Too many leftist and liberal voices would rather bask in their own righteousness and moral virtue than engage in the only kind of outreach which stands a chance of defeating Trumpism at its source
As is often the case, a satirical news article in The Onion makes a political point better than 100 earnest Op-Eds on the same subject (including those of this blog).
In a piece entitled “Former conservative recalls belittling tirade from college student that brought him over to the Left”, The Onion reports:
Explaining how the string of personal insults and sharply worded accusations caused him to reevaluate every one of his political leanings, former conservative Vincent Welsh recalled for reporters Friday the belittling tirade from a college student that brought him over to the left. “It was last October and I’d just mentioned my support for a Republican congressional candidate on Twitter when this 19-year-old responded by telling me I was an ignorant asshole who hated the poor and that I was everything that was wrong with the world, and it just completely opened my eyes to how incorrect my whole worldview was,” said Welsh, fondly recounting how the sophomore sociology major converted him to liberalism on the spot by calling him a hateful bigot and saying he was too much of a “brainwashed puppet” of corporate interests to know what was best for him, instantaneously invalidating the 56 years of individual thought and life experience that had led him to his previous political beliefs.
This is what the Laura Pidcocks and Abi Wilkinsons of the world simply fail to understand; publicly declaring that those with differing political views are amoral or at best complicit in evil behaviour does not open hearts and minds, it closes them. Furthermore it only prompts those on the Right, tired of being falsely portrayed as callous oppressors, to hit back against leftist positions using the same divisive language of morality.
I’m sometimes guilty of this myself, having finally snapped after being called out and unfriended by a sanctimonious leftist former acquaintance, and subsequently resolving to fight fire with fire rather than patiently argue that left wing policies are well-intentioned but flawed. Is this the best approach I could take, in terms of helping to bridge political divides and promote understanding? Of course not. But it is incredibly cathartic and gets this blog much more traffic.
The Onion makes a point which may be (and often is) lost on ordinary grassroots left-wing activists, particularly those patrolling social media. And that is only to be expected; right-wing activists are often equally strident in their denunciation of leftists and liberals as communist antipatriots determined to undermine the country from within. Obstinate partisanship is not the preserve of any one political ideology.
But one would hope and expect the adults in the room to take a different approach. Those holding elected office or exercising influence over millions of people on television or in their written commentary ought to be able to tell the difference between playing to the gallery (which is easy) and engaging in genuine persuasion (which can be extraordinarily difficult). Yet too often they choose the former rather than the latter path.
Witness this recent feature by Stephanie McCrummen in the Washington Post. Entitled “The Homecoming”, the feature follows a young female university student returning from her liberal arts college back to visit her home in rural Missouri and help out at the county fair, finding it difficult to relate to her conservative, Trump-supporting family and friends.
In a piece which broke the needle on my overwrought sanctimony detector, McCrummen begins:
It was the first full day of the Clark County Fair, and over at the concession stand Emily Reyes was reading the novel “Ulysses,” raising her head every few paragraphs to look out through the window.
Meet our protagonist, Emily Reyes, child of rural Missouri but reborn as an urban sophisticate following a couple of semesters at college in Kansas City. Already the alarm bells should be sounding – few people read “Ulysses” for pleasure, and one wonders whether Reyes brought the book home with her in part to signal the intellectual leap she has made from her backward hometown. That I could certainly understand, having read numerous books merely to be seen reading them back in my more insufferable youth.
It goes on:
She put down the novel about a young Irish man searching for meaning on an ordinary day in Dublin and began making some jalapeño poppers. A white-haired farmer in denim overalls arrived at the window.
“Small cup of coffee,” he said.
“It’s Starbucks!” Emily began, realizing as soon as the words came out that “Starbucks” was of course a symbol of the urban elite liberal, which was exactly what she did not want to seem to be. She poured him a large cup of coffee and slid it across the counter.
