a spoon, and, if I’m being honest, there’s a little crusted on the corner of my keyboard. Things are not going well.
Looking at Joe Biden’s Super Tuesday victories on Despair Wednesday, my stomach dropped. Yesterday morning, I felt a pain not unlike the one that followed Donald Trump’s election and Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court. The agony of watching Elizabeth Warren be diminished by the mainstream media has been infuriating. To watch that dismissal be reflected at the polls is almost unbearable.
Since Day One of her campaign, Warren has been playing in a different league. With a package of precise and accessible plans for restoring the wealth and power of this nation to the public, she has proven herself to be Hermione, Lisa Simpson, and Leslie Knope united in a mission to set America on the path toward democracy for real. She did her homework, and everyone else’s too, and I always forget that not everyone finds that endearing. Warren’s rejection feels personal, and I’m sure I’m not the only woman who feels that way.
I should tell you I have been all-in on Warren since before she announced her candidacy. I first met her on the road during Rise Up For Roe, a 10-city tour intended to block Kavanaugh’s confirmation in summer 2018. Warren showed up before the nation met Christine Blasey Ford that fall, before her accused sexual predator was confirmed to the Supreme Court anyway.
On stage in Boston, I was struck by the woman we have seen wear her heart on her sleeve at every primary debate. She informed the crowd that reproductive rights are a matter of equality, that a SCOTUS nomination ought to be a matter of public will. Her reasoning, like her presidential platform, was explained with refreshing clarity: no Supreme Court Justice is elected without a vote from a majority of Senators, she told the crowd, “These people work for you.”
In that moment, it occurred to me that every elected official should be like Elizabeth Warren: absolutely thrilled to be held accountable to the public she aims to serve, truly living for the opportunity to empower her constituents with information, endlessly and tirelessly getting shit done on behalf of the people. Warren is a geyser of brilliance and enthusiasm powered by pure love of democracy, and we should all be so furious that we’ve been bullied into not only accepting less, but collectively fretting that, for a woman, the best of the best is still not good enough.
As a feminist journalist, I am constantly in conversation with womxn who are doing the damn thing, and so perhaps I was too optimistic. The strangest thing about the experience of misogyny is always how shocking it is. I hate to admit it gets me every time. I have dedicated my life to battling for equity, and yet I am routinely floored by new takes on dehumanization. I’m quite certain that women are people, so I suppose I am surprised when others forget.
People truly hate Warren, and that’s what really breaks my heart. To see this woman I so deeply admire be viewed through misogyny goggles hurts so much because of how easily I can now see myself through that same twisted lens. Whether you didn’t vote for her because you’re explicitly sexist, or because you thought others might be, the sexism remains. I wish there were more people who were willing to think differently in this time of revolutionary chaos. We have to reject the old stories and patterns, refusing to allow them to continue ruling the present.
Looking back, I probably should have lost all hope back in December, when I published a bit of satire intended to lambast the sexism of the Democratic primary, especially in terms of the perverse incentive structure of progressive purity checking. In that essay, I signaled absurdity with such subtle lines as, “I’m sorry to say I have a creeping suspicion that Elizabeth Warren has proposed a platform of big, structural change because she is trying to get attention,” and the suggestion that I might respect Warren more if she dropped out and used her “bankruptcy expertise to start a subprime loan company featuring a slutty Mr Monopoly as its logo.” The number of people who read that piece to the end and commented as if it was written in earnest made for a genuinely shocking reflection on the state of sexism and media illiteracy: Parodying sexism to the point of absurdity reflects a standard too many readers have come to expect.
Shortly after publishing that piece, I wrote a for Nieman lab about my goals of hooking attention to empower people with information. There are certainly risks in the alchemy of comedy and journalism, but there are also risks in the New York Times running a fucking above-the-fold, page-one story about a handful of people leaving Warren’s New Hampshire rallies. (See Receipt Below: I’m not kidding. The article closed with someone yelling “go Bernieeeeeeeeeee” at Warren while she was canvassing. The placement of the piece alone made me feel like A.G. Sulzberger threw a smoothie in my face.)
Here I will pause for a deep breath. You don’t need me to make you angrier. As far as I am concerned, unless you are currently hijacked by the ancient space alien that serves as the antagonist in John Carpenter’s “The Thing,” you know that Elizabeth Warren should be the next President of the United States. (Cut to: *Kurt Russell doing a very unsanitary blood test for the Coronavirus.*)
What might be more helpful than a rage festival is the case for carrying on. Each time the fight for equity faces a loss like this, I think we must treat the wound like a severe heartbreak. I once watched an interview with the Modern Love editor of The New York Times, who said that, after reading countless essays on the search for love, he finds the people who are happiest are not those who find a relationship, but the ones who keep on striving all the time either way, intent to be in love, or trying to find it. I’ve found this idea applies to feelings in general. The joy of optimism is a way to the infinite source that will sustain you no matter what happens outside of your control.
It is the thesis of this newsletter / my entire life that democracy is not a thing we have, it is a thing we DO, and that means all the time. The most critical element of any discipline of democracy is sustainability. When these devastating losses occur, you will be faced with the choice to go numb and shut down entirely. Although, if you’ve experienced the political awakening, you know that’s not really an option. I’m afraid it’s too late to ask to un-see The Matrix now. America is an oligarchy ruled by the hierarchy of the white supremacist patriarchy, and we must each commit to a habit of political action, out of duty to ourselves and each other. At any given moment, you’re either actively fighting for equality, or you’re complicit in the system of oppression that prevents it.
The politics of self-care, like any feminized aesthetic, has been trivialized beyond recognition, but taking care of yourself is actually essential to our shared survival. You have to choose to turn on and feel. You have to choose to do the research. You have to choose to do the work of being free, built out of purpose and passion. You have to choose to do it all with the support of friends, who can lift you up, when it all starts to seem like falling down. And, yeah, you have to choose when it’s time to just go ahead and stick your fingers in the jar of peanut butter.
I suppose it only makes sense that I have used far too many words saying something that Elizabeth Warren has built into a sentence-long concept. No matter what happens next, the fight for equitable public power continues, and it goes on stronger because of the ideological infrastructure built by the former economics professor who will forever be remembered as one of the great heroes of American history.
Nevertheless, we persisted.
Actually fucking crying though,