Sunday, July 11, 2021

What Happened to Andrew Sullivan?

In his latest Substack column Andrew Sullivan takes the measure of our current totalitarian cultural moment. (via Maggie’s Farm) He rejects it entirely, but he calls for a return to liberalism. True enough, liberalism would be a great improvement over cancel culture and over the rage to shut down different opinions, but, since when has Sullivan, supposedly a British conservative, become the champion of liberalism.

Now, one will say that Sullivan’s liberalism and Sullivan’s liberal democracy are not really as liberal as standard issue liberalism, but the, why use the word at all? Doesn’t the word suggest that liberal democrats are the counterweight to the leftist totalitarianism?

And it does so at a time when most liberal democrats, beginning with Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, have fully embraced the leftist madness that Sullivan decries.

Case in point: Barack Obama. Sullivan bemoans the fact that the dulcet prose of Barack Obama has given way to a totalitarianism worthy of someone like, say, Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Hmmm. Apparently, all of the white people who were drooling over Obama repudiation of Wright missed the point.

Obama was saying what he had to say in order to massage the limited intelligence of liberal Democrats. Everyone who had a brain understood that the words were so much blather, a ruse to dupe the gullible. When the Black Lives Protests were destroying America’s cities, Barack Obama effectively supported them. He did not stand on a flatbed truck and shout through a microphone, but he was the “unmoved mover” of the violence. Jeremiah Wright would have been proud.

Anyway, examine Sullivan’s arguments. First, he answers a question that the thought police have been throwing at him: What happened to you? Which meant, why have you not joined the totalitarian left?

It’s a question I get a lot on Twitter. “When did you become so far right?” “Why have you become a white supremacist, transphobic, misogynistic eugenicist?” Or, of course: “See! I told you who he really was! Just take the hood off, Sully!” It’s trolling, mainly. And it’s a weapon for some in the elite to wield against others in the kind of emotional blackmail spiral that was first pioneered on elite college campuses. But it’s worth answering, a year after I was booted from New York Magazine for my unacceptable politics. Because it seems to me that the dynamic should really be the other way round.

The real question is: what happened to you?

It wasn’t about what happened to Sullivan. He correctly points out that America’s elites, from journalists to schoolteachers to defense contractors to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have all of a sudden bought a radical anti-American ideology and decided that their purpose in life was to ram it into the minds of everyone, regardless. It would be massive thought reform, not education.

Sullivan calls it a moral panic:

What is it? It is, I’d argue, the sudden, rapid, stunning shift in the belief system of the American elites. It has sent the whole society into a profound cultural dislocation. It is, in essence, an ongoing moral panic against the specter of “white supremacy,” which is now bizarrely regarded as an accurate description of the largest, freest, most successful multiracial democracy in human history.

It is a thoroughgoing radicalization, based largely on two factors, that Sullivan barely connects: first, the love for Barack Obama and the hatred of Donald Trump. As it happens, Sullivan worships Obama and despises Trump. The current historical moment arose from years worth of seditious rhetoric directed against the president of the United States:

We all know it’s happened. The elites, increasingly sequestered within one political party and one media monoculture, educated by colleges and private schools that have become hermetically sealed against any non-left dissent, have had a “social justice reckoning” these past few years. And they have been ideologically transformed, with countless cascading consequences.

We are going through the greatest radicalization of the elites since the 1960s. This isn’t coming from the ground up. It’s being imposed ruthlessly from above, marshaled with a fusillade of constant MSM propaganda, and its victims are often the poor and the black and the brown. It nearly lost the Democrats the last election. Only Biden’s seeming moderation, the wisdom of black Democratic primary voters,and the profound ugliness of Trump wrested the presidency from a vicious demagogue, whose contempt for our system of government appears ever greater the more we find out about his term in office.

Of course, Sullivan hates Trump with every fiber of his viscera. But, he also loves Obama, to the point where he counts among the few who actually believed what Obama was saying:

My favorite moment was a very simple one. He [Obama] referred to the anniversary of the March on Selma, how he went and how he came back and someone (I don’t remember who now) said to him: “That was a great celebration of African-American history.” To which Obama said he replied: “No, no, no, no, no. That was not a great celebration of African-American history. That was a celebration of American history.”

But, that’s not all folks. Sullivan continues:

In his Jeremiah Wright speech, the best of his career, this is what Obama said of Wright’s CRT-inspired words, damning America:

They expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country — a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America... The profound mistake of Reverend Wright’s sermons is not that he spoke about racism in our society. It’s that he spoke as if our society was static; as if no progress has been made; as if this country — a country that has made it possible for one of his own members to run for the highest office in the land and build a coalition of white and black; Latino and Asian, rich and poor, young and old — is still irrevocably bound to a tragic past.

Somehow or other, those who idolized Obama did not get the message. Or better they understood that a man who had spent twenty years at the feet of a hate preacher did not just discard it all with a twenty minute speech. In truth, it was make-believe:

Obama was a straddler, of course, and did not deny that “so many of the disparities that exist in the African-American community today can be directly traced to inequalities passed on from an earlier generation that suffered under the brutal legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.” I don’t deny that either. Who could? But neither did he deny African-American agency or responsibility:

It means taking full responsibility for own lives — by demanding more from our fathers, and spending more time with our children, and reading to them, and teaching them that while they may face challenges and discrimination in their own lives, they must never succumb to despair or cynicism; they must always believe that they can write their own destiny.

Noble thoughts, noble sentiments. But, social and political movements do not arise from a close reading of texts. It does not matter what Obama said, any more than it matters, according to the terms of identity politics, what anyone really says. What matters is skin color or gender or whatever. Most people understood that Obama did not mean what he was saying.

His words did not provoke blacks to take full responsibility for their lives, for their successes and for their failures. It did not provoke blacks to take responsibility for their criminal acts and it did not provoke black community leaders to hold criminals to account. It did provoke a moral panic whereby the marching orders were that black failure was the fault of white people. Most of those who believed that Obama was showing the way toward responsibility belong to the army of the duped.

How you get from Obama’s oration to that, I leave to you. But clearly, that was the message that most of the American left gleaned from it.


Sam L. said...

Can anyone explain to me why "liberals" aren't liberal...except with government money?

Walt said...

For the left, Trump was just The Last Straw, the end of an evolutionary process in which they mutated to full-on crazy. Remember: Reagan was a dunce who starved children and a dangerous cowboy who’d get us into catastrophic nuclear war. Bush was bona fide idiot and a Nazi and actually Gore won tne election. And so did Hillary and Stacy Abrams. Old fashioned Sullivan style Liberalism failed them and so did all tne idiot/Nazi memes so it’s now clearly time to go totalitarian if that’s what it takes.

David Foster said...

"a vicious demagogue, whose contempt for our system of government appears ever greater the more we find out about his term in office"...for Sullivan to write this, after having the opportunity to observe the *actual* contempt that the Democrats and their figurehead Biden have demonstrated not only for our system of government but for the American people themselves, demonstrates a remarkably closed mind.

IamDevo said...

Clearly, those people who bought into "social justice" and "critical race theory" took from Obama's speech exactly what they wanted to take. They were simply applying what they had been taught (indoctrinated) to do in all their college courses on deconstructionism. It's like the amazingly radical misreading of Tolkien's LOTR currently on display in the Tolkien Society. Suddenly, the very orthodox Roman Catholicism that informed LOTR was magically transformed into sexually deviant, but currently popular among the intellectual elite, LGBT theory. I originally thought the Society's annual meeting agenda as published on the official website was a prank or hoax, but sadly learned it was legitimate. That's the pass to which a couple decades of higher education has brought us.