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.

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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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Nicholas Kristof Admits Illiberal Leftist Overreach In Purging Conservatism And Dissenting Views From Academia

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“I say unto you that likewise more joy shall be in Heaven over one sinner that repenteth, than over ninety and nine just persons who need no repentance” – Luke 15:7

In the email introduction to his Sunday column in the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof writes:

My Sunday column will probably provoke a number of you to roll your eyes or curse me under your breath. I’m sure many will disagree with it, but here goes.

[..] I’ll get a torrent of angry emails and indignant comments, but as you read this I’m actually in southern Africa reporting a story. If the criticisms get too bad, I’ll seek asylum.

Such are the delicate eggshells that commentators on which the American Left must tread whenever they even think about holding up a mirror to the behaviour of their own side and calling out flawed thinking or bad behaviour.

What is the subject of Kristof’s column? You can probably guess. With great trepidation, Nicholas Kristof is asking his readers to consider the possibility – just the possibility – that the atmosphere of seething intolerance for conservative voices or opinions on the university campus may be a negative thing with potentially harmful consequences.

Kristof writes:

After Donald Trump’s election, some universities echoed with primal howls. Faculty members cancelled classes for weeping, terrified students who asked: How could this possibly be happening?

I share apprehensions about President-elect Trump, but I also fear the reaction was evidence of how insular universities have become. When students inhabit liberal bubbles, they’re not learning much about their own country. To be fully educated, students should encounter not only Plato, but also Republicans.

We liberals are adept at pointing out the hypocrisies of Trump, but we should also address our own hypocrisy in terrain we govern, such as most universities: Too often, we embrace diversity of all kinds except for ideological. Repeated studies have found that about 10 percent of professors in the social sciences or the humanities are Republicans.

We champion tolerance, except for conservatives and evangelical Christians. We want to be inclusive of people who don’t look like us — so long as they think like us.

I fear that liberal outrage at Trump’s presidency will exacerbate the problem of liberal echo chambers, by creating a more hostile environment for conservatives and evangelicals. Already, the lack of ideological diversity on campuses is a disservice to the students and to liberalism itself, with liberalism collapsing on some campuses into self-parody.

One can already imagine thousands of triggered New York Times readers spitting out their morning coffee and clicking away from Kristof’s column in disgust at having their worldview and prejudices challenged instead of flattered.

And Kristof continues in a similar vein:

Whatever our politics, inhabiting a bubble makes us more shrill. Cass Sunstein, a Harvard professor, conducted a fascinating study of how groupthink shapes federal judges when they are randomly assigned to three-judge panels.

When liberal judges happened to be temporarily put on a panel with other liberals, they usually swung leftward. Conversely, conservative judges usually moved rightward when randomly grouped with other conservatives.

It’s the judicial equivalent of a mob mentality. And if this happens to judges, imagine what happens to you and me.

Kristof goes on to recommend to his readers a number of prominent American conservative personalities to follow on social media, so as to get a taste of arguments and perspectives which may otherwise have been long ago purged from Facebook timelines and Twitter streams. Again, this is a good thing – other publications have preferred to ensconce their readers deeper in the bubble by publishing hysterical lists of “fake news” publications which cannot be trusted because they do not reflect the Democratic Party’s view of the world.

And he concludes:

I fear the damage a Trump administration will do, from health care to foreign policy. But this election also underscores that we were out of touch with much of America, and we will fight back more effectively if we are less isolated.

When universities are echo chambers, they become conservative punch lines, and liberal hand-wringing may be one reason Trump’s popularity has jumped since his election.

It’s ineffably sad that today “that’s academic” often means “that’s irrelevant.” One step to correcting that is for us liberals to embrace the diversity we supposedly champion.

This blog has not always been a fan of Nicholas Kristof, having only recently taken him to task for comparing the American Left’s coming endurance of Donald Trump to the agonies of somebody suffering from addiction and receiving treatment through a 12-step programme.

But as a reader pointed out at the time, the people who need to hear this message are not likely to accept it from people like me and blogs such as this, with a proud tradition of beating up on “liberal” intolerance and the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics.

Nicholas Kristof is clearly one of their own, however, as evidenced by the fact that he thought it was appropriate to compare surviving the Trump administration to attending AA. When somebody with otherwise impeccable social justice credentials like Nicholas Kristof questions the culture and dynamic on the American university campus, people might actually listen, and so one cannot entirely dismiss his work.

Overall, this is a positive development. Nicholas Kristof is a prominent and celebrated left-wing columnist and commentator, as well connected to the establishment as a writer can be. If he is now expressing reservations about the oppressive climate for academic freedom on campus, then there must truly be disquiet growing about the takeover of academia by the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics.

The Right cannot hope to win this fight on their own, but finally it looks as though we may be gaining a few unexpected allies. May many more follow in Kristof’s footsteps.

