The Enemy

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When will key influencers on the American Left learn that they can criticise Donald Trump all they want, but that continually punching down and demonising everybody who voted for him is hugely counterproductive?

Does Nicholas Kristof’s latest New York Times column reveal an early glimmer of realisation among the elite left-leaning commentariat that demonising the 46% of voters who voted for Donald Trump – and effectively accusing them of complicity with a fascist regime – is no way to win back local, statewide and national power for Democrats?

Perhaps so:

I understand the vehemence. Trump is a demagogue who vilifies and scapegoats refugees, Muslims, undocumented immigrants, racial minorities, who strikes me as a danger to our national security. By all means stand up to him, and point out his lies and incompetence. But let’s be careful about blanket judgments.

My hometown, Yamhill, Ore., a farming community, is Trump country, and I have many friends who voted for Trump. I think they’re profoundly wrong, but please don’t dismiss them as hateful bigots.

The glove factory closed down. The timber business slimmed. Union jobs disappeared. Good folks found themselves struggling and sometimes self-medicated with methamphetamine or heroin. Too many of my schoolmates died early; one, Stacy Lasslett, died of hypothermia while she was homeless.

This is part of a national trend: Mortality rates for white middle-aged Americans have risen, reflecting working-class “deaths of despair.” Liberals purport to champion these people, but don’t always understand them.

In Yamhill, plenty of well-meaning people were frustrated enough that they took a gamble on a silver-tongued provocateur. It wasn’t because they were “bigoted unthinking lizard brains,” but because they didn’t know where to turn and Trump spoke to their fears.

Trump tries to “otherize” Muslims, refugees, unauthorized immigrants and other large groups. It sometimes works when people don’t actually know a Muslim or a refugee, and liberals likewise seem more willing to otherize Trump voters when they don’t know any.

More:

There are three reasons I think it’s shortsighted to direct liberal fury at the entire mass of Trump voters, a complicated (and, yes, diverse) group of 63 million people.

First, stereotyping a huge slice of America as misogynist bigots is unfair and impairs understanding. Hundreds of thousands of those Trump supporters had voted for Barack Obama. Many are themselves black, Latino or Muslim. Are they all bigots?

Second, demonizing Trump voters feeds the dysfunction of our political system. One can be passionate about one’s cause, and fight for it, without contributing to political paralysis that risks making our country ungovernable.

[..] The third reason is tactical: It’s hard to win over voters whom you’re insulting.

Many liberals argue that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote and that the focus should be on rallying the base and fighting voter suppression efforts. Yes, but Democrats flopped in Congress, governor races and state legislatures. Republicans now control 68 percent of partisan legislative chambers in the U.S.

If Democrats want to battle voter suppression, it’s crucial to win local races — including in white working-class districts in Ohio, Wisconsin and elsewhere.

Yes, a majority of Trump voters are probably unattainable for Democrats, but millions may be winnable. So don’t blithely give up on 63 million people; instead, make arguments directed at them. Fight for their votes not with race-baiting but with economic pitches for the working and middle classes.

Clinton’s calling half of Trump voters “deplorables” achieved nothing and probably cost her critical votes. Why would Democrats repeat that mistake?

Kristof is inevitably taking a lot of heat from many of his readers, whose blood is still up following the election and who think that falling back on the 2008-2016 Republican Party model of total opposition and demonisation (with an extra dose of left-wing moral sanctimony) is a winning, beneficial strategy for the country.

One angry reader concluded her comment by saying “I am scared and they are the enemy. Plain and simple.” Is this really helpful language to be using at a time of national division, and is the mindset behind it a healthy one? Surely not. Of course much of the fault lies with Trump, his bellicose rhetoric and his entitled, backward attitude towards women. But Nicholas Kristof and other commentators on the Left also bear some responsibility for having created such fear among their own readerships, by frequently hyping and exaggerating the troubling aspects of Trump’s administration for political reasons (playing with language to imply with virtually no basis in fact that the president has a deep antipathy to all immigrants or to people with brown skin, for example).

Many Trump supporters and residents of Trumpland are good, caring, conscientious people. Kristof’s reader only came to the conclusion that they are all “the enemy” because she has been told so, repeatedly, by people in the media whose partisan cunning and residual bitterness outweighs any sense of professional responsibility they ought to possess. And the concerning aspects of Donald Trump’s presidency are bad enough without the leftist spin machine, working through the imprimatur of prestige titles such as the New York Times, convincing their audience that half the country (apparently including millions of “self-hating women”) is somehow out to get them when this is usually not the case.

Nicholas Kristof warned of the dangers of demonising Trump supporters as a cohesive bloc back in November, when the wounds of the election were still very raw indeed. Unfortunately, he did so in the very same column where he suggested that the pain felt by American liberals in the Age of Trump would be akin to that of an addict in recovery, a grotesquely self-indulgent and self-pitying assertion  which made light of the struggles of those suffering from mental illness. As so often with the Left and their struggle against reality it was one step forward, two steps back.

Hopefully with this new plea to his readers, Nicholas Kristof will at last hold on to some of the moral high ground he has occupied.

 

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6 thoughts on “The Enemy

  1. thelyniezian February 25, 2017 / 11:54 AM

    At the end of the day I suppose there is the ultimate incredulity of it all- why Trump? Why elect an egotistical shyster with no political experience, who makes apparently wild and dangerous statements, has been shown as bragging about groping women who aren’t even his wife, couldn’t even be successful in business without going bankrupt, on which no-one was quite sure what is policy positions were, etc.