Jesus. Rural Missourians are familiar with Starbucks, and most of them do not see it as a symbol of the urban elite – how can it be when even smaller towns often have a drive-thru Starbucks on their main strip? Newsflash, Washington Post: small town America also has electricity and running water.
Emily had been going since she was a girl, and had always looked forward to the feeling of ease, the lull while the corn was rising, the unhurried conversations. But nothing felt easy to her since the election, especially conversations of the sort that she had learned could arise here.
She had tried talking to her parents during other visits home, telling them that a vote for Trump was a vote “to deport your future son-in-law.” She had tried with Cyrus, and their relationship had only suffered. She and her best friend Hannah had decided not to talk about Trump at all because of the strain the subject had put on their friendship. A sister-in-law had told Emily that she had become difficult to talk to lately, self-righteous and angry.
At this point you should be starting to question whether Emily Reyes might just be a little bit dim. And to be fair, at her age of 22 and early into my political awakening I was not unlike her in terms of my outlook. A more curious person, though, having noted her hometown’s strong proclivity for Donald Trump and then experiencing an entirely different culture at a left-leaning urban college campus, might start asking what faults and failings among the supposedly superior political and cultural elite prompted so many decent people to drift away from establishment candidates and end up wearing MAGA hats. But all Reyes can seeminly do is see the faults and failings of her own family and friends.
And why on earth was their vote for Trump a vote to deport her then-fiancé, how husband? Is her husband an illegal immigrant? There is no indication given in the piece that her Guatemalan partner is “undocumented”. One can reasonably object to Donald Trump’s stance on border security, amnesty for existing illegal immigrants and the foul, racially charged rhetoric he used during the campaign. But to imagine that Trump plans to begin deporting legally settled immigrants is leftist hysteria of the first order, a wild extrapolation from anything that Trump has ever said or that his administration has ever proposed. But again, the Washington Post is not interested in highlighting or deconstructing the flaws in Reyes’ own thinking – for the purposes of their feature, Reyes is unquestionably right about everything, and the residents of Clark County, Missouri are unquestionably wrong.
So far, the only line in the piece which rings true is the observation that Reyes “had become difficult to talk to lately, self-righteous and angry”. That much I can totally believe, based on numerous conversations with people exactly like her.
She turned on some Bob Dylan at a low volume, opened “Ulysses” and settled into a folding chair, advancing 10 pages before Hannah arrived to help. Hannah Trump was her maiden name. Her uncle ran Trump Trucks. An aunt ran a bed-and-breakfast called Trump Haus. Her brother played football and was booed at an out-of-state game recently because of the name Trump on his jersey.
They began making biscuits and gravy, talking about an old high school classmate studying at the University of Missouri.
“She was asking me to help her work on a project about diversity in small towns — she wants to know about any racial targeting,” Emily began.
Again, did the fact that her friend’s brother was booed at an out-of-state football game for sharing a surname with the 45th president of the United States prompt Emily Reyes to dwell for a moment on leftist intolerance? Apparently not.
And of course their mutual friend at the University of Missouri was working on a project about diversity in small towns. American academia in general has become little more than the clergy of the social justice movement, and Mizzou in particular is notable for having capitulated totally to the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics. The only astonishing thing here is the speed at which Reyes discarded her old values and sense of empathy with her hometown friends and neighbours in order to side completely and unequivocally with the leftist politics pumped out by her college.
There then follows a particularly egregious segment where McCrummen and the Washington Post seem almost to take enjoyment from the fact that the hopes that the people of Clark County had invested in Donald Trump were not being met:
At a moment when Trump was making news almost every day, when the Trump campaign was under investigation for possible ties to Russia, when some Americans were still rooting for his agenda and others were convinced that his presidency amounted to a national crisis of historic dimensions — no one seemed to be talking about Trump at all.
In the very heart of Trump country, no Make America Great Again hats were in sight. No Trump T-shirts. No Trump bumper stickers or placards.
