A humble, four-question test: Do we the liberals know how to talk about politics without instantly dropping our bombs?
We've been asking that question for several months. Our fiery leaders keep giving an answer:
Actually, no, they seem to say. Actually, no. We do not!
The latest confession appears in today's New York Times. We refer to the op-ed column in which a fiery writer named Lindy West explains who all those Trump voters are.
According to the leading authority, West is "an American writer, feminist and fat acceptance movement activist." In our view, she's also a person who's inclined to analyze politics through the liberal use of our bombs.
West's column starts with a string of whistles designed to convey an obvious thought: The Others are a bunch of southern rednecks. She uses a woman named Elizabeth Kemper as her whistled example.
(How many whistles can you count in West's opening paragraph? We count four different whistles, starting with her very first word.)
By paragraph 5, West is ready to give a direct and highly general description of Trump voters. As she does, sure enough! She delivers a hail of bombs:
WEST (3/11/16): The notion that Mr. Trump voices ideas that his supporters are “afraid” to express, vital truths lost to the scourge of political correctness, has been a rhetorical through-line of his campaign. Mr. Trump says exactly what he thinks, his fans gush—about immigrants, about Muslims, about women—a bygone pleasure now denied most Americans.In fairness, West drops her bombs with skill. We don't think we've ever seen an M-bomb directly followed by an X-bomb in the way she has crafted here.
It’s an odd construction. Once you say, “He says what I’m afraid to say,” and point to a man who is essentially a 24/7 fire hose of unequivocal bigotry, you’ve said what you’re afraid to say, so how afraid could you have been in the first place? The phrase is a dodge, a way to acknowledge that you’re aware it’s a little naughty to be a misogynist xenophobe in 2016, while letting like-minded people know, with a conspiratorial wink, that you’re only pretending to care. It’s a wild grab for plausible deniability—how can I be a white supremacist when I’m just your nice grandpa?—an artifact of a culture in which some people believe that it’s worse to be called racist than to be racist.
As she continues, West also delivers an S-bomb. She saves the inevitable R-bomb to serve as the paragraph's chaser. In this way, West paints a sweeping portrait of Those People, The Others, the many supporters of Trump. (It seems to us that she dropped her B-bomb on Trump's head alone.)
At this point, please remember our question. The question we asked was this:
Are we liberals able to talk about politics without instant use of our bombs? Again and again and again and again, our answer seems to be no.
That said, West's presentation strikes us as unintentionally humorous. She starts by rolling her eyes at the ludicrous notion that Trump voters—people like Kemper—are "afraid" to state their views.
Four paragraphs later, she abandons her whistles and turns to her bombs. She shows no sign of understanding that this is almost surely the practice to which the redneck Kemper was referring at the start of her column.
Please remember our question! In this case, West couldn't get through paragraph 5 without resorting to liberal use of her bombs. In our view, this instinctive practice, however pleasing, comes with a very large downside.
In our view, West is involved in otherization, a practice which dates to prehistory. Confronted with people whose reactions differ from her own, she can only imagine one possibility:
The people in question are morally bad, in a deep and primal way. In a sweeping, multi-pronged assessment, she fashions them as The Other.
(More unintentional humor: In paragraph one, West criticizes the redneck Kemper for being "all certainty." By paragraph 5, our analysts were howling. "Look who's talking!" the youngsters said.)
Our view? In this column, Lindy West behaves like a tribal player drawn from the swamp of prehistory. Last week, in a lengthy piece at Vox, Amanda Taub dropped a different bomb on the heads of the nation's many Trump voters.
In our view, she did so in puzzling fashion.
As we noted yesterday, Taub reported "astonishing" results from some research she recently conducted. Through her research, Taub says that she has discovered the existence of "a potentially enormous population of American authoritarians."
If we credit Taub's research, authoritarians are all around us. And sure enough! As is often the case in such matters, the appalling group in question is heavily associated with The Other Political Party:
TAUB (3/1/16): The first thing that jumped out from the data on authoritarians is just how many there are. Our results found that 44 percent of white respondents nationwide scored as "high" or "very high" authoritarians, with 19 percent as "very high." That's actually not unusual, and lines up with previous national surveys that found that the authoritarian disposition is far from rare.Please understand! In that frightening, scary passage, there's something Taub didn't say.
The key thing to understand is that authoritarianism is often latent; people in this 44 percent only vote or otherwise act as authoritarians once triggered by some perceived threat, physical or social. But that latency is part of how, over the past few decades, authoritarians have quietly become a powerful political constituency without anyone realizing it.
Today, according to our survey, authoritarians skew heavily Republican. More than 65 percent of people who scored highest on the authoritarianism questions were GOP voters. More than 55 percent of surveyed Republicans scored as "high" or "very high" authoritarians.
Taub didn't say that most Republican are "authoritarians." In fact, she said something much scarier than that:
Taub said that 55 percent of Republicans are "high" or "very high authoritarians!" Presumably, the total number of "authoritarians" in the GOP is substantially higher than that.
We're going to take a wild scary guess—according to Taub, something like 80 percent of Republican voters are "authoritarians." To our ear, this represents a very liberal use of the A-bomb, one of the many bombs our tribe deploys in our current attacks on The Others.
In her column in the Times, West drops a quick series of bombs. As part of her sweeping portrayal, she describes Trump voters as misogynists, xenophobes, supremacists and racists. Last week, Taub dropped the A-bomb—authoritarian—into that tribal stew.
These are all extremely unpleasant words. They represent the kind of judgment which tends to end political discourse—the kind of judgment which tends to divide the world into warring tribes.
Such warfare rarely turns out real well. If only for that reason, we'd think a person would want to be careful about the use of these sweeping negative assessments. This raises an obvious question:
How did Taub reach this deeply unflattering judgement about Republican voters, especially about Republican voters who are voting for Trump? What made Professor Taub feel she knew where the wild things are?
Given its historical associations, the term "authoritarian" is a very unpleasant term. In our view, a decent person would want to be extremely careful before carpet-bombing the countryside with such a destructive bomb.
On what basis did Taub decide that so many of The Other Team are "authoritarians?" Tomorrow, we'll review the part of her lengthy report where she answers that question.
As it turns out, Taub based her sweeping negative judgment on results from a humble four-question test. In our view, Trump voters are currently making a rather shaky political judgment. We'd say Taub's judgment is just as bad, possibly tilting toward worse.
Regarding West, we suggest one final point:
According to the leading authority, West is an activist in the realm of fat acceptance. To us, that sounds like a good idea.
It seems to us that West might strive to broaden the reach of her acceptance. Can Lindy West accept the idea that people can disagree with her views and judgments without being Evil and Other?
Can West extend her cone of acceptance that far? Dating to the realm of prehistory, this has been a major challenge for us the tribal people.
Alas! In these highly partisan times, a certain conclusion keeps becoming more likely. For a large percentage of us the people, our tribalism may rank "very high."
Tomorrow: That humble four-question test