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Andrew Sullivan On The Importance Of Rediscovering Healthy Patriotism

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To move beyond Trumpism, Democrats (and forward-thinking conservatives) must look to embrace a healthy and inclusive patriotism, and end their love affair with a cold form of globalism which undermines nation states, communities and livelihoods

Andrew Sullivan remains my blogging hero and inspiration, but I must confess that until very recently I have not greatly enjoyed his recent return to semi-regular online writing for New York Magazine. The thinking and prose is generally as fine as ever, but Sullivan’s excessive hysteria (not to say that real concern is unwarranted) in the face of Donald Trump’s election victory and the start of his presidency has been offputting, as has his continued slow drift away from conservatism and overly-enthusiastic embrace of Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election campaign.

That being said, last week’s Interesting Times column/diary is vintage Sullivan – beautifully poetic, well argued and undeniably valid.

Sullivan writes of globalisation and urbanisation’s losers, and in praise of patriotism:

I’ve always been unusually attached to places. It’s one reason I still call myself a conservative. Travel doesn’t attract me. I’ve now lived in the same loft in D.C. since I bought it, in 1991 (apart from an ill-fated year and a half in New York City); I’ve spent 20 consecutive summers in the same little town at the end of Cape Cod, and have no desire to go anyplace else. Even when I go home to England, I tend to spend around half my time near where I grew up.

I wouldn’t go so far as Malcolm Muggeridge, who famously said: “Travel, of course, narrows the mind.” (Don’t you love that “of course”?) But I would say that the reverse can also be true. Staying put allows you to really get to know a place deeply at different times and in different seasons, to capture, often serendipitously, a small detail you’d never seen before, or arrive at a street corner and suddenly remember that this was where you first met an old friend.

But staying home brings grief with it as well. Everything changes, and when your beloved tree at the end of the street is cut down, or a new Safeway replaces the corner baker, or, more fatally, the factory that used to be the linchpin of the place lies empty and crumbling, it stings and wounds and demoralizes. When I’ve visited my own hometown in England, so much is the same. And yet, on closer inspection, many of the once-vibrant shops are selling secondhand clothes, or given over to real estate offices. My old church has a broken window where the rain comes in. The services have dwindled to near nothing. Maybe it’s being away for so long, but it seems familiar and yet a little empty, as if something in it has somehow died, a continuity somehow lost.

And more and more, I suspect, the shifting winds of this merciless global economy and the impact of mass migration are bringing about similar changes all over the West. This beautiful but deeply sad story about how a provincial town in France has slowly died — as its young people flocked to cities, as its shops were supplanted by a supermarket, says a lot about the moment we are in: “Down another street is the last toy store, now closed, and around a corner is the last independent grocery store, also shuttered. Walk down the empty, narrow streets on some nights and the silence is so complete that you can hear your footsteps on the stones.” The town, Albi, is not alone.

In America, as Charles Murray has shown in his extraordinary book, Coming Apart, the young and the smart and the talented — the people who would once have formed the core of these small towns — have long since fled to distant colleges and cities. They don’t come back. They would once have been the police chief or the town librarian or the school principal. They once helped make the town a well-run place with a clear identity, where the same families and networks lived together, died together, belonged together. These connections have attenuated … as economics supplants culture, as efficiency erases the individuality of inefficient places, as Amazon rips the heart out of shopping districts, as the smartphone removes us from physical space, and as many more immigrants and their culture alter the feel of a place in ways that disorient those with memories and loyalties.

I don’t think we can understand the politics of this moment — Brexit, Trump, Le Pen — without noticing this abiding sense of loss. The middling city and small town are going the way of the middle class. Patterns of farming in rural America are being devastated. I loved this English farmer’s account of the changes he is seeing: “The future we have been sold doesn’t work. Applying the principles of the factory floor to the natural world just doesn’t work. Farming is more than a business. Food is more than a commodity. Land is more than a mineral resource.”