When asked, people said the standard things Trump voters have been saying, that the president should “stop tweeting so much,” or Congress should “give him a chance,” or that he was always “the lesser of two evils.” Then they went back to talking about how good the corn was looking, or the car crash yesterday, or which garden photo won the open art show.
Sitting in the shade of the grandstand, Marvis Trump, a member of the fair board and owner of Trump Haus, had her theory. She had supported Trump, she said, and for a while, she even had a Trump sign up at her house because it irritated her liberal daughter-in-law. It was a lot of fun, she said, but sometime around Easter, she said, that feeling faded.
“Probably the fun’s over now,” she said.
Perhaps I am being oversensitive, but I almost detect an air of mockery here – a perverse enjoyment by the writer and newspaper that the hopes of these people that Trump might actually “Make America Great Again” were being slowly dashed, that they were being made to look foolish for having previously supported his candidacy so sincerely.
And this gets to the heart of the problem with leftist and liberal resistance to Donald Trump. It’s not that leftists do not have many critiques of Trump which are entirely valid – of course they do. It’s that too many of them seem to enjoy being proved right more than they see the need to make meaningful outreach to those who were wrong.
Yes, the Emily Reyes’s of this world were absolutely right about all of Donald Trump’s character flaws, his inability to govern effectively and his disinterest in even trying to do so. They correctly identified his moral flaws, and picked apart the non sequiturs and logical fallacies in his various arguments with ease. But astonishingly, even now – 227 days into this presidency – they remain utterly unwilling to look at the flaws and failings of their own politics which drove so many people into the arms of Donald Trump in the first place. This does not bode well for the defeat of Trumpism.
I’m currently reading an excellent book, “The Once and Future Liberal” by Mark Lilla, which explores some of these failings in leftist dogma, particularly as they relate to the Left’s obsession with identity politics.
In the introduction, Lilla notes:
“The main result has been to turn young people back onto themselves, rather than turning them outward toward the wider world. It has left them unprepared to think about the common good and what must be done practically to secure it – especially the hard and unglamorous task of persuading people very different from themselves to join a common effort.”
This seems to perfectly capture the seemingly unbridgeable divide between college-educated child and rural-dwelling parent described in the Washington Post piece. In one sense, Reyes is extraordinarily open, having seen the wider world, worked with Syrian refugees in Greece and married someone of Guatemalan heritage. But in another way, her newfound political ideology is so insular that it has left her struggling to look past the different politics of her immediate family and friends to see their innate goodness, and also unable to discuss these issues without becoming angry.
None of this is particularly the fault of Emily Reyes, who seems to be a generous and upstanding individual, despite the fact that she is clearly being used as a tool by the Washington Post to advance their particular ideological agenda. Rather, it is the fault of a political dogma which equates moral virtue with the unquestioning acceptance of its strictures – hence the cognitive dissonance experienced by some identity politics leftists when beloved family members hold the “wrong” views, effectively making them “bad” people.
Obviously the Left’s problems go far beyond this, and include a failure to grapple with the impact of globalisation and automation on the people of small-town America, who tend not to be the kind of ultra-mobile knowledge workers found in the city (and to whom so much of the Democratic Party policy platform is geared). But besides Mark Lilla, few other people on the American Left presently seem willing to engage in any kind of introspection.
Abraham Lincoln once noted that “with public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed”. Sullenly waiting for Donald Trump supporters to realise the error of their ways – and come crawling back to the same political parties and the same policies which so repulsed them in the first place – is not a recipe for success. On their current trajectory, the Left and assorted anti-Trump forces can at best hope to silence Trump voters, returning many of them to a state of sullen political disengagement and despair – hardly a recipe for improved social cohesion.
Far better to win them over with a new and improved vision for America, one which is better than Donald Trump’s bleak and superficial promises on the one hand, and the Left’s dystopian, censorious identity politics on the other.
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