    And when this man quite clearly is supported by and seems to appeal to your fascist and alt-right types, even your religious-right types who you might be surprised vote for him given his character and past opinions on things like abortion (but who to more liberal types are considered intolerant), then perhaps it is easy to forget that not everyone who voted Trump was one of them or did so because they particularly agree with or like everything about the man.

    However I do note there does tend to be a certain amount of ideological bigotry from some on the left and so-called progressives (just as there is on the right), which ought not to be excused. Much though I disagree with both, for example, UKIP are not (as one graffitto proclaimed on the shutters of a local office) “Nazi scum” and the Tory government perhaps are not intentionally evil monsters out to murder the poor, they perhaps are simply in denial about the effects some of their policies cause. I hope there are some who are like this- and indeed I would not follow this blog if I thought everyone on the political right was beyond even considering on their merits.

    Contrariwise I will also note it is possible to be in some way prejudiced or otherwise express harmful opinions without intending to be, particularly out of ignorance or bias. This to needs to be avoided but some understanding is required.

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  2. britishawakening February 24, 2017 / 7:44 PM

    Another good blog Sam. Yet I still feel that Kristov still does not get it. Immigration is a complex subject, I am British but descended from Irish immigrants so I am always careful with the subject. However I get increasingly irritated by Liberals and their constant efforts to conflate legal migration with illegal immigration. So when I read the term irregular/ undocumented migrant where the correct term is illegal I lose interest as this is a form of lying. Go down this path then sex offenders can be called irregular partners, burglars can become undocumented guests.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Samuel Hooper February 24, 2017 / 8:07 PM

      I couldn’t agree more – it enrages me when the media introduce the softened terms “undocumented” or “unauthorised” in place of illegal, or when they speak about “immigrants” as a whole, as though there is no difference between someone who joined the back of the line and entered the country the correct way and someone who circumvented the law. As you suggest, to use this language I could attempt to stroll out of a department store with a brand new TV without paying, and then claim sympathy as an “unreceipted customer” when stopped at the door. And then the media, who introduce these terms and constantly push their agenda, have the nerve to be hurt and outraged when people stop trusting them!

      Liked by 1 person

    • thelyniezian February 25, 2017 / 9:49 AM

      I’m not entirely sure why they do this, unless either it’s a form of political correctness- you know the slogan “no-one is illegal” which I might understand (perhaps wrongly) as an assumption that the term “illegal” could be seen as a perjorative whereby the people themselves are made to fell “illegal” by virtue of their existence. There are perhaps legitimate cases in terms of asylum seekers/refugees who might not be able to migrate via normal channels. Or it is an attempt to muddy the waters- but there is a feeling via many of us on the left that immigration rules are often unjust (if not, for those with more conventional and way-out views, the whole idea of closed borders as being absurd and wrong).

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      • britishawakening February 25, 2017 / 10:40 AM

        Well I would say if you don’t believe in borders take all the locks off your doors and practice what you preach.

        If political correctness has now morphed into a form of mind control where we sanitise the dark and illegal and mock what is wholesome and then those of us believe in the truth are entitled to speak out.

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        • thelyniezian February 25, 2017 / 2:37 PM

          Firstly you conflate national borders with private property (one describing laws and jurisdiction of governments, the other describing what one is able to own and make use of). Are either entirely necessary for privacy and security? (For example, I go swimming, I change in a cubicle and lock the door for privacy, then put my clothes and valubles in a locker for safekeeping whilst I’m in the pool. Do I own the cublicle or the locker? Clearly not, but they are there for my use.)

          National borders (and that assumes the concept of the nation state which did not always exist) are ultimately nothing more than demarcations between which government rules which area and generally shift over time. They are not a fixed and immutable part of nature. And already we accept that data can flow freely through the internet unblocked (if not undetected) as it crosses international borders. Not, however, people.

          Consider a lot of the issues that come up with respect to cross-border migration- pressure on housing (and the land to build more of it) perhaps being a case in point. This is true just as much for migration within borders as from without. If people from some deprived area in the north of England come to London looking for work because that’s where the best jobs are, are they not putting up just as much pressure on housing in London as people coming from Poland or Bulgaria? Yet no-one puts border checkpoints up at the Watford Gap or requires people from Up North to have a work permit to get one of those jobs.

          Yes, there are language barriers – but not between all countries. Yes, there are cultural and religious differences- but not so pronounced in some as others. Yes, there is terrorism, but terrorists don’t have to come from Syria or even be Muslim. There is income disparity between nations, but the same rules apply for rich and poor nations alike.

          The fact is many people wanting to migrate are not terrorists or benefit scroungers, they may simply be coming to look for work or to escape war and persecution overseas. As I am sure you are probably aware, it is not these people’s fault but nor is it necessarily the fault of open borders either, but rather political and economic systems rigged to favour the rich and big business interests, and those interests. The boss had to make the decision to hire Poles cheaper than British people (or the undocumented Mexican- call him an illegal immigrant if you will- without a work permit over the American citizen. All of whom have the same biology, and the same basic needs and desires.

          Also consider awkward immigration rules like the one impacted by the court ruling the other day, whereby non-EEA spouses could not come to the UK without the native partner meeting a minimum income requirement. Here we have a law not only impacting on rights to married and family life simply because one partnet just so happened to be born on the wrong side of an imaginary line, but which gives more rights to the rich than to the poor. (Yes, there are benefits and government services to consider, but can the foreign partner not work, if they are not denied the opportunity?)

          So here we see why some people think that border controls and immigration rules are not always that good an idea, and the idea that they benefit the ordinary working class person is not absolute.

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