Part 1—Nicholas Kristof's advice: Now that we're several decades too late, what should We Liberals do?
In yesterday morning's New York Times, Paul Krugman offered his advice. On the whole, we'd call his advice rather bad, remarkably unintelligent.
Headline included, this is the way he began:
KRUGMAN (2/27/17): The Uses of OutrageSignalling his moral greatness, Krugman praises those who are angry about "the white nationalist takeover of the U.S. government." He scolds those people who are "urging everyone to cool it," without quite having the moral greatness to name or quote the people to whom he refers.
Are you angry about the white nationalist takeover of the U.S. government? If so, you are definitely not alone. The first few weeks of the Trump administration have been marked by huge protests, furious crowds at congressional town halls, customer boycotts of businesses seen as Trump allies. And Democrats, responding to their base, have taken a hard line against cooperation with the new regime.
But is all this wise? Inevitably, one hears some voices urging everyone to cool it—to wait and see, to try to be constructive, to reach out to Trump supporters, to seek ground for compromise.
Just say no.
Outrage at what’s happening to America isn’t just justified, it’s essential. In fact, it may be our last chance of saving democracy.
Who exactly is "urging everyone" "to wait and see, to try to be constructive, to reach out to Trump supporters, to seek ground for compromise?" We don't know, and Krugman, despite his moral greatness, wasn't quite willing to say.
For all his moral greatness, we think Krugman's advice was, on balance, not good. We recall the political cluelessness of the gentleman's past, extending all the way, by his own account, into the 1990s.
As we recall all that cluelessness, we suggest one possible explanation for the way we got where we are today. All too often, our brightest professors were perhaps building careers instead of paying attention!
Whatever! Today, Krugman says we shouldn't "try to be constructive" (!)—and we shouldn't "reach out to Trump supporters." That last phrase makes us wonder if the fiery columnist is talking about Nicholas Kristof, his colleague at the Times.
Uh-oh! Four days earlier, Kristof had written one of Those Columns. Under an offensive headline ("Fight Trump, Not His Voters"), Kristof suggested that liberals would be well advised to stop trashing Trump voters in sweeping, name-calling ways.
Kristof loves to offend in such ways. Here's part of what he was willing to say:
KRISTOF (2/23/17): I understand the vehemence. Trump is a demagogue who vilifies and scapegoats refugees, Muslims, undocumented immigrants, racial minorities, who strikes me as a danger to our national security. By all means stand up to him, and point out his lies and incompetence. But let's be careful about blanket judgments.It happens every time! Whenever Kristof wants to offend, he returns to Yamhill and claims that his friends aren't all slobbering racists.
My hometown, Yamhill, Ore., a farming community, is Trump country, and I have many friends who voted for Trump. I think they're profoundly wrong, but please don't dismiss them as hateful bigots.
The glove factory closed down. The timber business slimmed. Union jobs disappeared. Good folks found themselves struggling and sometimes self-medicated with methamphetamine or heroin. Too many of my schoolmates died early; one, Stacy Lasslett, died of hypothermia while she was homeless.
This is part of a national trend: Mortality rates for white middle-aged Americans have risen, reflecting working-class ''deaths of despair.'' Liberals purport to champion these people, but don't always understand them.
In Yamhill, plenty of well-meaning people were frustrated enough that they took a gamble on a silver-tongued provocateur. It wasn't because they were ''bigoted unthinking lizard brains,'' but because they didn't know where to turn and Trump spoke to their fears.
He knows the way such remarks will offend. He makes them all the same.
For ourselves, we have no idea why Kristof would say that we liberals "purport to champion" the white working-class people whose gap-toothed bigotry he likes to support.
Plainly, that isn't the case; surely, Kristof knows this. Plainly, we liberals don't "champion" the rustics in Kristof's home town.
You can discern this fact from Krugman's column, where our smartest liberal journalist makes a series of sweeping, unpleasant generalizations about the white working class. As has been true since we crawled from the swamp, Those People The Others are all alike in Krugman's fiery column.
At any rate, we can't help thinking that Krugman was debating Kristof when he penned yesterday's column, in which he urged us liberals to please not be constructive—and to please avoid "reaching out to Trump supporters."
Should we liberals "reach out to Trump supporters?" The phrase is so vague as to be virtually meaningless. Such things routinely happen when we get our dander up twenty-five years too late.
Kristof didn't say that liberal should "reach out" so much as he said that we should stop issuing sweeping denunciations, in which we bomb 63 million people in one large nuclear blast. We're inclined to agree with him on that point. After all, consider where our fiery instincts have left us.
Last Friday night, Judy Woodruff became the latest to note the sad state of the more liberal national party. What should the Democrats do now? She introduced a pseudo-discussion of that question with this sad overview:
"November's presidential defeat, along with years of losses in Congress, governor's mansions and statehouses, have left the Democratic Party with less power at the federal and state level than it has had in more than 80 years."
Jeez! Despite our flawless liberal instincts, the more liberal party is in a very sad state, local, state and national politics-wise. Will the thought ever enter our thick, soft heads that this could possibly, in some trivial measure, be a small referendum on Us?
For our money, Kristof's column made much more sense than Krugman's. That said, we were especially struck by the three letters the New York Times published the day after Kristof's column appeared.
They were only three letters, of course. But they were the letters the Times chose to publish in response to Kristof—and we think we liberals may have a lot to learn from the reasoning found in those letters.
More specifically, we think we liberals may have a lot to learn about ourselves from those letters. The reasoning in them is very familiar—and highly unimpressive.
In yesterday's column, Krugman generalized madly about Those People, as We're strongly inclined to do.
Like Kristof, we're inclined to see that as bad politics. As reasoning, though, it's utterly hopeless, familiarly mega-dumb.
Might that be The Way We Are? Are we less sharp than we think?
Tomorrow: Our love of constructing The Other
Hooray for Hollywood: In an ongoing tribute to the season, we've sampled aspects of The Way We Were and of The Apartment.
Umbrellas of Cherbourg? Not so much.