Imagine being an award-winning author and devoting a substantial part of your Wall Street Journal column to shaming Sen. Kamala Harris, the potential future vice president of the United States, for dancing and expressing joy. You don’t have to imagine, because Peggy Noonan, a former speechwriter for Ronald Reagan and centre-right columnist, did just that.
Noonan’s latest was about last week’s presidential debate, and started off by praising President Donald Trump, partially because he “wasn’t a belligerent nut.”
“It was a good debate. The candidates argued big things,” wrote Noonan, who once won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary.
Noonan had more that she wanted to cover besides just the debate, though, specifically Harris’ recent appearance at a campaign rally in Jacksonville, FL, where she could be seen wearing her Converse sneakers, dancing in the rain, and looking purely happy.
Watching the heavily GIFed and memed clip, it’s hard to imagine finding anything wrong with it. In fact, on Twitter, many Black women praised Harris, the first Black and South Asian woman on a major-party presidential ticket, for sending a meaningful message of both Black power and joy with her casual dance moves.
Noonan didn’t feel that way. After calling Harris too “giddy,” she remarked that the senator risks being seen as unserious. “She’s dancing with drum lines and beginning rallies with ‘Wassup, Florida!’” (OH NO, can’t have that! Think of the children!) “She’s throwing her head back and laughing a loud laugh, especially when nobody said anything funny. She’s the younger candidate going for the younger vote, and she’s going for a Happy Warrior vibe, but she’s coming across as insubstantial, frivolous.” She also called the dancing “embarrassing.”
Noonan isn’t the only right-wing pundit who has criticized Harris for her facial expressions, and Trump himself mocked her laugh today during a rally. This is typical of the way that conservatives are simply not pleased when women — particularly women of colour — whose views are dangerous to them express genuine joy. Instead, they reserve their enthusiasm for the fake, plastered-on joy of Fox News hosts or Ivanka and Melania. Perhaps this is because, for Republicans, anyone expressing unbridled emotion is harder to control.
Noonan also, inexplicably, worried about how Harris’ rally appearance would translate on the world stage. “Kamala Harris is running for vice president of the United States in an era of heightened and unending crisis. The world, which doubts our strength, our character, and our class, is watching. If you can’t imitate gravity, could you at least try for seriousness?” she wrote.
Though Noonan has also criticized Trump for a lack of gravity in the past, it seems like she doesn’t find it a problem anymore. In the same piece where she shows so much concern about Harris projecting a lack of strength, character, and class, she praises the "liveliness" of Trump’s rallies and doubts whether Democratic supporters have the same enthusiasm. Noonan did point out that Democrats aren’t holding or participating in rallies because they’re taking greater precautions during the pandemic than Trump and his followers, but still commented on their lack of crowds. And then too, nowhere did she mention any of the “insubstantial, frivolous” things Trump constantly does on the campaign trail, including... dancing.
Surely there is some type of double standard Noonan is applying to Harris’ behavior; a double standard that certainly sounds like both sexism and racism.
“Peggy Noonan attacks Senator Harris b/c white supremacy dictates black women should stay in their place: quiet, subservient, and obedient,” wrote one Twitter user. “This is 2020. You don’t dictate Kamala Harris’s existence. You can’t take Kamala Harris’s joy.”
“This is the joy that so triggered Peggy Noonan that she wrote a column about how Senator Harris comes off as ‘insubstantial, frivolous,’” the African American Policy Forum led by Kimberlé Crenshaw posted on Twitter, adding a GIF of Harris dancing. “Black joy is something they feel the need to attack.”