Jobs are vital not simply because of money — but because they give lives meaning, a meaning that now seems so remote people medicate themselves with opiates. People are grieving for a lost way of life. This is not racist or retrograde or even backward. It is, rather, deeply human. For it is in these places that a deeper identity forms, that Americanness, Britishness, la France profonde, endures. And what we’re seeing right now, across the developed world, is a bid to retain the meaning of a culture and a way of life in the headwinds of faceless, placeless economics.

And Sullivan’s conclusion:

Nationalism is one response. The answer to it is not globalism, which is as cold as it is remote, but patriotism, that love of country that does not require the loathing of other places or the scapegoating of minorities or a phobia of change, that confident identity that doesn’t seek to run away from the wider world but to engage it, while somehow staying recognizable across the generations. If the Democrats hope to come back, that patriotism is going to have to define them once again. But can they get past their racial and sexual and gender obsessions and reach for it?

This is the distilled question of our times.

The answer is not globalism – Sullivan is quite right. This does not mean a rejection of capitalism, globalisation and international free trade, on which our prosperity depends, but it does mean acknowledging that there are negative externalities to all of this aggregate economic progress. We accept that this is the case with the environment, and take measures to restrict environmental damage caused by economic activity, but until now governments have scarcely acknowledged the impact of globalisation on local communities, national identity and cohesiveness, let alone formulated meaningful ways to protect what we are unwilling to lose while still unleashing the best that globalisation has to offer.

This is a challenge – as I have repeatedly acknowledged on this blog – which falls hardest upon conservatives and small government advocates such as myself, who traditionally envisage a very limited role for the state in our lives. If corporations and cross-border economic activity create negative externalities as well as create wealth and material abundance, who if not the state will keep those externalities in check? Left-wing politicians can simply wave their hands and promise new economic programs to retrain workers or encourage labour mobility, inefficient or fruitless though they may ultimately prove to be. We on the Right have a more difficult job, relying as we prefer to do on individuals and the institutions of civil society.

And this is why Sullivan’s enthusiastic embrace of Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential campaign depressed me so. I also preferred Clinton to Trump because of the latter’s self-evident deficiencies in temperament, knowledge and ideological sincerity. But Sullivan was strongly for Clinton, and I found that fervour to be inexplicable. As Sullivan rightly notes in his latest column, the answer to nationalism is not more cold globalism. And yet that is precisely what Hillary Clinton and Democrats of her type offered. It is still all they offer – she who spoke openly of her desire for a borderless world where plane-hopping elites treated global megacities as their playground while the impoverished servant class were rooted to their dying towns.

Sullivan is quite right that patriotism – “that love of country that does not require the loathing of other places” – must be embraced again by all sides, not weaponised as a unique virtue by the Right or demonised as evidence of inherent racism by the Left. But right now we are moving away from that goal.

For as long as so many Republicans remain seemingly in lockstep with the Trump agenda, despite the president’s frequent deviations from conservative principle (let alone the normal standards of presidential decorum and basic decency), they effectively lend their tacit support to the administration’s more uncomfortably nationalist behaviour and rhetoric. And for so long as the Democrats and others on the Left choose to double down on their repellent formula of Maximal Globalism + Identity Politics, putting forward candidates like Hillary Clinton who are utterly incapable of speaking authentically to Middle America and the suffering working classes, their actions will continue to signal that they view rural and small town America as expendable so long as wealth and opportunity continue accruing to the urban, coastal elites.

For better or worse, the Republican Party seem to have made their choice. Though they may grumble about the ObamaCare repeal and replacement (or RyanCare, as some Trump loyalists insist on calling it) and some of the administration’s other ideas, it is hopeless to look to the GOP for an alternative to Trumpism so long as their man occupies the White House and they hold both houses of Congress.

That leaves it to the Democrats. The ideologically bankrupt, morally compromised Democrats, whose first response to a stunning repudiation by voters at the ballot box was to swiftly reconfirm all of the main architects of that defeat back into their gilded leadership positions, and who are too busy worshipping at the altar of identity politics to pay attention to the fears and aspirations of Trump’s America.

In short, embracing a healthy new sense of patriotism seems like a grand idea, and a necessary one – but Lord knows who in the American political and media class possesses the wisdom, foresight and bravery promote it.

