Yesterday, senior White House adviser Kellyanne Conway put her feet up on a couch in the Oval Office, someone took a picture of it, and then millions of people around the country went insane about it.
Kellyanne Conway checks her phone after taking a photo of President Donald Trump and leaders of black universities, colleges in Oval Office pic.twitter.com/MgVhCoJFuC— AFP news agency (@AFP) February 28, 2017
Here's what seemed to happen: President Trump welcomed the leaders of black colleges and universities into the Oval Office, and the 50-year-old Conway took a picture of them with her phone. Moments later, the AFP news agency snapped a photo of Conway on the couch looking at the pic she just snapped, feet (and shoes) on the couch while sitting on top of her legs. When the picture was posted on Twitter, there was some outrage, mostly from the left:
Disrespect level: unacceptable pic.twitter.com/D9KjePM279— Schooley (@Rschooley) February 28, 2017
I have so many questions about this photo, but chief among them is why nobody is telling Kellyanne Conway to get her damn feet off the couch pic.twitter.com/tU0CBS36Fe— Rex Huppke (@RexHuppke) February 28, 2017
Sure. I agree that a person shouldn't put their shoes on the couch in the Oval Office, especially not during an official event, in which you are welcoming guests into the space to honor them. In fact, you shouldn't ever put your shoes on any coach, or even a futon if we're being real, because shoes are dirty and couches/futons are expensive and don't you have any manners? Did you grow up in a barn?
But here's the thing: If we are going to freak out about something that Kellyanne Conway did, we have a veritable buffet of things to choose from, so let's fill our plates carefully. Do we want to waste plate space on a shoes-on-the-couch faux pas or do we want to focus on things she does that spread lies, harm our democracy and make a joke out of the executive branch of our government?
One of the reasons that the left has had trouble fighting back against the Trump administration is because there are two different types of outrage happening at once: outrage related to the actual political actions that Trump is taking (see the Muslim ban, for starters, or his rollback of rights for trans students) and outrage related to how ridiculous Trump and his posse can be (did you hear that he puts ketchup on his steak — how is that not grounds for impeachment?).
Honestly, the second type of outrage is more fun. Getting upset over Trump's funny haircut or Conway's feet on furniture more easily lend themselves to memes and jokes and one-liners and amazing photo manipulation. It's also much more tangible — we can see Conway's shoes on the couch and we know that is wrong.
Kellyanne Conway on the couch in the Oval Office pic.twitter.com/ebcHvdFGF6— . (@WillisWrldPeace) February 28, 2017
On the other hand, getting social media outraged about the actual political actions of the Trump administration isn't as fun and it certainly isn't as viral. Really, it's kind of depressing and even overwhelming. Not to mention that it's a lot more complicated. When we hear that trans kids are going to be less safe at school now or that new policies are targeting people based on their religion, it's hard to even know what to do or say. We know it's not normal and not right, but how do we take concrete action? Do we just tweet, "This is not normal!" dozens of times a day? When someone's feet are on the couch, we know exactly what to say: "Get your feet off the couch!"
When you feel helpless to act, it's easy to just start ridiculing people across the board and to focus on things like appearance and manners. It's also easy to paint people as 100 percent evil. Like of course Conway would put her shoes on that nice couch, because she's a monster! But let's do a thought experiment here. If Michelle Obama had her shoes all over that couch a few months ago, what would have happened? I'm going to guess that the right would have had a field day (with a good number of sexist and racist statements) while the left would argue that the first lady was just being comfortable and casual — I mean, come on, she was just taking a picture! People are too formal these days! I put my shoes on the couch all the time, for I am only human!
Kellyanne Conway is also human. She happens to be a human who not only sometimes puts her feet on the couch, but who, I believe, is adversely affecting our democracy. When I go to the Conway Outrage Buffet, this is what's going on my plate:
When we focus on shoes on couches, we lose focus. When we become outraged about feet on furniture, we get dismissed as snowflakes. When we don't treat the opposition fairly and don't defend them when they should be defended, we start acting a hell of a lot like the people we oppose. I know you want to say, "But they do it to us all the time!" but what would your mother say to that? She'd say, "Just because they do it doesn't make it right." And she'd also say, "And get your damn feet off the couch."
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