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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Ann Widdecombe Is Right To Encourage Rebellion Against Political Correctness

18-year-old Sam would be horrified to hear 33-year-old Sam admit it*, but Ann Widdecombe is actually right more often than she is wrong – and never more right than when she recently gave an interview to BBC Parliament and veered onto the topic of political correctness.

(* As a 19-year-old lefty student at Cambridge, full of self-righteous assurance and moral superiority, I once accosted Ann Widdecombe in the bar of the Cambridge Union after the annual “This House Has No Confidence In Her Majesty’s Government” debate and no doubt made a complete idiot of myself in the process, though for some time afterwards it pleased me to brag about having supposedly confounded Widdecombe with my impeccable logic and well-rehearsed diatribe against the Evil Tor-ees.)

The BBC reports:

Political correctness is “silencing a great body of thought”, the 69-year old says, to the point where she wonders if we can still claim to live in a free society.

She worries that almost everyone is under pressure to keep their views to themselves, not just those with strongly-held political or ethical convictions

“You actually get bright, intelligent people that could hold their own anyway, saying to you: ‘Well, of course you can’t say that these days’. And I think: ‘Yes you can’.

“This is not the Soviet Union. You should not be constrained by state orthodoxy.

“You should be able to say what you individually think and if it is unpopular, you should stand your ground.”

And continues:

In such a climate, she says it is doubly important that politicians speak out.

“The only people who don’t have to (keep quiet) are the parliamentarians. We can say what we like. We can be against gay marriage, we can be against abortion, we can want to limit immigration – we can say what we like.

“The ordinary citizen is much less blessed these days. I’ve always said if you hold a view what is the point of holding it if you don’t stick by it.”

Widdecombe is absolutely right to emphasise the special responsibility which falls upon those with unpopular or minority views to actually air their beliefs so that unpopular ideas can be tested and either be found wanting and discarded or be acclaimed and more widely adopted based on their merits.

I have just come back from a friend’s Christmas party in a very fashionable part of London, a lovely evening, but one in which I was (for the second time this month) presented with the situation in which a fellow party-goer and friend-of-a-friend casually disparaged Brexit and Brexiteers to my face, automatically assuming that I would agree with their stance.

As happened last time, a virtual decision tree flickered to life in my mind. Do I do what the political blogger and ardent Brexiteer in me wants most, and dramatically out myself as a Leave voter before going on to deliver some barbed and witty put-downs of smug London-dwelling Remainers? If I do so, will it escalate into an argument which might be embarrassing for the hosts? Will it embarrass my wife? Is there a genuine opportunity to change minds, or is this just an opportunity to invite social ostracisation with no realistic potential upside?

On different days and in different scenarios and moods, I opt to go down different branches of the decision tree. On this occasion, knowing my audience, I deemed that there was no realistic opportunity to change minds or even plant the seeds of doubt, and so I changed the subject and ended up having a very pleasant conversation with the chap about other matters.

It is important to note that this friend-of-a-friend is a good guy in every respect – he is just lost to reason on one particular, highly important topic. And while I may not have been afforded the same courtesy had the situation been reversed, I think it is important for Brexiteers to hold themselves to higher standards of behaviour than some Remainers seem to be displaying in their sneering contempt of those who dared to vote their principles rather than their wallets.

On other occasions, I have taken the opposite approach and confronted idiotic EU-worship and criticism of Brexit with the immediate revelation that I am a eurosceptic Brexiteer and that anybody intending to insult Brexiteers in my presence had better be packing something more powerful than smug, idiotic, failed talking points from Stronger In. The last time I took this approach, a couple of weeks ago, the person concerned physically moved her seat a couple of inches further away from me, and frosty silence reigned throughout dinner.

Aside from casual interactions with friends (who no doubt feel duty-bound not to dismiss me out of hand because of our shared history) I have had zero success talking to Remainers in social settings with any degree of success, regardless of the approach I choose. But I am increasingly coming to the opinion that on this subject, as Ann Widdecombe says, “you should be able to say what you individually think and if it is unpopular, you should stand your ground”.