 

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SJWs Say The Most Racist Things

Gentrification is Racism

If racist sentiments like this count as “progress”, count me out

If anyone were still in doubt that much of the social justice movement is often little more than a thin veneer of moral respectability plastered over a movement built on the hatred and resentment of “cisgender, straight white males”, they need only read this article by writer/performer Taylor Steele in online publication The Body Is Not An Apology.

In the piece, Steele reacts to the creeping gentrification of her Brooklyn neighbourhood with a racist tirade that would see her roundly condemned and excommunicated from polite society were she white and the target of her ranting black:

Gentrification happened to me in steps.

At first I was confused.

Were the non-POC in this predominantly Black/Brown neighborhood lost? Did they miss their stop on this Queens-bound train? Are they simply taking a tour of the best Caribbean spots in Brooklyn? When I let it sink in that they were here to stay, noticeable implants to a previously self-contained body, there was anger and frustration. I could feel my rent rising every time a white family, Air BnB-ing in my neighborhood, asked which way to the nearest organic market. And yes, that really happened on a Bed Stuy corner outside of the Crown Fried Chicken and family-run bodega.

(For the uninitiated, “POC” means “people of colour”, and “Black/Brown” are capitalised while “white” is not for reasons that will soon become all too evident.)

Okay, so we have what appears to be a fairly standard diatribe against urban gentrification. So far, so typical. But Steele then continues:

It is traumatic finding strangers in your house, not understanding completely how they got there, not being able to ask them to leave, them rearranging the furniture, and you not being able to move any of it back — nothing will ever be the same; change is trauma.

I can logically/intellectually understand that the white people who move into predominantly Black and brown spaces do not do so with mal-intent; perhaps, these are the places they can afford to live. Perhaps, they can’t see that their presence in these spaces can serve as a kind of terrorism. I also understand they are not responsible for my mental health. However, this is how white supremacy works. It makes it impossible to point the finger at any one thing because the problem is a systemic, political, institutional one. White supremacist capitalist patriarchy proclaims that I am supposed to feel an inherent inadequacy and replaceability.

Author’s emphasis in bold.

A kind of terrorism. Go back and read that passage again, lingering over each sentence. Just read it, and then tell me with a straight face that the world is somehow better off for the presence of this toxic, self-obsessive, cancerous movement in our society.

Imagine that the situation were reversed, and a white author was complaining about black or other ethnic minority residents moving into the neighbourhood, explicitly complaining about the way that they are “rearranging the furniture” through their presence and fretting that the unwelcome newcomers cannot simply be asked to leave. Imagine that the white author described the mere arrival and presence of these newcomers as a form of terrorism being perpetrated on the white inhabitants. Just imagine the reaction. Imagine the outrage and social ostracisation which would rightly follow the expression such heinous, prejudiced sentiments. Now answer this: how does this new form of racism toward the often white beneficiaries of urban gentrification in any way expunge or heal historic racism aimed at black people?

While stubborn racist holdouts and the vestiges of real privilege and discrimination clearly do still exist in places, they are a shadow of what they once were, and thankfully in terminal decline. While full equality under the law should always be the only acceptable goal, those who fought for civil rights in the 1960s and preceding decades would often be astonished by the landscape faced by their successors in 2017. In fact, the only ones now openly using racist language and seeking to resurrect the “separate but equal” days of Jim Crow and segregation are the Social Justice Warriors, in their perverse fight against perceived “oppression”.

And this leads us to the perverse spectacle of a black writer, seemingly oblivious to the historical parallels she is invoking, talking resentfully about white people moving into “her home”, “terrorising” her with their somehow-illegitimate, organic food-purchasing presence (as though no wealthy black people shop at Whole Foods).

Here is someone who would no doubt be the first to join an anti-Trump protest as it marched through Brooklyn, and yet describes her resentment and fear of change in exactly the same language – social loss, fear of change, the undermining of local institutions – that she would castigate a white person or Trump apologist for using to articulate their own feelings about uncontrolled immigration and social change. There is simply no self-awareness at all – just rage, entitlement and self-inflicted fragility.

Have we really come this far as a society only to revert back to fearful, paranoid tribalism of this kind?

For some of us, yes, apparently so.

