Help! I'm Surrounded by Intolerant Liberals at Work: A Guide for the Perplexed and the Outnumbered
Dear Belladonna Rogers,
How do you behave or talk in a workplace of liberals who monitor every behavior for political and social correctness?
While my colleagues are hard-working, the general setting of my workplace is extraordinarily liberal. It is expected that you will be just as liberal as the socialist working next to you. Worse: in 2008 we had meetings where the managers talked openly about who had donated to Obama's campaign. They regularly went online to see who had -- and who had not. The head of the company -- loyal and generous Obama supporter that he was -- did nothing to discourage this outrageous behavior and so, in 2007, I began to feel as if I were living in the People’s Republic of China. I still feel that way, now more than ever. I’ve never said a thing about my conservative views, but believe me, it isn’t easy.
What should I do?
Sleepless in Seattle
This is a serious problem and one that particularly afflicts those who work in academic settings, in the media, and in the entertainment industry. It's also likely to affect any conservative or libertarian working in a blue state. I’ll give you my advice on your best options for dealing with this, but first I’ll say why the situation you’ve described has become a widespread phenomenon in workplaces across the country.
The problem you’ve described stems from a convergence of four factors that are far more prevalent today than at any time in the past seven decades, possibly since the Civil War (although I can't speak personally of that era: I don’t go back that far).
They are (1) the increasingly high concentration of liberals in certain sectors of the economy; (2) the militant intolerance displayed by liberals; (3) the steep decline in civility everywhere, including the workplace; and (4) the lowering of barriers to discussions of topics that were, in the not-so-distant past, deemed off-limits, especially in the workplace, but even at social gatherings in general: politics, sex, one’s earnings, and one’s religious beliefs. This is a toxic confluence of trends that afflicts our professional and social lives and results in a less tolerant environment in which one’s “zone of privacy” is far narrower than ever before.
(1) Types of work that attract more liberals than conservatives:
Your email address tells me that you work in a university. I've long wondered why academia is so strongly skewed toward liberals (by some estimates 90% liberal versus 10% conservative, except at explicitly Christian universities and colleges). Last week, I heard an explanation that rings true. It comes from Tim Groseclose, professor of American politics at the University of California at Los Angeles, who explained, in a fascinating interview with The Daily Caller’s Jamie Weinstein, that liberals want to direct the lives of others whereas conservatives don't. A person whose goal is to direct the lives of others, according to Professor Groseclose, will be drawn to academia, the media and the entertainment industry, the last of which -- at least as much as teaching and the media -- has an enormous impact on how and what people think. A single film can powerfully shape opinions and points of view, and epitomize an entire era.
Conservatives tend to be less interested in proselytizing and prefer to be guided by the maxim “live and let live,” as they focus their lives on family and work. They favor less government intrusion and prefer to be left alone. Liberals, particularly in academia, he said, are willing to forgo higher incomes for the chance to have a direct impact on the lives of others.
Furthermore, Professor Groseclose added, once an overwhelming liberal majority takes over a particular occupation or individual workplace, it becomes increasingly uncomfortable to be the sole conservative, or one of a small minority, amid a sometimes belligerent, often nastily self-righteous majority. So conservatives begin leaving these environments, which they find increasingly hostile and intolerant of them and their views. (To see the full interview click here.)
Two memoirs offer personal insights into this phenomenon in the entertainment industry, the first of which I’ve read and recommend highly. Turning Right at Hollywood and Vine: The Perils of Coming Out Conservative in Tinseltown by PJMedia’s Roger L. Simon, novelist and Academy Award-nominated screenwriter; and The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture by playwright and screenwriter David Mamet.
In an economy as dire as ours, few employees, no matter how uncomfortable they are in their present workplaces, feel free to leave a secure position in hopes of finding more congenial colleagues elsewhere, especially if they live in a blue state or work in a sector of the economy in which liberals predominate.
Even if the economy were more robust than it is, if you work in any of the sectors that attract liberals in droves, or if you work in deep blue America, changing jobs is unlikely to help. It will change the names and faces of your colleagues, but not the underlying problem.