Of course there will always be times when getting into a heated political debate at somebody’s wedding reception is not the right course of action. But having now witnessed how a fairly representative sample of professional young Londoners feel about Brexit and Brexiteers, I think that these people urgently need to hear dissenting voices – if not to change their minds (for such a feat seems impossible) then at least to make the point that there are intelligent young professional Londoners out there who do support Brexit and whose political philosophy consists of something more than vacuous, superficial internationalism and a readiness to believe pro-EU propaganda and apologetics.

And whether the subject is Brexit or any of the issues falling under the suffocating blanket of social justice and identity politics, now is not the time for Brexiteers, conservatives, free speech supporters or other modern day heretics to stay hidden in the closet. Not with so much at stake.

Some of the most illiberal movements in society right now – the establishment’s rearguard fight against Brexit, the trampling of free speech under the jackboots of the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics – are fuelled by ignorance of and antipathy toward those who dissent from the leftist orthodoxy. Those dissenters such as myself, living deep behind enemy lines in places like central London, almost have a duty to show that Brexiteers, anti-SJWs and other latter-day thought criminals are more than the two-dimensional caricatures painted by screeching left-wing propaganda outlets like the Guardian and Independent.

95 percent of the time, this may be a lost cause. But once in awhile it may lead to a conversation, and even to a changed mind. Was swallowing my tongue and changing the subject in the face of lazy Brexit criticism the right decision this evening, given that the payoff for me was an hour of pleasant small talk and the knowledge that I helped perpetuate ignorance on such an important subject? Probably not.

Next time I am confronted with the Brexit/Social Justice-in-a-social-situation decision tree, I shall hold my ground unapologetically. Henceforth, the price of airily expressing half-baked political opinions in my presence, in the arrogant expectation that everyone present will concur, will be a thundering response from me which might make even Ann Widdecombe proud. Not only when I am feeling particularly up for a debate, but every single time, even when I would rather have a quiet, conflict-free evening.

That much is the least that I can do – that we all should be doing – for the causes in which we believe.

 

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The Inhabitants Of UKIP Country Are Our Friends And Compatriots, Not Members Of A Racist Freak Show

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How is the fact that most Ukippers and Brexiteers are ordinary, decent people and not rabid skinhead racists such surprising news that it merits an article in The Spectator?

The metro-left have their fixed views of Brexiteers and Ukippers – basically ghastly, uncultured people with a blinkered, nationalistic worldview bordering on overt racism. Generally they hold these views not because of any personal experience meeting and talking with Brexit supporters, but rather because this caricature draws a neat contrast with the virtuous traits of openness, tolerance and progressivism that the Left love to claim as their own. This much is all well known.

But most of these views are formed at a great distance removed from the actual Brexiteers or Ukippers being judged. When Channel 4 filmmakers produce a dystopian documentary about what Britain would be like under a UKIP government led by Nigel Farage it is achingly obvious that nobody involved in the feature knows or has ever taken the time to get to know the type of people they so readily pastiche for the lazy consumption of their fellow metro-leftists.

But once in awhile someone from the metro-left bubble accidentally stumbles out of their hermetically sealed ideological environment, finding themselves deep in the heart of Brexit supporting suburbia, or – heaven forfend – UKIP country.

And when it turns out that the primitive, simple UKIP natives turn out to be perfectly decent people who just happen to hold different views on a few political issues, it is now apparently such shocking and revelatory news that it merits a whole article in The Spectator.

From standup comedian Ariane Sherine’s wide-eyed report on her accidental foray into UKIP land:

Most people would say UKIP lends itself to comedy better than Denis Healey’s eyebrows lent themselves to tweezers – but not the people of Walton-on-the-Naze, as they live in the party’s only constituency. I’m a stand-up comic, and I was booked to play the town’s first comedy night this month. I don’t know if the lovely promoter realised I was Asian when he booked me; for my part, I didn’t realise Douglas Carswell was Walton’s MP, and only discovered while Googling the town on the way to the gig, when it was too late to turn back.

When I arrived in Walton-on-the-Naze’s large ballroom with its cornicing and chandeliers (‘It looks like the inside of a prostitute’s wedding cake’ remarked one of the other comics), I was perturbed to see more skinheads than at your average EDL rally. Audiences in London are diverse both in terms of race and class; Walton’s audience was not. The first act quipped, ‘I know you’re all a bunch of racists’; whether he was joking or not wasn’t clear.

