The scene: a high school classroom; the year: 2030 to 2035-ish; the cast: bright-eyed sophomores, the hope for America’s (or some new-fangled approximation’s) future, and you standing in front of them in your capacity as their history teacher.
You are giving them a lesson on recent American history, recounting one of the numerous paradigmatic events of 1999 to about right now. You have a reputation as an impassioned and eager but by no means crude or shallow educator; you are respected by peer and student alike and you love your job. But here your passion becomes notably intense, attached as it is to memories of enduring clarity. They still feel as if they happened yesterday; this is the great burden you and your generation carry always. With these lessons you have a mesmerizing effect, not least of all on yourself, you could go on all day had one student not snapped you out of it with asking, by what prompting not even you know, “Where were you when the wine moms revolted?”.
You pause, dumbfounded and a bit blurry-eyed. Your students await your answer with a collective earnestness you at once admire, envy, and kind of disdain. “Well …” you say as you finally begin to process what the student has asked of you. You are wary of yourself, searching your words to know that they are correct. Strange, you’ve rehearsed it to yourself since the beginning of your career, and have in fact answered it many times in the past, possibly once every year. Can you do better than the last year? You don’t know. You are sure that you cannot do worse. “Well …”
Here the story ends, for I know nothing more. It is summer 2019, and no wine mom or group of wine moms have revolted to my exact knowledge. It was not very long ago — like, a month and a half ago — that any such event was entirely unthinkable. But as the year trudges onward it’s a thought that only becomes more solid. Soon it becomes possible; before you realize it, it becomes inevitable. Then, finally, you are in the thick of it. The thought leaves you asking, amusingly but not confidently, where will I be when the wine mom’s revolt? And, furthermore, on whose side will I fight?
But who even are wine moms? I don’t know in any detail myself, but I suspect they are very near me in the suburbs, sitting at the table of their “open concept” kitchens, sipping Shiraz or Cabernet or whatever, maybe talking with other wine moms about wine mom things: school, field hockey or football expenses, charities that don’t really do anything, being spiritual but not religious, the merits of SoulCycle over Equinox, finally being able to catch up on This is Us, the obvious success of their nephew’s ethically sourced taco truck side-hustle, reading I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, playing but not necessarily listening to Fresh Air, and hating Trump despite the likelihood of being married to or divorced from a husband who voted for him. This has been the broad picture shared by most people with direct or indirect knowledge of wine moms. Unless you were a progeny of one, they never held much importance. They were, at best, very cheerful bores.
Lately this has taken on more sinister dimensions. But why? There is a simple enough answer.
During last night’s Democratic primary debate on CNN, Marianne Williamson became, in James Poulos’s words, “a problem,” first for the wonks whose meticulous policy proposals she has waved away as dreamy and ineffectual against the “dark psychic force” of Donald Trump; and second for the woke faction whose ideals she holds but whose language she rejects. Indeed, she came away from that debate practically a winner, simply by virtue of the fact that she did better than most non-casual observers have expected. Observers as divergent from one another as Donald Trump, Jr. and Charlotte Clymer agreed she did very well and will not leave the race any time soon.
This is quite a matter of distress for more than a few Democrats, and has been for most of the summer as Williamson’s profile rose. Samantha Bee has been calling upon lower-tier candidates to come on Full Frontal and drop out of the race. When she made her plea to Williamson it was derided first for being unfunny and cringingly desperate and second for how Williamson responded to it: by calling Bee out by name, refusing her invitation, and appearing on Colbert instead.
Williamson being in the primary at all isn’t really the issue. A society as nominally democratic as ours should invite office-seekers of supposed “fringe” sensibilities. They lend to our parties the pretense of diversity of thought while also providing polemical fuel for and contrast from the more acceptable candidates. In any other cycle Williamson’s flighty rhetorical style, her nonexistent political experience, her eccentric beliefs and background would invalidate her chances very early in the process, but not so early as to deprive everyone of entertainment value. But this being 2019, when Williamson’s speech is a few cuts above the standard TED talk oratory, when outré experience and background are less liable, and when full-time politicians are less credible, things are different; the stakes, we are continuously told, are higher. The attacks, as such, will become more focused and less dismissive; they will also infuse with panic and spill outward from the central target.
Recapping the CNN debate, New York magazine’s Eric Levitz noted that Williamson gave “another alarmingly strong performance.” Her attacks on “wonkiness” were of such force as to “echo in the mind of every insecure policy blogger from now until the end of time.” He could have left it at that without belaboring the point, but this being online journalism, Levitz needed to hit his punchiness quota and so, with something like a fusion of impulse and moral obligation, called Williamson “the patron saint of paranoid New Age wine moms.”
That comment almost certainly cooled most New York readers with dehumidifying catharsis. They, the wine moms with their alleged disgust for vaccines, worship of crystals, and multilevel marketing “income” had it coming. It is their admission that, yes, we Democrats are not immune to cranks, but we will deal with it efficiently and conclusively, very much unlike the GOP. That any such thing will be dealt with, however, remains to be seen.
This and many similar comments on Williamson’s alleged supporters place strong assumptions upon them. They assume that they are on the cusp of if not completely crossed over into luxury lunacy and they assume that that lunacy informs their political vision. I have not taken a poll of the beliefs of wine moms, nor would I know how to go about procuring such a poll, but I’m not going to jump onto this raft. For one thing, it fundamentally misunderstands the suburbs where wine mom’s dwell. Suburban residents may, indeed, glom onto oddball holistic trends of the Goop variety and take some of it seriously. But just like other principled positions — like established religion in a previous generation — suburbanites can set these aside when they prove inconvenient, such as in the political process, where the suburbanites favor pragmatism and stability that allow them to pursue these bizarre moral entertainments. It would not surprise me if the wine mom demographic was more firmly in the tank for Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, or Kirsten Gillibrand.
No matter, think the commentators, for these middle-aged suburban women clearly don’t read anything more demanding than The Secret or inspirational wall art, and are not a significant source of votes. Do you, fair commentator, really want to test that? Do you want to play a game of electoral chicken? Because to me it seems that when so challenged, a potential voting bloc can become a definite voting bloc in short order. Recall that time, very late in the 2016 election season, when Hillary Clinton allowed herself to say that “you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. They’re racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic — Islamophobic — you name it.” This went over well with the immediate audience until it went public and became a significant rallying cry for Trump’s base that did enough damage that Clinton later regretted the choice of words.
No politician has yet embraced the condescension of the media, but if Williamson reaches Ron Paul levels of “We can’t ignore this anymore” or beyond, the option is there for the most threatened candidate to go nuclear on a whole swath of Democrats, who will hear this, who will coordinate on Facebook or WhatsApp or Slack, and will undo the delicate plans laid long ago for the ascension of the person to be least decisively beaten by Trump. They will do this cheerfully and ruthlessly, Sauvignon blanc in hand.
That might happen. I don’t know. I don’t know anymore about wine moms or what voters want than anyone else. But if Americans want to go hunting for witches and leave them on every roadside from coast to coast like trees on the day after Christmas, that’s their timeless prerogative. So long as they don’t forget that there are tradeoffs — and curses. And as we’ve seen before, these curses are as far-reaching in their power as they are unforgiving in their scope.