(2) The fact that you’re the lone conservative in a department or office of liberal Democrats would not be the problem you describe if liberals were more tolerant -- or indeed, if they were tolerant at all -- of other political perspectives. As I’ve discussed here and here, the current incarnation of the Democratic Party is not the big, welcoming tent it was in the days of FDR. Today, it represents big unions, including the strident teachers’ unions, academia, some minority groups, and social and political liberals.
In the wake of the budget deal, we've seen a dramatic rise in vitriolic Democrat attacks on the Tea Party, and by extension, on the Republican Party of which they form an influential part. Rather than merely express contrary views, the Democrats at the highest levels of the party have turned up their attacks on a scale of 1 to 10, to at least 11, thus deepening the already sharp schism between the two parties.
As PJMedia’s Bryan Preston noted last Friday, Sen. John Kerry (D.-Mass), a former nominee for the presidency, explicitly called on the nation’s media to refrain from reporting and broadcasting the views of members of the Tea Party -- at all. John F. Kerry said,
And I have to tell you, I say this to you politely. [Let’s hear it for good manners as we descend ever further into the netherworld of extreme intolerance.] The media in America has a bigger responsibility than it’s exercising today. The media has got to begin to not give equal time or equal balance to an absolutely absurd notion just because somebody asserts it or simply because somebody says something which everybody knows is not factual.
Presumably, Sen. Kerry’s idea of an “absurd notion” is one with which he disagrees, while his definition of "everybody" is the fellow members of his windsurfing club.
This arrogance, this hubris, and this unembarrassed sense of entitlement are relatively recent additions to the traditional arrows in the Democrats' quivers. Unlike in the past, actual political positions are secondary to extreme expressions of political passion. Vitriol overwhelms content.
A similar point was made last week by former Vice President Gore, who was oddly silent on the massive contributions to left-wing causes by billionaire George Soros as he scolded the Republican Koch brothers for supporting movements Gore finds reprehensible, preferring to advocate (I kid you not) an "Arab Spring" here in the United States, where we, unlike the Egyptians in Tahrir Square, actually have a tradition of free and fair elections:
After the debt ceiling talks ended and the president signed the bill, the Democratic Caucus met and a new phrase of attack began being bruited about by increasingly desperate Democrats. Suddenly, liberals from Vice President Biden to Rep. Michael F. Doyle (D-Pa) appeared on TV accusing Tea Partiers of being terrorists. The Washington Times’ Jeffrey T. Kuhner noted that “MSNBC host Chris Matthews likened Tea Partyers to ‘terrorists’ and ‘hostage-takers.’ Newsweek’s Tina Brown called them ‘suicide bombers.’ In short, for the Democratic left, the Tea Party is evil incarnate.”
As Commentary’s luminous Jonathan S. Tobin wrote at the Contentions blog, “Indeed, with the abuse escalating to a point where liberals now feel no shame about accusing Tea Partiers of being ‘terrorists,’” it is unsurprising that the group’s negative polling numbers have risen. He also notes:
From its beginnings, liberal papers such as the Times slammed the Tea Party as a dangerous form of populism. It was smeared with unsubstantiated charges of racism on the false premise opposition to President Obama’s signature health care plan was a sign of prejudice. Though it was one of the most broad-based popular protest movements in modern American political history with a reach that extended across the country, it was still treated by most of the mainstream media as a slightly more respectable version of the Ku Klux Klan. Indeed, when Tea Partiers vocally expressed their dismay to members of Congress and senators at town hall meetings, liberals reacted as if public dissent against politicians was the thin edge of the wedge of a new wave of fascism.
That line held until November 2010 when it turned out the only poll that counts — the ballot box — showed the Tea Party was a mainstream force in American politics. While the Republican victory put a damper on talk of Tea Party extremism, the theme was rediscovered this year as some members of Congress decided to act as if their campaign rhetoric about debt, spending and taxes wasn’t just hot air but a pledge of honor.
This is an important reason that political discourse among our fellow citizens has moved -- in the immortal phrase of Abba Eban, Israel’s eloquent foreign minister, in his address to the UN Security Council on June 8, 1967 -- "backwards to belligerency." It has descended into the unchecked aggression of gang warfare -- or the Pleistocene Era. And citizens take their lead from the political class. When Americans see the president, the vice president and the Solons of Congress and their media allies attacking Tea Party members and Republicans in general -- all with identical epithets -- can there be any doubt that such unacceptable conduct will trickle down to all Democrat partisans, including those in your Seattle workplace?
