Why Are Millennials Obsessed with Maxine Waters?

Why Are Millennials Obsessed with Maxine Waters?

Representative Maxine Waters, Tax March at the Capitol, photo by Majunznk via Flickr, Creative Commons

Representative Maxine Waters, Tax March at the Capitol, photo by Majunznk via FlickrCreative Commons

Corey Uhden, Politics Contributor

OPINION - Not every member of Congress gets a “hot house track” made in their honor, but not every member is having a moment like Democratic Representative Maxine Waters of California. That is how CNN reporter Nia Malika-Henderson described it, noting that millennials have dubbed her “Auntie Maxine” and BET’s talk show The Real crowned her “the queen of shade.” It is that last point that seems to explain most of the infatuation with Waters as of late. 

The term “throwing shade” is drag queen-speak meaning “a similar but more subtle way of reading someone,” according to Saeed Jones, Buzzfeed’s literary director, and “reading” refers to insulting someone “ruthlessly without breaking a sweat.” Surprisingly, an Urban Dictionary user defined “read” best as publicly ‘calling out’ or “insulting someone on their actual flaws (flaws that would normally be taboo to bring up in polite conversation).” The user further explains that the term “originated in gay black culture, made popular and used by drag queens and gay male bar/club culture.” The idea is that these flaws “are so apparent, they can be perceived/read off the person in question as easily as reading a of text off a book.” 

R. Eric Thomas glorified Waters “reading” President Trump and Washington D.C. in a glowing profile of Rep. Waters for Elle.com. “Shade is subtle. Waters doesn't have time for subtlety. Waters knows that desperate times call for shadier measures. She is reading this town for filth.” She has attracted a following of progressives co-opting slang from a subculture of a subculture to describe her treatment of the president and “this town” (Washington, D.C.), and we can assume their view of the president, Republicans, and, frankly, anyone that is not considered “woke.” Oddly enough, “read” and “shade” are both examples of common debasement among LGBT+ communities despite the community’s disenfranchisement in society. Within the community, debasement is a problem that leads to depression and suicide. Nevertheless, millennials and African-American progressives regularly use the terms and often apply them to Waters. They might reason it is acceptable for an African-American woman of Waters fame and stature especially if directed at Trump and Republicans. 

Along with her political career and her background growing up in segregated Missouri, D. Watkins, an editor-at-large on Slate.com, stated the number one reason he suggested Maxine Waters should be our next president was “she is not afraid to take on Trump.” Her attitude towards the president is endearing to progressives and they see it as a matter of validation for their views on social justice as well as a sign that the anti-Trump resistance is having an effect on the Democratic Party. Vanessa Williams, a writer at the Washington Post, claims, “her quips in news conferences and on cable news have inspired women who feel pushed around to push back,” and her latest viral moment occurred when she repeatedly interrupted Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin by stating she was “reclaiming my time.” The interaction inspired a Gospel song and the aforementioned “hot house track.” 

Waters support among African-American and LGBT+ progressives likely explains her appeal to millennials. "She makes the best faces, the perfect black women faces, faces that say 1,000 words without (her) saying anything," Brittany Packnett told CNN’s Nia Malika-Henderson. “Social media is perfect to display that.” In essence, Waters is a favorite of African-American twitter users and progressive millennials who view her as “having none” of Donald Trump, of being so disgusted with him that she is “over it” and, in her own words, “wants nothing to do with him.” 

Millennials think of her as some kind of African-American, female Bernie Sanders but she’s more Hillary Clinton than Sanders. Waters has been in Congress for thirty-seven years. She has only three bills to her name in that time and a career of corruption that is coming to light as she takes center stage as a symbol of the anti-Trump resistance. They can argue that Trump is “corrupt AF” and Waters was cleared of ethics charges for trying to steer bailout money to a bank partially owned by her husband, but the much longer record speaks for itself; Auntie Maxine has her whole hand in the cookie jar. 

Her district, California’s 43rd, has 100,000 more registered Democrats than registered Republicans to keep her in power despite her lack of accomplishments, but she does not even live among them. She resides in a 4.3 million dollar mansion several miles outside the district, where her Republican opponent from 2016, Omar Navarro, announced he would run against her again. Navarro received 23.9 percent of the vote and spent barely more than $2,000 in that election. This year, he is focused on raising money and attracting a national profile of Trump supporters to oppose Waters. While Trump won 16.7 percent of the vote in the district, there were pockets where he performed better than Navarro, but many more where he barely received ten percent of the vote. There is not a race in southern California where hugging the president tightly would be advantageous. A more compelling candidate could break through with the voters that want Waters to focus less on “reading” the president and more on the impoverished communities of her district. It would be a huge challenge, but might southern California be ripe for a huge upset?

You can follow the author on Twitter @CACoreyU 

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