Whether the “Karen” meme that has taken off among some Millennials and members of Generation Z is sexist and ageist or whether it’s a legitimate critique of white privilege and class privilege — there has been a lot of debate on the left — journalist David A. Graham uses a humorous “Karen” analogy in a May 28 article for The Atlantic, asserting that there is no bigger “Karen” in the United States than President Donald Trump.
According to the meme, a “Karen” is a privileged, demanding white soccer mom who goes out of her way to make life unnecessarily difficult for low-paid workers in the service sector. Graham puts it this way: “A Karen, if you’ve somehow missed the memo, is the type of person who demands to see the manager or calls the cops — like the dog owner who summoned the NYPD to Central Park after an African-American man asked her to leash her dog.”
Some feminists view the term as both sexist and ageist. But others on the left have strongly disagreed, stressing that the term is not promoting misogyny or ageism, but calling out the abuses of white privilege and class privilege (the Washington Post’s Karen Attiah, who is African-American, defended the term in an April 28 op-ed). And some Gen-Xers and Boomers are puzzled by the meme, noting that a lot of the women they have thought highly of over the years were named Karen (like Karen Carpenter or Karen Black).
“The term is most commonly applied to middle-aged women, but why abide by that sexist standard?,” Graham writes. “A man can easily be a Karen, as Donald Trump is proving this week.”
Graham goes on to explain why Trump is the essence of a “Karen.”
“When Trump gets sufficiently angry about anyone who dares criticize him,” Graham notes, “he is quick to work the referees, attempting to use the force of the law to bully the critics into submission and to try to intimidate would-be critics from opening their mouths. That’s what Trump is doing in resurfacing old and spurious accusations of murder against the TV host Joe Scarborough, and in preparing an executive order to punish social-media companies after Twitter dared to fact-check his words.”
“Karen,” according to the meme, is known for demanding to see the manager at Starbucks if her latte doesn’t arrive promptly. Trump, meanwhile, does things like promoting the nonsense conspiracy theory that MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough (one of Trump’s most outspoken critics on the right) committed murder when he was serving in Congress in 2001 and then throwing a tantrum when he is fact-checked.
“Trump’s pressure can take forms both hyper-targeted and personal or broad and policy-based,” according to Graham. “For some time in May, but escalating over the past few days, Trump has been attacking MSNBC host Joe Scarborough — a friend and ally turned strident critic — and falsely accusing Scarborough of murder in relation to the 2001 death, from natural causes, of a staffer in his Florida office when Scarborough was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. The claim is not new; it has been made over the years, first by the left and now by the right, and has been repeatedly and authoritatively debunked.”
The U.S. passed a grim milestone this week when researchers at Johns Hopkins University reported that more than 100,000 of its residents had died from coronavirus. And while Trump briefly mentioned that landmark on Twitter, he spent a lot more time tweeting about his critics and railing against Twitter for fact-checking two of his tweets (neither of which Twitter actually removed).
“The approach that Trump is taking with Scarborough is the same as that of Karens everywhere: call the cops, even if there’s no actual violation, and make life miserable for the people having the cops called on them,” Graham asserts. “In both cases, the point is to punish the people who dared to challenge him.”