Decades ago, I lived in a deep blue bastion of the country where I observed that while conservatives were viewed by liberals as rare, exotic birds (“That’s interesting. I wonder what makes him think that?”), there didn’t exist the reflexive derision, hostility, and shunning that passes for enlightened behavior today. Republicans and libertarians were considered socially acceptable, if eccentric, human beings, not pond scum lacking a conscience or intellectual honesty.
(3) The public mockery of the Tea Party and Republicans in general dovetails with a even larger societal problem: the slow but clear coarsening of discourse and a descent into a jungle of inter-party disrespect veering into loutish contempt. Unfortunately, this tendency is not confined to liberals.
Those who thought they were alone in sensing a rising tide of rudeness can find confirmation of their impressions from a recent Rasmussen poll, which found 76% of adults believing that Americans are becoming more rude and less civilized. According to the poll,
Seventy percent (70%) say Americans are more rude to sales personnel or people waiting on them than they were 10 years ago, up eight points from last year....Conversely, 61% say sales and service personnel are ruder to customers than they were 10 years ago....Fifty-eight percent (58%) of Americans say they’ve confronted someone over their rude behavior in public, up seven points from the previous survey. Thirty-eight percent (38%) have never confronted someone about their rude behavior. Sixty-four percent (64%) of men have confronted someone in public about their rude behavior, while 52% of women have done the same.
The confrontations arise when people are so deeply offended by the rude conduct of others that they cannot help but push back and say something. Recently, I found myself behind a man in a supermarket line who didn’t realize the high price of the cellophane-wrapped cheese he planned to buy. When the young, pregnant Hispanic cashier rang up his intended purchase and he discovered how expensive it was, he became angry at her and hurled a pound of Cheddar at her face. I raced to the store manager and asked him to confront the assailant. He did, telling the man never to set foot in the store again, or he would call the police.
This rudeness and decline in basic courtesy that infects our relations with others -- be it at work, in public settings such as supermarkets, or at social gatherings -- is a malignant and powerful new force in our lives combined as it is with the extreme polarization of the two parties. The confluence of these developments makes for some vexing experiences, such as those you’ve experienced in Seattle.
(4) The final reason that workplaces such as yours have become toxic is the free, online information available to all, revealing your political contributions, personal data, and even -- have they no shame? -- your age. Whatever organizations you support -- from the Audubon Society, to your place of worship (if you’ve donated to it), to charities to which you’ve contributed -- are all easily accessible on the Internet. Aspects of your life that were 100% private in 1980 are 100% public in 2011.
These inroads into the personal areas of your life that you could have protected by your silence or discretion then are out in the open now, and are grist for your colleagues’ inappropriate and shameful conduct in 2008. The easy availability of your personal information places you in a more vulnerable position when it comes to office politics: your Obama-supporting manager and colleagues can easily discover, without a word from you, that unlike them, you contributed exactly zip to Obama’s 2008 election, and if my speculation is correct, that you’re unlikely to contribute to his 2012 re-election campaign (just a wild guess).
What to do?
My answer depends on two variables: the first is how secure you are in your job. For example, in a university, do you have tenure? Professor Groseclose explicitly stated in his interview that he would not have published his most recent book, Turning Left: How Liberal Media Distorts the American Mind, if he didn’t have tenure. It would have provided ammunition to a liberal political science department that would have used it to prevent him from being granted tenure. With tenure, he can now publish whatever he likes.
If you feel that your job is a secure one, you have the options discussed below. If not, you have to judge for yourself how perilous it would be for you to speak your mind freely when you know in advance that your colleagues and manager are staunch, Obama-contributing liberal Democrats. In a recent advice column in July, about dealing with liberals in social settings, two commenters wrote as follows:
I’m a guns and religion-clinging, slurpee-drinking, pea-eating conservative who happens to work in the entertainment industry. I think it would be folly for me to follow the advice in this column. I think I’d become nearly unemployable.“Don’t ask, don’t tell” has been my best policy. Meaning, I never ask a colleague what his or her politics are; I never reveal my own; and I keep my job and professional relationships.It’s sad, but it’s harder to come out of the closet as a conservative than as a gay communist necrophiliac serial killer.