 

Gentrify This

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Immigration And The Media, Part 2

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In Social Justice Land, flouting US immigration law is deliberately portrayed as a badge of honour

This dispatch from deep inside SJW-land, purporting to provide “undocumented immigrants” with ways to “love themselves”, warrants line-by-line deconstruction.

Ella Mendoza writes at Everyday Feminism (naturally):

When you’re constantly the subject of laws, amendments, and media speculation, it’s easy to forget that you’re more than just a number.

Technically we are all the “subject” of laws and amendments – the Rule of Law isn’t some spiteful system concocted for the specific purpose of tormenting only those who choose not to respect national borders. But let us continue.

Your existence is valid, regardless of how you crossed the border, where you’re from, and where you’re today. Human beings cannot be “illegal,” especially in a country whose laws are built on the enslavement of Black people and the murder of Native people.

When the government talks about laws upon our bodies, we have to remember that no matter how much they tell us that our existence is “illegal,” they’re wrong.

Here is the first disingenuous straw man argument – and it only took us two sentences to get there. Nobody, not even the most hardcore anti-immigration zealot, believes that people themselves are illegal. That would be stupid. Nobody disputes that everyone’s existence is “valid”. Everyone is a child of God (if you believe in God), everyone has certain inherent and inalienable rights. But those rights do not presently include sticking a pin in a map and deciding to relocate to another country without first obeying that country’s immigration laws and procedures. The crime or civil violation is illegal, not the person, just as someone who drives faster than the speed limit or burgles someone’s house does not become personally illegal because of their transgression.

But it so suits the propaganda purposes of the open borders zealots to roll around on the floor pretending that Evil Conservatives are declaring their very bodies “illegal” (and what is this strange obsession with bodies in SJW-land?) that they cannot bring themselves to let the deception go. Pretending that border control advocates consider All Immigrants (activists deliberately blur the line between legal and “undocumented”) to be inherently illegitimate makes it easier to accuse them of wanton, inhumane cruelty rather than intellectually engaging with their argument and doing the much harder job of making a coherent case for a borderless world.

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Take Time to Take Care of Your Needs

Sometimes this is the hardest thing to do, as everyone faces undocumentation in different ways, and through different lenses.

“Faces undocumentation”? What a peculiar turn of phrase. It is almost as though the author is trying to suggest that “undocumentation” is a condition inflicted upon a hapless victim (whoops! where did my documents go?) by the snarling, evil state rather than the consequence of a person’s deliberate decision to violate immigration law.

As a small-C conservative who believes in upholding and strengthening the nation state but who maintains great sympathy with America’s illegal immigrant population – and who would gladly see some form of amnesty so long as it were part of a grand bargain, to be enacted when border security and internal cooperation between agencies is properly strengthened – I would have a lot more respect for illegal immigration advocates if they would just stop lying.

But unfortunately they seem determined to insult our intelligence at every turn, first by always talking about “immigrants” in general, so as to blur the line between those who followed the rules and those who did not, and secondly by pretending that illegal or “undocumented” status is something inflicted on the subject by government rather than being the direct consequence of their own action (or the action of family members in the case of minors).

How can one have a meaningful dialogue with people who have convinced themselves that your desire to see the law enforced and legal immigrants treated fairly means that you consider the very existence of “undocumented” people to be illegal? Where is the potential compromise with somebody who has no respect for the law and who will not be satisfied with anything less than fully open borders and the de facto abolition of nation states?

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As migrants, we have been taught that in order to have our needs met, we must assimilate and work through the system. But this is not true.

No, sorry, not migrants. Illegal immigrants. But yes, no matter how one comes to be in a new country, assimilating into that culture and learning to work through existing systems is surely pretty sound advice. What good do activists like Ella Mendoza possibly think they are doing by telling people that they should refuse to assimilate as a point of pride?

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As someone who has made up her mind about not pursuing citizenship, I often find myself questioning not just this choice, but all choices in my life.

