Part 4—Trampling the floor of respect: You might even say that Arlie Hochschild went on a listening tour.
As detailed in yesterday's report, the Berkeley professor found herself puzzled by attitudes in the Tea Party. She went to redder-than-red Louisiana, foolishly saying that she was determined to listen and learn.
It's hard to know why a "distinguished Berkeley sociologist" (New York Times) would think she could "learn" from Those People. Whatever! In a recent book event videotaped by C-Span, this "distinguished" professor said she went to the Bayou State dragging a question behind her:
HOCHSCHILD (10/15/16): So our voyage starts there with a question.To watch the whole session, click here.
I went with this "red state paradox" in mind. How is it true that, in the United States, most red states are also the poorer states, ones with worse education, with worse health and lower life expectancies. Those states receive more funds from the federal government in aid than they give in tax dollars, and yet are the most suspicious and resistant to the idea of a federal government.
Well, that's really interesting. What, what goes on with that?
As she continued, Hochschild noted that Louisiana was actually the poorest state in 2014. Also, "it was very largely, very largely Tea Party and Trump."
"So it was perfect," she weirdly said. "I was there at an exaggerated version of the red state paradox."
(Hochschild especially stressed the paradoxical nature of the environmental attitudes of her Tea Party subjects, given the environmental degradation caused by Louisiana's petrochemical industry.)
We offer these notes to help readers see the weirdness of Hochschild's quest. Her quest resulted in Strangers in Their Own Land, a book which was a finalist for this year's National Book Award.
Before Hochschild embarked on her "journey," she already knew that the views of white Tea Party adherents in Louisiana didn't make any sense. Despite this knowledge, she said she went to the Bayou State determined to "learn."
During her book event, she even said she wanted us "to meet some of the most extraordinary, interesting, complex, lovely, caring people who were at the center of this paradox." No, really—that's what she said! In response to a question from a young woman who'd been taken in by this nonsense, Hochschild even described one of her "learning" experiences.
Master race members, please! Hochschild said she encountered a "wonderful gospel singer" who said she just loved Rush Limbaugh.
"I thought, I'd really like to talk to her," Hochschild strangely told the young woman at her book event. "I have something to learn."
Things spiraled downward from there. The next day, Hochschild met the teabagger, hoping to hear more of her views. According to the Berkeley professor, here's how their "discussion" went:
HOCHSCHILD: The next day we met for sweet teas, and we talked, and I said, "What was it—what's the appeal of Rush Limbaugh?"Incredible, isn't it? This "woman of the left" (New York Times) actually seemed to say that the bagger's hateful misogynist remarks were OK!
"Well, he hates these feminazis."
Oh, I had a little moment there. "And what is a feminazi?"
"Well, you know, cold, tough, hard, sort of self-centered person destroying families."
Ohhh-kay! And she went on to the "environmental wackos" and all these—
And then she asked me, "Is it hard for you to hear what I am saying?" And a bell went off.
Plainly, this Deep South bagger had memorized Rush's best lines. According to Hochschild, here's what happened after that bell went off:
HOCHSCHILD (continuing directly): I thought—a bell went off. I thought, "Actually, no—it's not hard. I'm not here to have a debate, I'm here to learn, you know? I've spent my life teaching students, but now the fun part is learning."You've established a floor of respect!
She said, "I do that too. That's not hard for me either." And then we had that in common. And then she explained that, actually, she saw Rush Limbaugh defending her against this hail of epithets that came, she thought, from Liberal Land. You know, that she was seen as fat and homophobic, and sexist and racist. And she saw him as defending her from that.
Well. I learned a ton over those sweet teas. So I guess what I'm doing is making an invitation for us to continue this voyage over the empathy wall.
Later, she said, "You're my first Democratic friend."
I thought, "Good, good. We're getting somewhere."
And you know, you don't agree on a lot of things, but hey! You've established a floor of respect and liking on which a lot more can be said, ambivalences can be admitted, complexities arrive. You know, you're real people on both sides. And it's fantastic.
We'll grant you, it doesn't make sense. But Hochschild apparently thought she'd established "a floor of respect" with her teabagger pal—a floor of respect which might allow further conversation to occur.
"I just think that after this election, whoever wins, that people, especially liberals, progressives, I think, need to actually reach out, not be turned inward," the bagger-lover now said.