I think if you read the question and the answer one more time you’ll see that the column is intended for social situations, not the workplace. I can’t speak for Belladonna but it looks to me as if she’d agree with you when it comes to the workplace. She doesn’t seem like a person who would want to see one more American added to the country’s already 9.2% unemployment.
Actually, Nim, although my post was a bit opaque, that was the point I was trying to make; i.e., that although Belladonna’s advice may be good for social settings, I didn’t think it would apply very well to the work setting. It would be very interesting to know her take on that question.
JPL17, I’m glad you raised this question. And Mr. Goldberg, you correctly stated my position. This column was, indeed, intended to apply to social gatherings and not to the workplace. When at your place of employment, unless it’s at the Republican National Committee, the Democratic National Committee or anything of that sort—like a political campaign—my advice is not to talk politics. Not at the water cooler, not anywhere in the workplace. If a social situation includes colleagues from your workplace or industry, the workplace rule of not discussing your politics would supersede the social gathering rule.
So, I'm on record as agreeing with anyone whose own antennae and judgment suggest that a "don't tell" strategy at work is the best job-protecting policy -- as excruciating as that can be. It has one substantial advantage: it guarantees a paycheck.
The second variable is your level of tolerance for conflict compared with your tolerance for the inner turmoil that prompted your email to me. Coming out with your candid political views in a department or office that includes, by your own description, the expectation that "that you will be just as liberal as the socialist working next to you" will exchange one form of discomfort for another. Now, you are suffering in silence.
If, on the other hand, you make your views known in what I gather is a close-knit, even gossipy environment, then the insults will likely be intentional. You can expect anything from under-the-breath negative mumbles to highly audible, heated expressions of intolerance and derision.
Unfortunately, either course -- whether you choose silence or speaking out -- will result in your discomfort.
The question then becomes whether you want to turn every lunch hour or working hour into a potentially unpleasant argument session or, what may be even worse, subject yourself to being shunned. Revealing your true political views can cause your coworkers to cease treating you as a colleague.
What you decide to do depends upon how much you relish a good fight, and equally, how great your tolerance is to being treated as a pariah. If you speak your mind, you may experience some temporary relief and discover that you can now spend your time in the cafeteria reading a book rather than interacting with colleagues. But there are advantages to collegiality, even faux collegiality, one of them being that if you ever need help, someone will be there to offer it. Being an outcast is not an unmixed blessing at work.
My sense, based on your email, is that if you enjoyed arguments, you would have openly declared your antipathy to Obama in 2007 and by now your colleagues would be accustomed to your difference of opinion.
Even if you’re not a natural-born verbal mud-wrestler, four years of silence compounded by the same four years of working among Obamaphiles may finally have tried your patience to the point that the unremitting enthusiasm for the president has become more than you can bear in silence.
If, after weighing the pros and cons of speaking out, you decide you want to do so, I’d suggest three rules:
(1) Don’t initiate the encounter;
(2) Be calm, matter-of-fact, reasonable, and good-natured, as if you were saying you enjoy six-foot snowfalls, knowing full well that your interlocutor would prefer to live in Longboat Key, Florida; and most importantly,
(3) Try to make the issue not the other person’s views versus yours, but rather the virtue of tolerance for a variety of approaches -- not whose view is correct. You could certainly mention that, historically, one of the core values of liberalism was toleration of minority views. That is, in fact, one of the hallmarks of democracy: the rights of minorities are as fully protected as those of the majority. You could even extend your hand and say, in a friendly way, “Why don’t we agree to disagree? We have so much here at work in common that we don’t have to get into who thinks what about which candidate. That’s not as important as getting our work done as well as we can -- together.”
But you can always cover it with this:
Or, you could beat them to the punch and preemptively display President Lincoln's wise words on your locker and bumper first.
Whatever you decide to do, the most important thing to remember is that, in my grandmother’s words: this, too, shall pass. Since FDR, no president has been elected to four consecutive terms. This one has been fortunate to have been granted one term. If only the same could be said for the country.
Do you have questions? Belladonna Rogers has answers. Send your questions about politics, personal matters, or any other matter that’s on your mind and Belladonna will answer as many as possible. The names and email addresses of all advice-seekers will remain anonymous and confidential. Send your questions to: [email protected]