Wait, what? The natural reading of this sentence would suggest that Ella Mendoza has the opportunity to pursue US citizenship but has “made up her mind” to instead remain an illegal immigrant in America. This is preposterous – she should question her choice, and continue questioning it until she arrives at a less moronic answer. Why willingly remain in the shadows if there is a path to citizenship available, other than to deliberately thumb your nose at the very concept of citizenship in the first place?

I can think of no other reason for this – readers, please correct me if I am wrong – than the fact that Mendoza is so wedded to the idea of herself as a hapless, persecuted victim that she is unwilling to take the steps toward legalisation and citizenship because to do so would deprive her of a critical part of her identity as a persecuted “undocumented” person. This is a sickness, pure and simple – how else to describe deliberate, self-inflicted fragility of this kind?

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Allow yourself to breathe and make hard choices, as well as postpone the easy ones. Sometimes time can feel so heavy and so uncertain. By being hard on ourselves, we are only traumatizing our bodies more and more.

Remember that you made the right choice by choosing to live.

Though many will tell you that you could’ve done it differently, remember that your migration to this country meant choosing to survive, no matter what.

Your body has survived the trauma of borders and the bureaucracy of colonization. You’re a living breathing testament to your dreams.

What is this weepy, overwrought nonsense?

Look: many people currently living illegally in America are deserving of real sympathy – pulled as much as pushed into their adopted country by a rapacious underground economy which demanded their labour and let down by successive generations of politicians who preferred them to toil cheaply in the shadows rather than acknowledge their contributions or confer the rights – and responsibilities – of citizenship. Local, state and federal government (not to mention unscrupulous employers) often bear equal responsibility for the situation, but this does not diminish the agency and responsibility of those who nonetheless choose to flout federal immigration law.

And of course many people currently living illegally in America have indeed faced trauma, violence and persecution in their home countries, that much is also not disputed. And by virtue of that fact, many (though certainly not all) illegal immigrants are sadly accustomed to adversity the likes of which most of us can scarcely imagine. Therefore, the last thing that they probably need is some prancing SJW to come along to infantilise them and teach them how to better “love themselves”. This kind of kindergarten nonsense is effective only on cosseted middle class American college kids who grew up entirely ignorant of real hunger, want or danger, and who actually think that somebody saying something mean about them online or in a newspaper article constitutes a mortal danger and an assault on their person.

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Colonization and assimilation are both very hard subjects on our bodies. As migrants, we’re not from here, and as undocumented migrants, we’re told that we don’t belong here, either.

In order to survive, we’re often forced to adapt to a country whose culture consists of appropriation and theft, as well as an overwhelming amount of artificial media.

Decolonizing our bodies is more than just a ten-step program.

Well done for avoiding Nicholas Kristof’s mistake of comparing “oppression” to a twelve-step recovery program from addiction; ten steps is much more neutral.

It’s a daily practice of reconnecting and challenging the way our lives have been whitewashed, challenging the ways our bodies have been educated to assimilate into a system that profits from our struggle.

Let’s put aside the irony of someone who claims to speak for an army of people who intend to settle in a new country in flagrant defiance of local immigration laws while proudly refusing to assimilate (her words, not mine) into the local culture actually daring to accuse the host population of somehow being the colonists in that situation. I trust that any reader of sound mind will immediately perceive that if anything, the situation is reversed.

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Remind Yourself That You Are Magical

You are a magical human being.

Your body has defied laws and lines on papers and maps. You crossed these lines and now find yourself in a strange place that you have somehow built a home out of.

In order to make this home real, you’ve had to find a way to live, a way to connect, and a way to survive.

Many of us did this without speaking the local language. All of us did this in fear. Yet, through these obstacles you have survived. You’re here, living, and breathing, and still traveling in many ways.

You’re not from here. But you’re not from there either – not anymore.

Instead, you’re from somewhere else.

Your body belongs only to you and the culture you’ve created from living in between worlds. You’re a survivor. You’re a traveler.

What does this garbage even mean? No, you are not “magical”. If you want to be seen as exceptional and deserving of praise and affirmation from dawn to dusk then for heaven’s sake, try doing something exceptional and deserving of praise. Do not expect or demand validation and encouragement for glorifying in your violation of US immigration law, as though there is something inherently virtuous in deciding to jump the queue and demand unearned residency in another country.

