Sunday, May 13, 2018

Not-So-Smart Liberals

Gerard Alexander has a warning for liberals. Just because they control the media, the arts and the academy… they seem to believe that they control the American Mind.

Of course, their constant inveighing against Russian influence suggests that they cannot understand how a few Facebook ads completely undermined their well-planned effort to put their favorite enabler back in the White House. And, their permanent war against Fox News suggests that they are completely incapable of engaging a debate on the issues. Being masters of mind control, their goal is groupthink, not a national conversation.

In an important and intelligent New York Times op-ed, Alexander, a UVA professor, explains that liberals are getting ahead of themselves, that they are spewing out so much venom about Donald Trump that they are not just going turning voters off to their message—in truth, they do not have a message— but are producing a reaction. The end result of their vicious attacks might just be: the re-election of Donald Trump.

Uh, oh. How could it be that these great American minds do not see that their actions might just provoke a reaction? How do they not see, as Alan Dershowitz sagely remarked the other day, that they are attacking a duly elected president of the United States. They are not just trash talking some guy in the hood. And when you diminish and demean the president, when you do not show any respect, you are also talking the nation down. It does not signal patriotism.

Alexander sets out a cogent argument. He notes that people often vote against something rather than for something. True enough, a considerable number of people voted against Hillary more than they voted for Trump. Even in my own neighborhood, people despised Hillary. She was not likable enough.

Alexander writes:

People often vote against things instead of voting for them: against ideas, candidates and parties. Democrats, like Republicans, appreciate this whenever they portray their opponents as negatively as possible. But members of political tribes seem to have trouble recognizing that they, too, can push people away and energize them to vote for the other side. Nowhere is this more on display today than in liberal control of the commanding heights of American culture.

Liberals control the culture. They control the marketplace of ideas. Since they do not believe in free markets they want to hold a monopoly in their own marketplace. To some extent they already do. The result is obvious: they have turned the marketplace into a propaganda machine, where they spend most of their time telling us what to think. They do not present the facts, unless the facts prove their point. They do not present too many opposing ideas, lest your minds be corrupted. The lesson they drew from the 2016 election has been that they cannot trust the voters, but that they need to exercise total and complete control over their minds.

Alexander explains that liberals are totally lacking in self-awareness. They live in their own bubble and fail to understand how others see them. Who knew:

Liberals dominate the entertainment industry, many of the most influential news sources and America’s universities. This means that people with progressive leanings are everywhere in the public eye — and are also on the college campuses attended by many people’s children or grandkids. These platforms come with a lot of power to express values, confer credibility and celebrity and start national conversations that others really can’t ignore.

But this makes liberals feel more powerful than they are. Or, more accurately, this kind of power is double-edged. Liberals often don’t realize how provocative or inflammatory they can be. In exercising their power, they regularly not only persuade and attract but also annoy and repel.

Whenever people feel that they are being pushed, they push back. When they believe that they are being told what to think, they think otherwise. Why should they cave to pressure from semi-literate stand-up comedians? Why should they let celebrity jackasses tell them what they should think?

It doesn’t help, Alexander says, when the armies of the politically correct are striking out against thought crimes. Not just overt examples of bigotry, but anything that vaguely resembles same. People do not like being maligned, defamed and slandered. Who knew?

Racist is pretty much the most damning label that can be slapped on anyone in America today, which means it should be applied firmly and carefully. Yet some people have cavalierly leveled the charge against huge numbers of Americans — specifically, the more than 60 million people who voted for Mr. Trump.

In their ranks are people who sincerely consider themselves not bigoted, who might be open to reconsidering ways they have done things for years, but who are likely to be put off if they feel smeared before that conversation even takes place.

It’s the identity politics, don’t you know it. Worse yet, the definition of bigot keeps shifting.

Within just a few years, many liberals went from starting to talk about microaggressions to suggesting that it is racist even to question whether microaggressions are that important. “Gender identity disorder” was considered a form of mental illness until recently, but today anyone hesitant about transgender women using the ladies’ room is labeled a bigot. Liberals denounce “cultural appropriation” without, in many cases, doing the work of persuading people that there is anything wrong with, say, a teenager not of Chinese descent wearing a Chinese-style dress to prom or eating at a burrito cart run by two non-Latino women.

