Last Friday, two op-eds, one in a leftist newspaper, one in a paper that leans right, drew the starkest possible portrait of the difference between our two political cultures.
On the left was The New York Times, a former newspaper, which now reads like a cross between Pravda and a cluster of six-year-old girls who have just seen a mouse. On the op-ed page I like to call Knucklehead Row, David Brooks delivered himself of the opinion that the left is winning the culture war. How? By brute force.
He points to two phenomena.
One: “conservatives have self-marginalized. In supporting Donald Trump they have tied themselves to a man whose racial prejudices, sexual behavior and personal morality put him beyond the pale of decent society.”
Two: “progressives are getting better and more aggressive at silencing dissenting behavior. All sorts of formerly legitimate opinions have now been deemed beyond the pale on elite campuses. Speakers have been disinvited and careers destroyed… There are a number of formerly popular ideas that can now end your career: the belief that men and women have inherent psychological differences, the belief that marriage is between a man and a woman, opposition to affirmative action.”
Note the field on which Brooks thinks the culture wars are being fought: “decent society,” “elite campuses.” It does not occur to him that what Brooks considers decent and elite are precisely what is currently coming under question. I swear, somehow the New York Times has managed to turn the very atmosphere in their offices into Kool-Aid. You don’t have to drink it anymore. You just breathe it in. If Brooks got out more, he might discover that many quite decent and even elite persons — who are fully cognizant of Donald Trump’s all-too-human flaws — support the president precisely because he understands that the decent have not been very decent and the elite — outside of their own imaginations — are not particularly elite.
Witness the fact that the left cannot actually win a political argument but can only, by Brooks’ own account, use raw power to force those who oppose them to shut up. There are many words for this, only some printable, but decent isn’t one of them and neither is elite. Culturally fascist seems as good a term as any.
To be fair to Brooks, he warns his “progressive friends” that such “illiberalism breeds illiberalism.” But here is another thing that doesn’t seem to occur to him: it already has. We went through eight years of Barack Obama and a corrupt government that used formerly culturally aloof institutions — the IRS, the Justice Department and the mainstream media to name a few — to silence and criminalize opposition opinion. Americans outside of what Brooks considers the pale finally answered that unAmerican attempt at oppression with two words: this is a family site so “Donald Trump” will have to suffice.
Now consider another Op-Ed, over at the grown-ups’ table, also known as the Wall Street Journal. There, on the same day, Annafi Wahed, who describes herself as “a tiny, talkative South Asian woman who spent four months on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign staff,” relates the tale of her visit to CPAC, the annual gathering of the conservative base.
As Wahed headed for the event, her liberal friends expressed actual concern for her safety, as if she were descending into a den of violent ruffians. Instead, Wahed found a group of open-minded, rowdy-but-kind political thinkers. “I found myself singing along to ‘God Bless the USA’ with a hilariously rowdy group of college Republicans, having nuanced discussions about gun control and education policy with people from all walks of life, nodding my head in agreement with parts of Ben Shapiro’s speech, and coming away with a greater determination to burst ideological media bubbles.”
This is my experience of the left and right as well. On the left: self-serious, self-righteous, angry-faced harridans who want to destroy you for disagreeing with them. They call you names, they shout you down, they riot if you try to speak, they try to get you fired or run you out of business. On the right, we laugh a lot and argue constantly.
Brooks says progressives are winning because they have managed to silence dissenting opinion. In his speech at CPAC, Shapiro declared the right is winning precisely because: “The era of political correctness is over.”
Suppression of opinion, or free discussion? Which way forward do you think Americans will ultimately choose?
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