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The Age of ‘Too Far’

“TooFar” is not a viral hashtag — yet — but it is the prevailing ethos of the moment, the sentiment animating our politics and our culture, the sense that is propelling a massive backlash across the political spectrum.

For the right, the summer of protests, Black Lives Matter and “woke culture” went too far by toppling Confederate monuments, working to create “autonomous zones” in cities like Seattle and pushing to defund the police.

Conservatives responded by waging a campaign against the 1619 Project and critical race theory, passing dozens of laws designed to clamp down on protests, and hammering the Democrats as soft on crime.

The latter has been so potent and effective, particularly as some crimes have increased, that it has made Democrats — some not fully committed to police reform in the first place — tuck their tails and run. Even the most liberal of cities have retreated from reforms.

Perhaps no city exemplifies this trend better than San Francisco.

In February of last year, London Breed, the first Black woman to be elected mayor of the city, announced plans to redirect $120 million from law enforcement budgets to the Black community. This is, without question, a move that fit squarely with the spirit of “Defund the Police.”

Ten months later, after some crimes rose, she directed a surge of police officers in some neighborhoods. “It is time that the reign of criminals who are destroying our city,” she said, comes “to an end. And it comes to an end when we take the steps to be more aggressive with law enforcement, more aggressive with the changes in our policies and less tolerant of all the[expletive] that has destroyed our city.”

The White House applauded her for the turnabout.

Now, the San Francisco district attorney,Chesa Boudin, a crusader for criminal justice reform, may well lose his office in a recall election. His opponents have lambasted him as soft on crime. If he is recalled, it will be a major blow to criminal justice reform efforts in San Francisco.

Many of the people in that liberal city have also succumbed to the Too Far ideology.

But police reform and criminal justice are only a few of the areas in which this ideology is pervasive. Some people see the inclusion of trans girls in sports — and the normalizing of trans-ness in general — as a bridge too far in L.G.B.T.Q. rights. Because of it, we have seen unrelenting attacks on trans women, with everything from bathroom bills to laws barring trans kids from playing on sports teams.

Conservatives have pitched their anti-trans agenda as a defense of women, and they have found some unlikely allies among devout feminists, some of whom only whisper their dissent. But one person who has become a hero of this cohort is a woman who has not stayed quiet: J.K. Rowling, who doggedly refuses to back down on the issue.

She defended her position on Twitter in June of 2020, writing:

“If sex isn’t real, there’s no same-sex attraction. If sex isn’t real, the lived reality of women globally is erased. I know and love trans people, but erasing the concept of sex removes the ability of many to meaningfully discuss their lives. It isn’t hate to speak the truth.”

While I’m firmly in the “trans women are women” camp, I am very much aware that not everyone — not even all liberals — are there with me.

I had a brief discussion at a cocktail party a few months back with a feminist who sees Rowling as a hero, saying things others dare not. This person also condemned the idea that trans girls should be allowed to compete against other girls on sports teams, because, until the point of transition, they were men whose bodies were being flooded with testosterone, “the original performance enhancement drug.”

Even the #MeToo movement now seems to be battered by allegations that it, too, has gone “Too Far.” It’s not just that Johnny Depp won his defamation suit against his former wife Amber Heard on Wednesday. Even before that, Heard was being ripped to shreds on social media. As my colleague Michelle Goldberg recently pointed out, Heard was “far from a perfect victim,” and “that made her the perfect object of a #MeToo backlash.”

In a statement released after the verdict, Heard wrote that the disappointment she felt was “beyond words,” but that “I’m even more disappointed with what this verdict means for other women.” She continued: “It is a setback. It sets back the clock to a time when a woman who spoke up and spoke out could be publicly shamed and humiliated.”

In fact, that #MeToo backlash has been an issue of concern for years, and it was about more than a salacious celebrity story. In 2019, the Harvard Business Review published an article on the results of research from the University of Houston that found:

“More than 10 percent of both men and women said they thought they would be less willing than previously to hire attractive women. Twenty-two percent of men and 44 percent of women predicted that men would be more apt to exclude women from social interactions, such as after-work drinks; and nearly one in three men thought they would be reluctant to have a one-on-one meeting with a woman. Fifty-six percent of women said they expected that men would continue to harass but would take more precautions against getting caught, and 58 percent of men predicted that men in general would have greater fears of being unfairly accused.”

Now, we see some renewed energy emanating from left on other issues, like abortion and gun control.

The fact that the Supreme Court seems poised to overturn Roe v. Wade is, for many, evidence that the conservative justices have gone too far. And the recent mass shootings, including the massacre at a Texas school, may have convinced some parents that the sheer ubiquity of guns in this country has gone too far.

Across the political spectrum — depending on the issue, of course — there is an intense gravitational tug to pull back to a previous position. This desire is so strong that it’s being weaponized to gin up voter enthusiasm. The only issue, come November, is which suite of Too Far issues has the greatest sway.

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