Pressing a political view from the Oscar stage, declaring a conservative campus speaker unacceptable, flatly categorizing huge segments of the country as misguided — these reveal a tremendous intellectual and moral self-confidence that smacks of superiority. It’s one thing to police your own language and a very different one to police other people’s. The former can set an example. The latter is domineering.

Domineering… to say the least. In truth, it’s despotic and tyrannical. And it’s one of the most insidious forms of despotism. They are not just trying to control your behavior; they want to own your mind.

Somehow, this seems to have come to fruition during the Obama presidency. Alexander kindly says that Obama had nothing to do with it, but, as serious people understand, you do not have to say anything, you to not have to rally people behind a banner, to influence them. If it’s all being done in Obama’s name, in particular, in order to force people to believe that Obama was a great president, even though he was not… then the responsibility lies with Jeremiah Wright’s protégé… like it or not:

This judgmental tendency became stronger during the administration of President Barack Obama, though not necessarily because of anything Mr. Obama did. Feeling increasingly emboldened, liberals were more convinced than ever that conservatives were their intellectual and even moral inferiors. Discourses and theories once confined to academia were transmitted into workaday liberal political thinking, and college campuses — which many take to be what a world run by liberals would look like — seemed increasingly intolerant of free inquiry.

Of course, it bespeaks monumental arrogance, the arrogance of people who fear, above all else, that someone is going to come along to proclaim that the Emperor is not wearing any clothes. The new liberal attitude toward the boy who blurts out the bad news is: shut him up and shut him down.

Alexander offers some sage and temperate advice:

Champions of inclusion can watch what they say and explain what they’re doing without presuming to regulate what words come out of other people’s mouths. Campus activists can allow invited visitors to speak and then, after that event, hold a teach-in discussing what they disagree with. After the Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that states had to allow same-sex marriage, the fight, in some quarters, turned to pizza places unwilling to cater such weddings. Maybe don’t pick that fight?

It comes down to a failure to respect other people. If you do not respect them, if you actively disparage those who think differently, they are not going to respect you:

Without sacrificing their principles, liberals can come across as more respectful of others. Self-righteousness is rarely attractive, and even more rarely rewarded.

Right… self-righteous moralizing, the sense that one holds a monopoly on the truth is not attractive… especially when it is uttered by mentally challenged celebrities.

Liberals are trapped in a self-reinforcing cycle. When they use their positions in American culture to lecture, judge and disdain, they push more people into an opposing coalition that liberals are increasingly prone to think of as deplorable. That only validates their own worst prejudices about the other America.

Those prejudices will be validated even more if Mr. Trump wins re-election in 2020, especially if he wins a popular majority. That’s not impossible: The president’s current approval ratings are at 42 percent, up from just a few months ago.

Liberals are inadvertently making that outcome more likely. It’s not too late to stop.

Then again, if they really find Trump so inspiring, and so useful for provoking intense emotion, they might want to keep doing what they are doing. 


Assistant Village Idiot said...

He writes more politely than I would, and will thus likely persuade more people.

Yet I'll bet not. I haven't found persuasion of liberals possible even when I am meticulous in my politeness, with people I do genuinely care about. In their lack of self-awareness, they do not recognise that their beliefs do not provide intellectual satisfaction so much as meet emotional and social needs.

I also disliked his characterisation of liberals as being "ahead" of others - though I grant he might be putting it that way in order to cause no alarm. They are "ahead" in only a chronological sense, and even at that, only on a road they are certain we are on. One hears this after elections, in which the election of their opponents is seen as a setback, not a change of direction. There is a Marxist inevitability of history that they aren't very aware of.

Sam L. said...

The libs and their enemdia have shot, knifed, strangled, and beat the head to a pulp any and all trust I may once have had in them. No more. Gone forever. Burned to ashes and buried in a mile-deep grave, with no headstone.