 

Postscript: At present, there are 93 comments to Kristof’s column, the majority expressing angry incredulity that anybody might think that hostility toward conservatism on American university campuses is in any way a bad thing. However, there are exceptions. One reader, a professor at a university I happen to know very well, writes:

An example: I am a professor at a university (Washington University in St. Louis) that brandishes “prestige” it doesn’t quite have—an Ivy League wanna-be. My web page contained some semi-controversial essays—arguing that science is a terrible career choice, that perhaps Summers’s ideas are worth consideration, “diversity”, “political correctness”, that some moral responsibility attaches to the movements that gave us the AIDS epidemic.

My essays, clearly marked as personal opinion, were censored—kicked off my university web page. As expressions of personal opinion, they didn’t belong in the classroom, and were never mentioned there. As thought-pieces on current issues, they are part of being a public intellectual, part of a professor’s job. Academic freedom? Not here.

As Yale University proved with the whole Halloween costume saga of 2015, Ivy League universities are often the worst offenders, so from that perspective Washington University in St. Louis is absolutely heading in the right direction.

Back in the real world, however, they are hurtling off a cliff, and threatening to take what is left of academic freedom down with them.

 

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Top Image: World Economic Forum / Wikimedia Commons

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Donald Trump Victory Reaction: Nicholas Kristof Compares Surviving President Trump To Suffering From Mental Illness

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No, processing Donald Trump’s election victory is not like recovering from addiction

One of the more painful aspects of Donald Trump’s shock election victory, for me, has been having to watch journalists and commentators whom I have previously respected gradually lose all sense of perspective and become almost offensively hysterical in their overwrought catastrophisation of the election result.

This blog was also very much against a Trump victory, but much of the mainstream media commentary seems to have descended into a nationwide, mutually-reinforcing panic attack, like a group of young kids watching a scary movie at a sleepover and then seizing on every nighttime creak or rustle to convince one another that they are being haunted by the monster from the television.

Godwin’s Law is now being proved with such regularity – by supposedly serious journalists writing above the line, and not just the online commentators beneath it – that cataloguing individual instances of Donald Trump victory catastrophisation has become pointless.

And we are not just talking about the more sensationalist, web-based outlets here. One expects little better from the Huffington Post, Buzzfeed or the likes of Everyday Feminism. But now even the New York Times has fallen victim to the great national hysteria – star columnist Nicholas Kristof can presently be found comparing the forthcoming suffering of American leftists under the incoming Trump administration to the pain of people suffering from addiction and mental illness.

I’m not joking – Kristof has just published a column in which he outlines his own patented “twelve-step program” for coming to terms with a Donald Trump presidency.

Kristof begins:

Traumatized by the election results, many Americans are asking: What now? Here are steps that any of us can take that can make a difference at the margins. Onward!

Traumatised? Really? Isn’t that a word that might be better reserved for veterans who watched their friends killed in action or had their own limbs blown off by IEDs, or the victims of sexual assault and other violent crime? Do we really want to extend that term to encompass the tears and frustration of Hillary Clinton supporters as Donald Trump made a mockery of the opinion polls and won a four-year term as US president?

Some highlights from the Kristof 12-steps:

2. I WILL try to do small things in my own life, recognizing that they are inadequate but at least a start: I will sign up on the Council on American-Islamic Relations website, volunteering to fight Islamophobia. I’ll call a local mosque to offer support, or join an interfaith event. I will sign up for an “accompany my neighbor” list if one exists for my area, to be an escort for anyone who is now in fear.

Because in the blink of an eye and before Trump has even taken office, America has become such a seethingly dangerous place that minorities can no longer walk the streets unaccompanied? Has Nicholas Kristof given absolutely zero thought to how this alarmist, apocalyptic language might be contributing (or indeed be the largest contributor) to the fear which he describes?

3. I WILL avoid demonizing people who don’t agree with me about this election, recognizing that it’s as wrong to stereotype Trump supporters as anybody else. I will avoid Hitler metaphors, recognizing that they stop conversations and rarely persuade. I’ll remind myself that no side has a monopoly on truth and that many Trump supporters are good people who want the best for the country. The left already has gotten into trouble for condescending to working-class people, and insulting all Trump supporters as racists simply magnifies that problem.

Credit where it’s due. Kristof manages something close to magnanimity here, but his call for fellow progressives upset at the election to avoid demonising Donald Trump supporters would be all the more convincing if it didn’t come in the middle of a hysterical article comparing a Trump presidency to living with serious mental illness.

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5. I WILL support groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center that fight hate groups, and back the center’s petition calling on Donald Trump to disavow bigotry. Depending on my interests, I’ll support an immigration rights group, the A.C.L.U. or Planned Parenthood. And I’ll subscribe to a newspaper as one way of resisting efforts to squelch the news media or preside over a post-fact landscape — and also to encourage journalists to be watchdogs, not lap dogs.

