The Left’s Retreat into First World Problems
In an era when entire battles of presidential campaigns play out on Twitter, perhaps it’s appropriate that the liberal agenda can increasingly be reduced to a single hashtag: #FirstWorldProblems.
First World Problems, for those untutored in the lingo of social media, is the term for those times when the airport’s internet connection is too slow, when your satellite television is out, or when the fancy restaurant you’re eating at forgets to hold the olives on your salad.
Labeling something a First World Problem usually signals a certain self-awareness—an acknowledgement that there’s a difference between the real problems of life and the affliction you’ve taken to social media to complain about.
Today’s liberal elites, comfortable in the commanding heights of the universities, the bureaucracies, the media companies, and the coastal enclaves where they reside, practice a politics of First World Problems. But they do it without the self-awareness of the hashtaggers, and instead with a great deal of self-righteousness.
Far from acknowledging that their grievances are small in the grand scheme of things, liberals frequently describe their First World Problems as the great challenges of our time. And often, this moral self-indulgence comes at the expense of political and news media focus on Real World Problems—the real problems many Americans face in their daily lives.
For instance: despite our status as a developed country, many of our schools are destroying the opportunity to pursue happiness for generations of Americans. In Detroit, 96 percent of eighth graders are not proficient in math. Ninety-three percent are not proficient in reading. In Baltimore, 91 percent of the students fail the math exam. In Chicago, 77 percent of students fall below standards in achievement. In 17 of our 50 largest cities, fewer than half of all students graduate from high school.
And yet, what issue of injustice in schools has focused the attention, passion, and power of the liberal elites? Guaranteeing every child the right to use the bathroom of his or her (zis or xyr) choosing.
In May, the Obama administration ordered public schools nationwide to open their bathrooms and locker rooms to transgendered students of the opposite sex. The administration carefully constructed the rules to prevent schools from creating special “gender-neutral” bathrooms to accommodate transgender students. Instead, the administration insists that transgendered students must be allowed to use bathrooms and locker rooms of the opposite sex—and if any of their peers are uncomfortable, they must request an accommodation.
It’s not that the liberal elites don’t care about the 93 percent of eighth graders in Detroit who aren’t proficient in reading. It’s just that they care a lot more actively, and get a lot more upset, and spend a lot more political and media resources over the case of the transgendered student who’s asked to use a gender-neutral bathroom. That’s the politics of First World Problems.
There’s no shortage of other examples.
For instance, in President Obama’s hometown of Chicago, 69 people were shot over Memorial Day weekend, including at least six fatally. Homicides and shootings in the city are both up more than 60 percent this year. President Obama, however, kicked off his own Memorial Day weekend reflecting on war and peace and the ironies of humanity in Hiroshima, Japan, where he called for a nuclear-free world. It’s not he doesn’t care about the murders in Chicago. It’s just that he has the luxury to focus on grander things.
Or consider California, where the Delta Smelt, a 2-inch, endangered fish in the Central Valley, turns out to be very important to the left. The livelihoods of thousands of California farm workers, who the Fish and Wildlife Service wants to restrict out of work, don’t get so much consideration. The environmental left knows about them. They’re just a lot more focused on the trials of a little fish. “Fish, yes; normal people, no” is a San Francisco upper-class elite attitude.
There are still more examples, from free birth control to oil divestment, microaggressions and gun show loopholes.
But most share one characteristic, which explains their evolution from complaints to political causes. To the left, these First World Problems have dramatic weight: they connote some symbolic, metaphorical, or allegorical value. They’re literary struggles, as opposed to the kind faced by millions of Americans—literal struggles, like getting a job, finding a good school for our children, or living in a safe community.
How nice for the liberal elites that they have the luxury of First World Problems. If only they’d leave the job of governing to people more focused on Real World Problems, perhaps there’d be no problem at all.