If you truly believe – having actually sat down for a few minutes and thought through the consequences of what you are advocating – that you want to swiftly bring about a borderless world where anybody can demand (and be unconditionally granted) residency of any country where they wish to live, with no strings attached and no commensurate responsibilities of citizenship, then by all means make that argument. Be my guest. Explain how tearing down border fences and customs checkpoints while singing Kumbaya can be accomplished without wreaking huge economic disruption and social unrest upon millions if not billions of people. Explain how a society of people who feel entitled to indulge whatever fanciful whim pops into their head without moral restraint or the slightest thought for the consequences creates and maintains a cohesive society. Please, go ahead and make that case.

Just don’t come back with any more of this childish yet cynical and manipulative twaddle about how those evil people who believe in border security and the rule of law are so heartless and cruel that they consider the “bodies” of “undocumented immigrants” to be inherently illegal, their very existence a crime. Try to win the argument on its intellectual and moral merits, if you dare, but enough of the emotional blackmail.

But of course they will not stop. Reductive, black and white arguments and piercing moral outrage are all that the SJWs have left, any intellectual or moral basis for their beliefs having rotted away long ago.

 

Petition to make campus safe for illegal undocumented immigrants

No Human Being Is Illegal

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Immigration, Refugees And The Left

A thoughtful liberal – columnist and author James Traub – sticks his head above the parapet and dares to give his own side some counsel:

The Swedes have a word, “asikstkorridor,” which translates as “opinion corridor” and describes all those things considered incorrect not only to say but to think. One of those taboos, as I discovered when I visited Sweden at the height of the refugee crisis in the fall of 2015, is the idea that refugees from conservative Muslim countries, especially poorly educated young men, may not integrate into Swedish society as well as, say, relatively secular and prosperous Iranians or Bosnians.

President Trump’s offhand comment last month about how dreadful things are in Sweden provoked an outraged reaction from Swedes rightly proud of the country’s longstanding commitment to accepting refugees from all over the world. The incident of violence the president appeared to be describing hadn’t happened. But then it did, in the form of a riot in a suburb of Stockholm heavily populated by immigrants. That’s where the opinion corridor can make you look foolish.

It is too early to know whether the net effect of the 2015 wave of largely Middle Eastern refugees on Sweden, Germany and other European countries will be positive or negative. Certainly Mr. Trump’s habit of blaming refugees for terrorism, used to justify his signing a revised executive order banning travel from six predominantly Muslim countries on Monday, flies in the face of the evidence. But so does the reflexive claim that the refugees will fit easily into European society or expand the labor force. Our liberal opinion corridor thus offers the perfect pretext for cynics and xenophobes to parade their prejudice as truth-telling courage.

One can almost hear a thousand keyboards clatter angrily to life as Traub’s soon-to-be-former colleagues rush to denounce him and recategorise him with all the other “racist xenophobes”.

Only it is not only “cynics and xenophobes” who point out the flaws in undermining national borders and welcoming all comers while making no insistence. Many people who are better describes as simply being “realists” also take an evidence-based view towards cultural integration, as well as conservatives, none of whom deserve to have their opinions belittled and slandered by having them described as “prejudice-parading”.

Still, it is encouraging to see someone on the pages of the New York Times recognise that vague platitudes about welcoming immigrants coupled with a furious refusal to consider issues of integration and assimilation are inadequate to the task at hand, at least in European countries which are so often held up by the American Left as paragons of wise policy and moral virtue.

Traub goes on to deliver his audience this unwelcome lesson:

The answer to xenophobia cannot be xenophilia. For mobile, prosperous, worldly people, the cherishing of diversity is a cardinal virtue; we dote on difference. That’s simply not true for many people who can’t choose where to live, or who prefer the familiar coordinates of their life. That was the bitter lesson that British cosmopolites learned from Brexit. If the answer is to insist that the arrival of vast numbers of new people on our doorstep is an unmixed blessing, and that those who believe otherwise are Neanderthals, then we leave the field wide open to Donald J. Trump and Geert Wilders and Marine Le Pen.