Jay Dee said...

My common reply to "racist" is "Oh, does this mean that you've run out of ideas?"

Ares Olympus said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ares Olympus said...

It's a good thoughtful article, but of course its harder to see what to do about it. Liberals seem to have everything EXCEPT power in government at the moment, and imagine themselves as holding a moral high ground over their strawman opponents who shouldn't be allowed to even speak.

And while the vast majority of the "liberals" are not actively promoting the crazy-making microaggression narrative in racism or feminism, they also can't see its harm unless they one time find themselves on the defensive for saying the wrong thing about the wrong person or class of person, which they didn't really say, but someone else heard as what they said, and doesn't want to hear that's not what they meant.

And when liberals/progressives feel themselves as the majority because they are portrayed as righteous in the media, they are free to speak their own prejudices, blind spots and and biases openly and can't imagine anyone can see any differently. And anyone who doesn't want to be labeled a racist or misogynist, won't speak up to challenge someone from their in-group.

And anyone who sincerely sees things differently and finds themselves in a minority position can feel oppressed for speaking up if immediately denounced, until they self-censor to get along, and feel oppressed by the righteous assumptions of those who are not afraid to speak.

But even if all this is true, like the author said "liberals may be more effective at causing resentment than in getting people to come their way" once resentment exists, how is it cured? If liberals want to fall into self-pity, they might try to STFU for 6 years until the conservatives finally decide they have Made America Great Again, and are willing to put up with the liberals again.

It does seem fair to say once one side picks someone as offensive as Donald Trump as a leader, everyone else must decide whether they really want civil war, or whether it's better to just wait for the destructive resentment wave to collapse under its own contradictions.

Christopher B said...

AO: regarding your last two paragraphs, to paraphrase a much smarter man than I, all they had to do was not be crazy and they couldn't even manage that.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Liberalism lost its intellectual roots, and became the emotionalism we see today. They’ve run out of meaningful ideas, and the ideas they now stand for are fringe “freedoms,” like the transgender nonsense. It is this emotionalism — combined with a lack of boundaries — that makes everything insufferably political. Everyone who disagrees or bristles at their charges is labeled a bigot. Yes, that breeds resentment. If you can’t speak openly, you’ll speak quietly at the ballot box. After 2016, all we see from liberals is denial, supplemented by mindless chanting. Why? Because they don’t respect anyone who thinks differently than they do. Makes for an insular world. Wait... isn’t it the conservatives who are close-minded?

JPL17 said...

I don't know, Stuart. Despite its surface reasonableness, to me, Prof. Alexander's column still suffers from the liberal smugness and impulse to dominate rather than compromise. This sentence in particular jumped out at me:

In [conservatives'] ranks are people who sincerely consider themselves not bigoted, who might be open to reconsidering ways they have done things for years, but who are likely to be put off if they feel smeared before that conversation even takes place.

Why couldn't Prof. Alexander simply matter-of-factly concede that most conservatives are not bigoted, that they have no need to "reconsider" their fully-formed worldview, that the best that any liberal will ever achieve by treating conservatives with respect is the occasional political compromise on issues of mutual importance, and that that general state of affairs should be perfectly acceptable to liberals.

But no, to a liberal it always comes down to enlightening and converting the benighted conservative to the liberals' destructive worldview, or bullying him or her into it, and to the rejection of compromise. Even Prof. Alexander's column reflects this underlying liberal impulse.

(The same-sex "marriage" fiasco is a good example of what I'm talking about. Instead of accepting any of a number of reasonable compromises offered by conservatives -- including identical rights for same-sex unions other than the word "marriage" -- the Left had to go whole hog, forcing same sex "marriage" down the throats of half the country, thereby guaranteeing generations of civil strife, division and court battles.)

I therefore read Prof. Alexander's argument as just the usual Obamanian call for the Left to employ better "messaging" to trick voters into giving them more power. Sadly, I doubt it will lead to any useful soul-searching.

Anonymous said...

Liberals cannot help themselves period. This behavior of them will continue.