That would be the same Southern Poverty Law Center which has utterly capitulated to ideological leftist Islamism-deniers, and which has the nerve to place tireless fighters against extremism such as Maajid Nawaz and Ayaan Hirsi Ali on a list of supposed anti-Muslim bigots, in a desperate bid to placate and appeal to goodness knows who.

The ACLU of course does some vital work defending civil liberties, but it too has started to crumble under pressure from the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics, and is now just as zealous about protecting non-existent positive “human rights” as defending genuine civil liberties and Constitutional protections. One can still make an argument for joining the ACLU in an attempt to change it from within (it is less far gone than, say, the UK’s Liberty) but somehow I don’t think that this is what Kristof has in mind.

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7. I WON’T let it slide if a friend makes degrading comments about a minority or women. Even if it’s over Thanksgiving dinner, I’ll push back and say something like: “Come on! You really think that?!” Similarly, I may not be able to prevent a sexual predator from reaching the White House, but at events I attend, I may be able to prevent a sexual predator from assaulting a drunken partygoer.

8. I WILL resist dwelling in an echo chamber. I will follow smart people on Twitter or Facebook with whom I disagree. I will also try to enlarge my social circle to include people with different views, recognizing that diversity is a wonderful thing — and that if I know only Clinton supporters, then I don’t have a clue about America.

Again, credit where credit is due. We should all have the courage to take a stand where we see overt racism or sexism occurring in front of us. Confronting these bad ideas and exposing them to the unforgiving light of public ridicule is one of the best means of defeating them. But Kristof has clearly attended one “rape culture” seminar too many, and would have us all patrol every party we attend with a pocket breathalyser, pouncing on amorous couples to ensure that no alcohol has been consumed and that the appropriate consent forms have been signed.

It is also laudable that Kristof encourages people to look beyond their own ideological echo chamber and acknowledge the legitimacy and fundamental decency of those Americans who hold sincere political differences. However, one gets the feeling that this “step” might be the stumbling block for many leftists, just as some recovering addicts pause when confronted with Steps 8 and 9 (making amends to those they have harmed). It does not come naturally to many people to expand their social circles to incorporate those with different viewpoints and values – indeed, many people assiduously prune their social circles to achieve the precise opposite in the quest for ideological homogeneity.

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11. I WILL take on sexism and misogyny, which in forms like domestic violence, sexual assault and sex trafficking affect women and girls across the country. Even today, Republicans and Democrats should be able to work together to get funding for women’s shelters or to prosecute pimps.

Even today? What is that supposed to mean? That however bad Donald Trump and Republicans may be, with the right outreach it may just still be possible to convince these heartless conservatives that sex slavery, rape and domestic violence are bad things? Well, I should hope so. This wouldn’t even need saying, were it not for the fact that many people who read Kristof’s column have been fed a steady diet of propaganda suggesting that Donald Trump is about to make his own unreconstructed attitude towards women compulsory for all men in the country.

And finally:

12. I WILL not lose hope. I will keep reminding myself that politics zigs and zags, and that I can do more than shout in the wind. I can fight for my values even between elections, and even at the micro level I can mitigate the damage to my neighbors and attempt to heal a social fabric that has been rent.

“A social fabric that has been rent” – a nicely passive way of describing the division in America, as though the Kristof-reading American Left had absolutely nothing to do with the rending of America’s social fabric.

Look: the offensive thing here is not necessarily the content of Kristof’s article or the sentiments he expresses. As I have acknowledged, many of the points are actually very laudable calls for all of us to be better, more engaged citizens – something that this blog heartily approves of, and has long called for. What is really offensive is the fact that Kristof felt it in any way appropriate to compare the disappointment of losing an election with the torment of addiction, that he packaged this collection of decent advice and condescension in the guise of a 12-step program.

Imagine for a moment that Nicholas Kristof had written an article encouraging disappointed Clinton supporters to view the next four years as a painful course of chemotherapy. Imagine the outrage which would rightly be prompted by comparing the pain of electoral defeat with the ravages of cancer. But when it comes to addiction and mental health, apparently everything is fair game. It is perfectly acceptable for wealthy, pampered Manhattanites to compare their suffering to that of people suffering from mental illness.

Or imagine that the positions were reversed and a right-wing columnist had compared the suffering of conservatives under a Clinton administration to people trying to recover from addiction. Again, that columnist would immediately be hauled over the coals by the perpetually outraged Left.

This is another one of those occasions where the decadent metro-left grants itself a waiver from the outrage and opprobrium it would rain down on anybody of more conservative persuasion who dared to do the same thing. It’s fine for Nicholas Kristof to talk about processing a Democratic electoral defeat as though it is in any way similar to working through mental health issues, because he does it for the Greater Good of the leftist cause, but heaven forfend that anybody else speak too casually about a “traditionally marginalised group”.

Do these people have any conception of how hysterical and arrogant they sound?

Go back to Step 3 and do it right this time. Because this is NOT how America will knit back together after the election. Nicholas Kristof should be heartily ashamed of himself.

 

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