I was terrified before I went on. I generally sing a love song to Jeremy Corbyn; I thought ‘Oh no, they’re UKIP supporters – they’re going to hate it.’ I also sing about the time a beauty therapist waxed my bikini line into a Hitler moustache. Ridiculously, I thought ‘Maybe some of them are neo-Nazis and will object to this, too!’ Before our sets, the other new comic and I shared frightened glances. ‘Good luck,’ he said. ‘Thanks – I’ll need it,’ I replied. ‘Hopefully they’ll think I’ve just got a suntan and am not Asian at all?’. I was glad that my six foot six inch male friend had accompanied me to the gig.

Because we all know the seething hatred of Asian people in the heart of UKIP supporters and people who voted for Brexit? The condescension here is absolutely off the charts – first assuming that the people of Walton on the Naze are so stupid that Sherine’s clever little love ditty to Jeremy Corbyn might sail over their sloped foreheads, and second that the audience might start jumping around and flinging faeces when they realise that the person on stage is of Asian heritage.

Is there some little-reported history of Asian comics going missing after venturing too deep into small-town Essex that I am unaware of? Has Douglas Carswell quietly imported the defunct Jim Crow laws from the American South, entrenching racial segregation and discrimination in a small corner of eastern England?

This kind of foreboding and hysteria is only possible when one feels that the community in question are somehow fundamentally different to us, that they are “other”. But Ariane Sherine and her audience were both British, both English too, in fact. The idea of being afraid of one’s own countrymen because they happened to elect a mild-mannered MP like Douglas Carswell is absolutely absurd.

Sherine’s odyssey continues:

To my surprise and relief, they laughed, and went on to laugh throughout my set: at Corbyn, at the Hitler moustache, at my rude song about never having another boyfriend. They were friendly and good-natured. I tested the waters a bit, in case they hadn’t noticed my skin colour: ‘My little girl’s white and I’m brown, so I call her my secret Asian.’ They didn’t bat an eyelid. When I came off stage, the promoter’s wife said ‘They loved you! They came to life when you came on.’

In some ways, the crowd lived up to stereotypes: when the other comedian mentioned the referendum, he got heckled with ‘Brexit – out out out!’ And some of the crowd started to heckle the headline act when he maligned their hometown, with one man asking menacingly, ‘Are you taking the piss out of Walton-on-the-Naze?’ But whatever else the audience were, they weren’t racist. In fact, it occurred to me as we drove home, I was the prejudiced one, the one full of preconceived ideas about what other people were going to be like before getting to know them.

Slow hand clap.

Finally, the realisation dawns that perhaps it is the trendy lefty Londoner who holds prejudiced views – about her own countrymen, no less – rather than the much maligned white working class community which she was so alarmed to visit.

One is torn how to respond to this article. Obviously it is a very good thing that Ariane Sherine came to see the error of her ways in having prejudged Ukippers and people from Walton-on-the-Naze. One only wishes that Sherine’s epiphany could be shared with every other young, creative-industry-working, Guardian-reading, Corbyn-supporting hipster living in London and the other big cities – and that the good people living in pro-UKIP or pro-Brexit communities might eventually start to feel more understood and respected as a consequence.

But the fact that a comedian’s epiphany that people from a UKIP-voting town are not knuckle-dragging racists is such revelatory news that it merits a prominent article in The Spectator is depressing beyond belief. How is it possibly news that people in Walton-on-the-Naze didn’t racially abuse an Asian comedian and heckle her off the stage?

When so many of our fellow citizens hold other groups – the white working class, Ukippers, whoever – in such open disdain, even fearing them, then we are in trouble as a country. And when established media outlets like The Spectator feel the need to publish One Woman’s Voyage of Discovery Into UKIP Land with a straight face, just to make a point, then it is clear that our media has a long way to go in terms of understanding the country they cover.

This disconnect is why Britain voted for Brexit against the command and expectation of the country’s elite in the first place. Hasn’t the time come to give Britain’s silent, Brexit-supporting majority a little bit more respect?

 

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