She said that something called "living room conversations" have been started, in which left and right get together and break bread. "And I just love to see those living room conversations all over the country," the professor improbably said.
Hochschild's thought processes are so odd that questions have to be asked. In his review of her "smart, respectful and compelling book," the New York Times' Jason DeParle describes some of the racist, misogynist, homophobic and nativist ideas around which Hochschild is eager to throw gorilla dust.
In some weird way, she seems to think that powerful entities may be involved in the promulgation of these bagger ideas—larger entities like Fox News, to cite just one of her cop-outs. According to DeParle, Hochschild thinks her bagger buddies "aren’t just soldiers in a class war but victims of one, too."
According to DeParle, she's even willing to sit and listen as "the liberal media" is called out for a share of the blame. She doesn't upend the table and leave the roadhouse when people like her backwoods gospel gal complain about the "hail of epithets" directed at them by RightThinking people like Us.
We try to offer constructive critiques. The bagger will hear it that way!
Assuming she isn't working a con, Hochschild seems to be in the grip of a peculiar fantasy. She seems to think the world isn't populated by two famous old groups, Us and Them—by two different species.
She seems to think that listening tours could end up bringing some of Them around to the world views of Us. To the extent that she thinks politically, she may believe that some of Them might end up voting the CorrectWay, like Us.
She may believe that levels of enmity could be reduced. It's even possible that she thinks that We could end up learning something from Them about some topic at some point! It's hard to know why Governor Brown allows this on Berkeley's campus.
Professor Hochschild conned the young woman who praised all her "empathy" talk. It made us think of another youngish woman who found a saner approach to the rise of Those People.
In the spring of 2009, Rachel Maddow was 36. The Tea Party movement had just begun. Unlike the Berkeley "empathy" types, she knew how to react.
Night after night, she assailed the teabaggers with her hilarious dick jokes. Rather, she brought Ana Marie Cox on her show, night after night, to deliver the bagger jokes.
For herself, Maddow pretended to be embarrassed by the nightly array of dick jokes. We love it when Rachel treats us like fools, just as the baggers love Sean.
In November 2010, Jon Stewart told Maddow that she shouldn't have done what she did. He also told her that she should stop clowning around in general.
He seems to love the baggers too. To watch the whole session, click this.
By now, Stewart has returned to the obscurity he so richly deserves. In April 2009, Maddow showed us how it's done. The dick jokes continued for two weeks. So did her feigned embarrassment. We liberals got to enjoy some good solid tribal fun.
Last Tuesday night, we got teabagged real good in return. On the brighter side, every year from then until now, the suits have handed the daring Maddow her annual millions of dollars.
Let Hochschild talk to her teabagger friends! We have our stars, whose work we enjoy within our own cultural enclave.
Tomorrow: Emanations from Us about Them
What Stewart impossibly said: When Stewart appeared on the Maddow Show, he criticized stereotyping as done by the right. Failing to leave well enough alone, he went on to offer this:
STEWART (11/19/10): It seems dickish...I think that what also comes out sometimes from the other side is "teabagger."We'll disagree with Stewart on one point. In our view, it wasn't funny for a day. To this day, we recall Maddow's first night of teabagger jokes as the most appalling thing we ever saw on cable.
Now that's I think derogatory, and I don't think that anybody would mistake it for that for anything other than that. And it's been used on this network quite frequently by hosts, by guests.
MADDOW: You don't think it was funny that they were calling them, they were saying "teabag the White House before the White House teabags you?"
STEWART: I thought that it was funny for a day.
MADDOW: Funny enough to play the John Water clips of the teabagging thing on the bar?
STEWART: For a day. Probably wouldn't have run with it with guests so much.
MADDOW: I didn't run with it here for months, but I got criticized for it for months.
STEWART: Because you kind of made more hay of it.
MADDOW: Took the joke too far.
STEWART: Now again, I have the leeway do that. Now we get back to a whole other thing. I do have the leeway to do that. The one thing I don't have, that you have, is the ability to do really something about it. You're in the game, like—
MADDOW: You're in the game too. We're in the same game.
STEWART: I don't think so...
It continued through the next week. Last Tuesday, we got teabagged real good.
Stewart kept telling Maddow that she was in an important business, the news business. He kept telling her that she ought to take it seriously.
Maddow continues to mug and clown, and drag Us down, right to this very day. Increasingly, she strikes us as a narcissist a bit reminiscent of Trump.