Post readers refuse to listen to mollusks!


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.

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.
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?

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.

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.
Rather clearly, the writer belongs to the master race. The Others are not unlike mollusks. They seem to be fit for the camps.

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.

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.
According to Edie, the sisters should have shown more kindness. In his offensive op-ed piece, Dionne said much the same thing.

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.


  1. I've listened to Trump's supporters for a while, and they seem shallow to me. Rarely do they offer evidence. Usually they call names and believe that merely asserting something makes it true.

  2. Has E. J. Dionne been alive on the planet? He lost America.

    1. E. J. Dionne has been a gutless bastard for roughly the past dozen years.

    2. A nation can’t survive this way. Isn’t this already clear?

  3. Would it be reasonable to think that most if not all of David Duke supporters are bigots? Your claim about Trump supporters would be justified with a normal candidate, but there has to be line beyond which supporting a candidate commits you to inhumane policies or stigmatizes you as ignorant. Trump has crossed this line.

  4. I'm with Bob. Mollusks not millionaires.

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. If anyone (including Bob) is interested in reading a sympathetic portrayal of Trump's supporters, featuring long-form, in-depth interviews, please take a look at this book coming out next Tuesday. It is "The Gilded Rage: A Wild Ride Through Donald Trump's America" by veteran freelance journalist Alexander Zaitchik.

  7. Great. I love getting lectured by a failed comedian to learn to love a bunch of inbred OxyContin addicts.

    1. While he sets such a sterling example by thinking up the vilest insults to call out people he disagrees with.

    2. Perfect comment. No interest in engaging Trump supporters.

    3. I like Dennis Miller as a failed comedian. His obscure cultural references are designed to get laughs.

    4. A cultural reference needs to be apt, not just there.

  8. Isn't it the case though that few of these Trump supporters are economically dispossessed whites?

    Most of them appear to be quite well-off retirees or middle-agers, and so I don't buy this media narrative that they're some kind of forgotten underclass-- just like Trump is NOT any kind of "populist."

    1. They're not economically dispossessed at all, many are affluent blue collar sorts with above average incomes. And as a recent study has shown, not affected by immigration or trade deals. Apologists can really stuff the tiny violins. Trump supporters tend to have higher incomes than Clinton/Sanders supporters.

  9. Bob, I really think you're going senile. Trump supporters are not an oppressed underclass- studies have shown they are under educated, but often have above average incomes. Blue collar trades can be lucrative.

    Your kvetching is tiresome, and I agree with the letter-writers you posted above. Trump supporters really are dumb and with malice in their heart towards others. There's no two ways about it, these are the facts, and while you love to excoriate "our tribe", you actually are attempting to justify support for an EXPLICITLY racist, bigoted moron for President. Why do you do that Bob? Do you want Trump to be president?

    I really only read here anymore for your Rachel Maddow smackdowns (well deserved) and to see how you'll twist things 180 degrees, to the point where you sound like a raving Tea Party Republican. That's the direction you've long been in, Bob. Not far from sounding like a right wing nut job, at all. Why do you do that?


    2. hardindr, a unicorn among the nags mostly comprising the Howler commentariat, I thank you for this.

      "The point of acknowledging the possibility that economic factors have contributed to Trump’s rise is not to excuse his supporters’ decision to back a hateful demagogue. Rather, the point is to identify the conditions that allow such demagoguery to flourish. Yes, Trump supporters have agency. So do jihadist terrorists and members of criminal gangs. But scholars in universities all over the world still to try to identify the socioeconomic factors that encourage human beings to adopt those pathological identities.

      "When the policies that govern our economy are funneling enormous wealth to urban elites — while white workers in rural counties are seeing their median incomes fall, along with their life expectancies — we should be very careful about absolving those policies of responsibility for the ugly politics that is gaining currency in those places."

  10. Trump voters were exposed to leaded-gasoline fumes when they were children.

  11. "That second letter strongly resembles hate speech."

    Good Grief! You've managed to render the term meaningless in one sentence.

    1. Smart, well-educated people looking down on others is an odd kind of "hate." Those who are educated have worked hard to become so, no matter how fortunate their childhoods and how good their schools were. They rightfully feel a sense of accomplishment. Others tend to attribute their learning to good fortune, which is not quite fair.

      There is a good analogy to those who have worked their way up by starting a business or climbing a management hierarchy or inventing an app or a product. They too have benefitted from a combination of luck and hard work but tend only to recognize the hard work, while others attribute the bulk of their success to luck.

      This is the fundamental attribution error in action.

      Hating those who you consider to be lazier than yourself because his or her actions are placing you in jeopardy seems like a pretty natural reaction. Calling that reaction hate speech seems unempathetic, so I agree with @10:45 and others here.

      I wish everyone would work harder to become educated and to better themselves, but Somerby is also urging us to give those others the benefit of the doubt instead of judging them by their results. He apparently thinks we should assume they have all done the best they could but weren't as lucky and therefore haven't wound up as well off or as well-educated as we might like them to be. So they are not inoculated to Trump's charms.

