The sound of our own hate speech: From Monday through Friday, the New York Times is the more interesting paper.
On the weekends, though, the Washington Post rules. The foppishness of the weekend Times tends to be overpowering. The Post stays where the rubber meets the road, as in this pair of letters in today's editions.
(In what does the Times' foppishness consist? Who but the Times would hire an upper-end "philosophy" professor to write a Dear Abby-style "ethics" column in which he advises a reader about whether to have his dog put to sleep? Routinely, the Sunday Times includes foppishness gone wild.)
In today's letters, two readers respond to a column in whiCh E. J. Dionne said that we liberals should get over our elitist selves and try to understand the views, concerns and experiences of Those People, the nation's (many) Trump voters.
"Those of us who are horrified by Trump’s hideous lack of empathy need empathy ourselves," Dionne offensively wrote. Also this: "As a moral matter, writing off Trump voters as unenlightened and backward-looking is to engage in the very same kind of bigoted behavior that we condemn in other spheres."
Dionne stated it a bit more strongly that we would have done; we think people should try to avoid the dropping of B-bombs in general. That said, we'd say Dionne was in the general ball park with his inflammatory piece.
Unfortunately, some of our tribal members see Trump voters as "mollusks crawling over the landscape," as we noted this week. This morning, the Post published two responses to Dionne's offensive suggestions.
The first letter is the milder of the two. For our money, it still carries the hint of a tone:
LETTER TO THE WASHINGTON POST (8/13/16): Like E.J. Dionne Jr., I am interested in understanding and engaging the segment of the electorate wooed by Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s rhetoric and promises. I am reluctant, however, to put their pain on a pedestal. Rightly, the research paper that Mr. Dionne cited characterizes Mr. Trump’s backers, in part, as “ethnic majorities,” as well as male and less educated. At some point, we need to stop coddling this demographic and point out that the economic hardship and competition that working-class white men now face have plagued American women and racial and ethnic minorities for years.The writer says he wants to engage Trump voters. But does he want to listen to Trump voters, or does he want Trump voters to listen to him?
Yes, it is elitist to belittle Mr. Trump’s supporters, but it is also cowardly and politically expedient to not ask them to consider those Americans who have never experienced the privileges and protections from which much of white male America still benefits.
It sounds to us like his engagement will mainly consist in asking them to listen to him as he "points things out." What he's "pointing out" may even be right—but what might Trump voters point out to him? We detect no serious interest in that part of the engagement.
The second letter comes out of the world in which we liberals see The Others as mollusks, a politer term for cockroaches. Instantly, Trump voters are compared to Hitler supporters. A rather startling will to power mightily rolls on from there:
LETTER TO THE WASHINGTON POST (8/13/16): E.J. Dionne Jr. encouraged those who are more educated and thoughtful than supporters of Donald Trump to act and think as if they were not. In the times of pseudo-populist demagogues such as Hitler, Mussolini and Mr. Trump, the parallels to be drawn are not among the principals but among their supporters. It is high time for those who think more clearly, analytically and morally than the supporters of a demagogue, and his myths, to act as such.Rather clearly, the writer belongs to the master race. The Others are not unlike mollusks. They seem to be fit for the camps.
I am an educated person who has a knowledge of history (gained from a lifetime of reading), is a rigorous critical thinker (honed by a formal scientific education and a lifetime of biological research) and has moral judgment informed by the facts, not the myths, of life. As such an “elite,” which means little more than “literate,” I oppose the supporters of Mr. Trump as ill-informed about economics, prone to be fooled by goofy-speak and itching out of ignorance to spew the hatred that has been in their hearts for far longer than the recent Republican-created recession. No, Mr. Dionne, “elites” should stand up and say what we have learned. “Elite” is not a dirty word, and there is a world of difference between being knowledgeable and being condescending. The “elite” is a category of people on whom we all depend for our modern way of life. The rejection of expertise and clear thinking is not a proper response to demagoguery.
That second letter strongly resembles hate speech. So of course did the Andrew O'Hehir piece at Salon in which The Others were revealed to be mollusks this week.
For better or worse, O'Hehir and this second writer eschewed the familiar dog whistles through which we liberals often express our loathing for Those People. We'd say their general attitude is widespread, though it more typically appears in brilliant disguise.
Friend, are you a hater? With respect to hatred of Trump voters, we'd suggest you consider some questions:
Are you able to understand that Those People won't all be exactly alike? It's amazing to see the ease with which our liberal haters sidestep this basic point. (Reread that second letter.)
When you imagine confronting Those People, can you imagine the possibility of listening to what The Others have to say? Can you imagine the possibility that you might learn something at some point in such an unpleasant process?
If you hear one of The Others state a bogus point, against whom do you rail? Do you rail against the powerful multimillionaires who have been aggressively misleading the public for decades? Or do you prefer to kick down, at regular people who, like you, may not realize that they're often deceived by the people they trust?
Last weekend, thanks to TCM, we got watch On The Waterfront. As always, we loved the famous "dropped glove" scene, in which Edie Dugan tells Terry Malloy how the sisters should have treated him back in parochial school:
TERRY: The way those sisters used to whack me, I don't know what. They thought they was going to beat an education into me, but I foxed them.According to Edie, the sisters should have shown more kindness. In his offensive op-ed piece, Dionne said much the same thing.
EDIE: Maybe they just didn't know how to handle you.
TERRY: How would you have done it?
EDIE: With a little more patience and kindness. That's what makes people mean and difficult. People don't care enough about them.
Where do Trump supporters come from? Careful—they aren't all alike! But in Thursday's New York Times, Jennifer Senior continued her excellent work as a Times book reviewer.
(We may be a tiny bit biased. We knew Senior a tiny tad back in the first Clinton years.)
Senior wrote about Hillbilly Elegy, J. D. Vance's new book about white Appalachian culture and its discontents and dysfunctions. Vance is plainly very smart; he writes about the horrible, unfortunate way so many young people are forced to come up.
Senior is very smart too. Eventually, at just the right moment, she uses the key word: "despair."
Other people write about mollusks. They show us that we all can succumb to familiar types of loathing, unless we decide to tell each other how unhelpful such remedies are.