[..] The situation is different here. Since the United States has no real refugee problem, save one fabricated by Mr. Trump and conservative activists, and no immigrant crime wave, the chief answer has to be on the level of the opinion corridor: Liberal urbanites have to accept that many Americans react to multicultural pieties by finding something else — sometimes their own white identity — to embrace. If there’s a culture war, everyone loses; but history tells us that liberals lose worse.

I believe that liberalism can be preserved only if liberals learn to distinguish between what must be protected at all cost and what must be, not discarded, but reconsidered — the unquestioned virtue of cosmopolitanism, for example, or of free trade. If we are to honor the human rights of refugees, we must find a way to do so that commands political majorities. Otherwise we’ll keep electing leaders who couldn’t care less about those rights.

Well, yes. Peddle in toxic, divisive identity politics for long enough and one can hardly be surprised when less secure, less prosperous members of the supposedly privileged class (i.e. the white working class) begin to do the same, purely as a survival instinct and a matter of defending their perceived interests. If you teach that political involvement and engagement of a citizen should primarily take place according to their distinct identity group(s) and in accordance with their position in the Hierarchy of Oppression, then eventually all groups will come to do this – even those you don’t want to.

Traub is right to ask his ideological fellows to reconsider some of their “unquestioned virtues” in the context of the populist backlash that they have provoked. At present, however, Democrats and others on the Left seem more inclined to hug identity politics even tighter and conduct zero outreach to Trump supporters or agnostics.

Former British Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock once said, in fighting a different threat which menaced his party (militant socialism rather than identity politics):

Fourthly, I shall tell you again what you know.  Because you are from the people, because you are of the people, because you live with the same realities as everybody else lives with, implausible promises don’t win victories.  I’ll tell you what happens with impossible promises.  You start with far-fetched resolutions.  They are then pickled into a rigid dogma, a code, and you go through the years sticking to that, out-dated, mis-placed, irrelevant to the real needs, and you end up in the grotesque chaos of a Labour council hiring taxis to scuttle round a city handing out redundancy notices to its own workers

In our context, the “impossible promise” is the belief that significant numbers of migrants or refugees from culturally very different countries can be taken in and settled in high concentrations with no adverse social consequences to themselves or the host population. It is the stubborn, screamed insistence at a rainbow-coloured “refugees welcome” sign in any way makes up for the lack of adequate planning by governments and consent from the governed.

Expect to see James Traub floating face down in the Potomac in a week or so’s time, with the shafts of many outraged liberal-establishment arrows piercing his back. For he has blasphemed, and the zealots in charge of the anti-Trump, anti-populist resistance have no tolerance for introspection or dissent from within their own tribe.

 

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Quote For The Day

From Conor Friedersdorf’s excellent interview of writer and professor David Hillel Gelernter:

Everyone knows that we live in politically superheated times; partisanship feels more bitter and more personal than it ever has in my lifetime.

There are many reasons, but here is one: we all know that faith in the Judeo-Christian religions is dramatically weaker than it used to be. But human beings are religious animals, and most will find an alternative if the conventional choices are gone.

The readiest replacement nowadays for lost traditional religion is political ideology. But a citizen with faith in a political position, instead of rational belief, is a potential disaster for democracy. A religious believer can rarely be argued out of his faith in any ordinary conversational give-and-take. His personality is more likely to be wrapped up with his religion than with any mere political program. When a person’s religion is attacked, he’s more likely to take it personally and dislike (or even hate) the attacker than he is in the case of mere political attacks or arguments. Thus, the collapse of traditional religion within important parts of the population is one cause of our increasingly poisoned politics. Yet it doesn’t have to be this way.

Turn back to the generation after the Second World War. The collapse of religion is well underway, but there is another alternate religion at hand: art.