      I disagree strongly with Somerby about this. I believe that it is natural to both humans and animals to expend no more effort than is absolutely necessary to survive. Unless people see a connection between effort and some reward, they don't put in the effort. Intellectual laziness is the norm. Physical laziness is too. That's why physically able people take elevators instead of stairs and watch cartoons instead of reading classics. This is human nature. I think those who have expended effort do deserve some praise and their earned rewards, and I think they can rightly claim that they have earned their status without having to give anything away to the idlers who made different choices.

      If a country of idlers chooses the grasshopper Trump instead of the worker-ant Hillary, they will deserve what they get. Those who are truly smart will have fled to Canada before the ill effects descend upon us all.

      Chastising the grasshoppers after they have created their own stupid beliefs and world view is about as useless as telling them their winter of play has left them with no food in winter. The deed is done and now only the consequences remain. Why rub it in?

  12. This business of demeaning not only the other side's candidate, but the other side's voters is something new. i remember when Ike was (falsely) portrayed as stupid. And, Goldwater was (falsely) portrayed as a war-monger. And, Nixon was (rightly) portrayed as not totally sane. And, Reagan was (falsely) portrayed as ignorant. But, the supporters of these candidates weren't demeaned the way Trump voters are today.

    1. I remember when voters used to watch the debates and conventions, read the platforms and campaign literature, go to public forums, talk with each other about the merits of the candidates and otherwise do their homework. The league of women voters ran the debates and wrong analyses for the newspapers, not pundits. Politics was serious, not entertainment. My father was a member of the CDC and a delegate to the state convention. I remember canvassing and having long, serious conversations with prospective voters. A lot was different then.

      If there were any evidence that Trump voters did these things before selecting Trump to follow, I might have more respect for them, but it is hard to see how anyone could do that due diligence and wind up supporting Trump. It doesn't compute.

      That's why his supporters are being called names. They are either ignorant/lazy or vile. There is no middle ground because Trump has NO redeeming qualities that might justify supporting him.

      A Republican politician may wind up supporting Trump out of party loyalty or to attract his voters, but the voters themselves have no such justification for their stupidity.

    2. Wow, 7:50 -- I read the platforms and follow the news. It's a no-brainer to vote for Trump (although I'd prefer a different Republican candidate.) I don't think I'm ignorant, lazy, or vile. Trump has two enormous rededeeming qualities -- Obama's dreadful job as President and Hillary Clinton's dreadful background. I don't know that Trump can fix all the bad things done by our current President, but I'm afraid Hillary will continue his bad policies. Here's a partial list:
      -- Middle East is a horrendous mess.
      -- Pointless expansion of war in Afghanistan.
      -- Corruption sometimes encourages, sometimes not properly dealt with.
      -- ObamaCare. Based on lies such as saving $2500 per family, keeping one's insurance, keeping one's doctor, etc. And, it doesn't work. More and more insurance companies are withdrawing, huge rate increases needed, etc.
      -- Racial animus. E.g., the riots in Milwaukee yesterday.
      -- Doubling of the National Debt.

      Hillary's problems:
      -- No achievements. She accomplished nothing as Secretary of State or as Senator.
      -- Crooked. Too many examples to bother listing.
      -- Believes the rules don't apply to her. E.g., disobeying White House instructions to use the government e-mail system. Imagine what a bad example this will be for all federal employees.
      -- Congenital liar. Lies even when she doesn't have to, such as being named after Sir Edmund Hillary.
      -- Harmful policies. Raising the minimum wage and encouraging immigration will harm poor blacks. Climate change policy won't work, according to the very models that say there's a problem.

      Now, 7:50 PM, you don't agree with me, and that's OK. But, I hope you can see that my vote isn't based ignorance and vileness.

    3. David, 12:40 is a powerful argument. I'm now thinking about voting for Mr Trump. Here's a focus group:

    4. DavidinCal,
      You would have hated Ronald Reagan.

  13. I hate Maureen Dowd. Does that make me a bad person?

    Scott Lemieux says today (in response to Dowd's latest):

    "I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — the fact that these witless and comprehensively ill-informed columns are not only published in the New York Times but used to be showered with awards is about as damning an indictment of America’s overpaid and underachieving elites as you could ask."

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  15. This comment section couldn't provide better proof of Somerby's fears of the current "liberal."

    Upon being asked to only *listen* to other Americans, the overwhelming response is the opposite of charitable.

    That so many either cannot see the hate in that second letter, or, astoundingly, support it, reminds me of school children who say the pledge without understanding what the words mean. "Indivisible," in particular.

    Does the right to be taken as an individual, not just an extension of characteristics assigned to whatever group someone else places you in, not apply to "Trump supporters?"

    Well, I guess it's like the Middle East terrorists. There was very little serious thought put into what actions America may have taken in the past decades to inspire such massive despair in that part of the world. Nope, better to Hate. See how far it's gotten us?

    1. I simply give up. I have no idea how to talk to someone mindless brainwashed ignorant person such as DinC above, who is proudly declaring it's a "no brainer" to vote for Trump because HRC is a "congenital liar". Stealing those words from William Safire over 20 years ago.

