Politics & Policy

‘Social Justice’ Is Unjust

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (left) and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (right) talk on Capitol Hill, January 16, 2019. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)
For a new generation of Democrats, what the phrase denotes is indistinguishable from retribution.

‘No other Congress has ever looked like this,” declared a CNN dispatch on the makeup of the 116th Congress. With such a diverse group of new legislators, that’s undoubtedly true. More importantly, though, no Congress has ever thought like this. As a new generation of Democrats assumes power, they’re bringing their ideas about what constitutes “social justice” with them.

It is particularly instructive to examine how this class of legislators defines social justice. When Representative Rashida Tlaib (D., Mich.) took the oath of office, for example, she initially planned on doing so on Thomas Jefferson’s 1734 translation of the Qur’an. But the Palestinian-American legislator reserved the right to use her own copy of the Qur’an. “Why uplift someone else?” she told the Detroit Free Press. “It’s starting a new era in social justice.” Why “uplift” Thomas Jefferson, indeed?

This self-referential attitude is a feature of the modern social-justice movement, and it helps to explain why it is so focused on engineering oppressive reversals of fortune.

Before coming to Congress, Tlaib told The Intercept that she is a proud supporter of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which seeks to stigmatize activities that legitimize the state of Israel. To her, BDS brings attention to “issues like the racism and the international human-rights violations by Israel right now.” Representative Ilhan Omar (D., Minn.) shares Tlaib’s proclivities. “I have always had a very social-justice-bent approach to everything that I do in my life,” Omar told ABC News.

On their way into federal office, these two lawmakers brought Women’s March organizer Linda Sarsour along with them. Sarsour was on hand in the Capitol on their first day in office, even though she was at the center of an anti-Semitism scandal not two months ago — a scandal rooted in the social-justice movement’s obsession with crafting racial and demographic pecking orders.

Sarsour once insisted that feminism is incompatible with support for Israel because “you can either stand up for the rights of all women, including Palestinians, or none.” White Jews “uphold white supremacy,” said Sarsour’s colleague, Tamika Mallory — a statement bizarrely designed to convey her newfound enlightenment about what constitutes anti-Semitism. Nevertheless, Mallory, Sarsour, and the movement they lead are routinely lauded for their efforts to advance “social justice,” even as the Democratic party runs in the other direction.

For Tlaib and Omar, “social justice” means cutting Israel and its supporters down to size. For their progressive colleagues in Congress, though, it can mean almost anything, justify almost any policy, and invite a disastrous host of unintended consequences.

According to Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D., N.Y.), her ambitious plan to eliminate the use of fossil fuels in the United States is also an effort to establish “economic, social, and racial justice.” It is true that environmental disasters disproportionately impact minority communities, but researchers attribute that fact primarily to socioeconomic conditions. Ocasio-Cortez insists that her Green New Deal proposal would be an inevitable job creator, but a Green New Deal proposal before Congress anticipates the need to fund a “just transition” for workers displaced by this radical transformation of the economy — particularly the low-income and minority communities most exposed to economic shocks.

Representative Ro Khanna (D., Calif.) contends that addressing “an economic policy where one in five children live in poverty” should be a social-justice priority. In 2017, the number of children in America living below the poverty line declined to 17.5 percent — about half of what it was 50 years ago — and that improvement was most pronounced among black and Hispanic children. That decline is due as much to social-safety-net programs as it is to economic growth, raising wages, and an increasing labor-force-participation rate. Indeed, the cause célèbre of the progressive Left for much of this decade — income inequality — has faded from the national conversation as income gaps narrow. Even as the problem evolves, the solution — wealth redistribution — remains the same.

In 2018, Representative Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D., Fla.) endorsed the Poor People’s Campaign. Among the many dubious assertions this organization makes in its manifesto is the implication that Americans are governed by a genocidal regime. The “U.S. has been waging a full-scale war on the very right of indigenous people to exist,” the statement reads. If that’s true, the United States government has been doing a rather poor job of exterminating North America’s native population, but that may be cold comfort for social-justice advocates who pin their hopes for the future on an omnipotently competent state.

Casual observers can be forgiven for thinking that “social justice” is an unobjectionable catch-all prescribing racial and cultural awareness, self-actualization, and the rectification of historical wrongs. But as social justice’s advocates reveal, it is a malleable philosophy that encourages racial hierarchies and social stratification. For its advocates, achieving social equality requires social leveling. And to secure that equality, institutions must treat individuals unequally. There is no justice in that.

Noah Rothman is the author of Unjust: Social Justice and the Unmaking of America, available on January 29 from Regnery Publishing.

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