Think of the extraordinary blaze-up of art in America in the postwar years, especially the 1950s and first half of the ‘60s: painting above all; choreography in New York (Balanchine, Robbins, the American Ballet Theater, the Joffrey and other regional companies); serious music, led by Bernstein’s Young Peoples Concerts broadcast  nationwide by CBS; intense interest in new American novelists; Frost; the Americanized Auden, Eliot and Delmore Schwartz; the great quartet of European masters as seen from the US: Picasso and Matisse, Giacometti and Chagall; the European film as an art form (Swedish, Italian and French––Hitchcock’s Birds, for that matter, opened in the early ‘60s at MOMA); in the architecture of the Americans Wright and Kahn and Eero Saarinen, and the Europeans Mies and Corbu and Gropius; in the design of the Eames studio, in the museum show as an event, in drama and the Actor’s Studio; art-books, magazines, posters, high-fidelity audio, Lincoln Center, the Dick van Dyke show; a situation comedy with frequent episodes about the theater, galleries, art films–and on and on.

An astonishing era.

Among much else, it helped politics go down easier. (Only a little easier; but every bit helped.)  Other things did too, of course; and art, as always, was its own reward. But we miss something if we don’t see how the religion of art took pressure off politics.

Nowadays it’s mostly gone. But it doesn’t have to be. Art itself is the reason to bring art back to center stage. But some of the merely incidental benefits might be enormous.

My emphasis in bold.

There is a bucketload of truth in this statement. As anyone who has tried to engage your average pro or anti-Trump or Brexit activist in conversation or debate about politics will attest, reasoned discussion is hard to come by, precisely because faith is now vested in political tribes rather than God. In fact, the politically neutral (or those who refuse to see Donald Trump as either Saint Ronald Reagan 2.0 or Hitler Reborn, Brexit as an unadulterated good or an unprecedented disaster) tend to have the hardest time of all – the new atheists and agnostics.

Partisans on either side are increasingly being defriended, blocked or ignored in the real world by those incapable of making the leap of empathy required to understand or forgive a vote for the opposing side. But agnostics and those in the middle face the ire of both sides, incredulous that they can neither see the self-evident worth of the “right” side or the existential danger of the “wrong” side.

It is worse now than it was a decade ago under the George W. Bush administration, and by all accounts it was worse then than it was before under Clinton, Bush senior or Reagan.

Most analysis of this phenomenon of polarisation and mutual incomprehension had focused on the impact that the internet and social media have had on our political discourse, and many of these discussions are valid. But Gelernter takes a different approach and reveals another, more sociological explanation for the current toxic atmosphere – one made all the more profound because of what it says about humanity rather than the technology we now use.

And who can deny Gelernter’s point? As religion and faith have receded, something has indeed taken its place. But it is no longer art, or that wonderful flourishing of high culture that the West saw in the 1950s and 60s. Now it is often decidedly low culture and politics which we elevate above all else – and particularly, for many people, the divisive and grievance-laden politics of identity and victimhood.

But I would add that science also helped to cushion what Gelernter calls the “collapse of religion”. Humanity was inspired by the space race and the Apollo Program – “we choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard” – and great shared human endeavours such as these. But humanity has not lifted its gaze above low earth orbit since 1972, and while other technological breakthroughs such as the mobile computing and the internet have revolutionised our lives, they have on balance tended to fuel the individualist and consumerist aspects of our society rather than the collective and the communal, let alone the spiritual.*

What is becoming manifestly clear is that we need something – be it a new flourishing of art (as Gelernter desires) or a great scientific or technological challenge – to help us once again lift our eyes above our own selves, circumstances and identity groups. More than a few political activists together in a room tend to quickly become insufferable. A whole society comprised entirely of such activists would be so much worse, as we are now starting to discover.

We need a common challenge or faith – whether it is a rekindling of the gentle patriotism spoken of by Andrew Sullivan or a tangible project of some kind – to remind us that we are more than the sum of our political opinions. And this means we need political leaders who dare to demand something of us rather than flatter us and promise us bountiful riches for no effort.

And so this blog asks again: set us a challenge.

 

*In Britain, mindless worship of the National Health Service – as exhibited today by more than 200,000 people who marched through central London in support of the NHS, demanding that more taxpayer money be shovelled into a healthcare system they venerate and claim to be the “envy of the world” despite the awkward fact that no other country has tried to replicate the NHS and many succeed in delivering better healthcare outcomes – has become the closest we have to a national religion. And while this might certainly count as blind faith or religious fervour, it does nothing meaningful to bring us together as a society.

 

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