      This is simply no way to penetrate to alternate universe/reality bubble world that David lives in. This has been building for 40 years, as wingnut welfare has provided him with his own facts.

      There is simply no common ground basis to talk to a person as hopelessly deluded anymore.

      I have to say, David's timing is impeccable as always.

      Wall Street Journal tells Trump he should ‘turn the nomination over’ to Pence if he can’t ‘behave’

  16. I can't tell whether your making a rhetorical point or a logical one. If it's a rhetorical point, then maybe it goes like this: "it's ineffective politics to malign people with whom you disagree." This is sound advice. Advice that Trump and Trump supporters do not follow. In fact, one thing I so often hear in favor of Trump is that he eschews political correctness and so, "tells it like it is." If this is the case, then perhaps critics of Trump should follow suit. And tell it like it is. To go for the effective strategy is to succumb to "political correctness."

    If, on the other hand, you're making a logical point, maybe it goes like this: "maligning Trump supporters is fallacious ad hominem, it's an irrelevant attack which doesn't address their actual points." If so, then this is likely wrong (as an interpretation of the above letters). Disagreement with someone (especially about such important matters as the ones at issue in this election) inevitably involve the allegation that the person in the wrong is cognitively impaired (even if only temporarily and on a single issue). There's no way around this.

    Some might even maintain that expressing such disagreements, and adducing such conclusions, is a sign of care and respect. I care enough about you to correct you, and I respect you enough as an autonomous person to think you able to see the falsity of your beliefs and to entertain reasons. Such a person might also maintain that tiptoeing around tough criticism is another way of patronizing people. Another way, in other words, of treating them as incapable of reasons.

    So perhaps, in the end, there's nothing wrong with saying: "your beliefs are false and you should know better."

  17. According to movie lore, Eva Marie dropped that glove by accident, and Brando, method actor of genius, spontaneously picked it up and began trying it on for size, giving rise to all kinds of lascivious interpretations. Instead of yelling "Cut!" director Elia Kazan kept the camera rolling, thus preserving for all time a classic moment in cinema. I guess he knew how to handle Brando.

    In addition to Vance's book, I would point to Nancy Isenberg's "White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America." Full disclosure, my account could serve as the book's Cliff's Notes.

    If there's one generalization I could make about the people I sit down to Christmas dinner with, it's their unquenchable need to have someone to look down on. Classless Americans love the idea of class, as long as there's at least one beneath theirs. So don't worry about Dionne's correspondents hurting the feelings of Trump supporters; they're too busy degrading someone else to notice.

    Senior -- a sadly missed escapee from the analysts' hot tub? -- briefly and authoritatively cites the work of Psychologist Seligman. The name itself is disturbing to me because my understanding is that he arrived at his "learned helplessness" thesis by torturing dogs to the point they would give up trying to avoid the pain he would inflict on them. But despite being this Frankensteinian cross between Ivan Pavlov and and Alfred Southwick (inventor of the electric chair), Seligman offered an upside to his theories glossed over in Senior's report: That "learned helplessness" can be unlearned.

    Getting back to Brando, who among us can forget the scene in which Vito Corleone bemoans the fact that his gifted son has become the Don rather than the Senator. Said Michael, "We'll get there, Papa."

    That kind of intergenerational ambition seems more befitting the Ellis Island generation of immigrants than the earlier ones who followed Daniel Boone into the Appalachian wilderness and then stayed there.

  18. "We'll get there, Pop." Not "Papa."

  19. Gosh darn it, you liberals, notes EJ and Bob, where do you get off on being so obnoxiously CORRECT?

    You will note in EJ's piece, after he acknowledges what Bob won't much acknowledge (racism, etc.) that he doesn't do much of a job explaining the LEGITIMATE aspect of the Trump voters concerns. They have been replaced by machines. Well, if that's true, how do they figure they are going to get a better deal with Trump, who's economic plan is all based on economic elitism of the purist kind. What EJ might have pointed out is that the wealth gap affects white people too, this is what Jim Webb was trying to point out, and was sadly ignored. But EJ does not much get to this. We liberals are just gosh darn meanies and that's all there is to it!
    This is a rather shopworn Sunday School lesson from Paster Bob; and what he does not seem to get is we are on new ground here. If you WANTED to have a civilized or polite conversation on the issues it would be impossible with Trump. He has no consistent or coherent take on any issues. He just kind of wanders from issue to issue saying stupid stuff and dopey jokes that don't make much sense. Then there is the ugly stuff that they will just tell you he didn't really mean. There is the anger there, but Kevin Drum has argued, and I think this may be right, the whole "year of anger" thing is largely dreamed up by the press to give an angle to a ridiculous campaign.
    To point out for the millionth time, Paster Bob's disagreements with others do not want for a sense of superiority. There is a legitimate issue with liberals who create there own ghetto for squares and struggling whites. But Bob is too high on HIS horse looking down at liberals to ever have anything interesting to say about it.

  20. Love "(racism, etc.)"

    You're mad at Bob because he has you nailed. It's your only card. Structurally, grammatically, in your comment you have created a place for a list. You put in that place a "list" containing exactly one thing.

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