THE WAY WE ARE: Kristof says liberals should stop dropping bombs!


Part 2—We quickly reject his advice:
Last Thursday morning, Nicholas Kristof offered some good sound advice.

We shouldn't generalize about The Others, the pundit offensively said.

Kristof started his column by recalling a tweet he'd recently loosed on the world. In response to his tweet, we liberals had produced a sample of The Way We (quite frequently) Are:
KRISTOF (2/23/17): A few days ago, I blithely tweeted a warning that Democrats often sound patronizing when speaking of Trump voters. That provoked a vehement reaction.

“Sorry,” Jason tweeted back, “but if someone is supporting a racist ignoramus who wants to round up brown ppl and steal my money, I’m gonna patronize.”

“This is normalization of a hateful ideology and it’s shameful,” protested another.

“My tone isn’t patronizing,” one person responded. “It’s hostile. Intentionally. I won’t coddle those who refuse to recognize my humanity.”

“What a great idea!” another offered. “Let’s recruit a whole bunch of bigoted unthinking lizard brains because we could possibly ‘WIN!’”

And so the comments went, registering legitimate anxieties about President Trump—but also the troubling condescension that worried me in the first place.
In his original tweet, Kristof had said that Democrats often sound patronizing when speaking about Trump voters.

Jason defended the practice. Another reader marveled at Kristof's tolerance for "a whole bunch of bigoted unthinking lizard brains."

To Kristof, these comments reflected a "troubling condescension" on the part of us liberals. But so it frequently goes when we liberals discuss The Others these days.

In the rest of last Thursday's column, Kristof tried to explain and justify his original tweet. Yesterday, we showed you the heart of his argument.

Kristof said he knows plenty of people in his hometown (Yamhill, Oregon) who voted for Candidate Trump. He said he thinks their judgment was "profoundly wrong." But they aren't "hateful bigots," he said, and it's bogus to think that they must be.

Poor Kristof! He was offering human history's least welcome piece of advice. He was telling a gang of tribals that we shouldn't generalize about The Others in the ugliest possible ways.

We shouldn't voice sweeping moral denunciations, Kristof said. When people offer such advice, it rarely turns out well.

One day later, the New York Times published three letters about Kristof's offensive column. As we read the letters, we were struck by the way we liberals will fight for the modern-day right to party—for the right to make sweeping generalizations about those in The Other Tribe.

Tomorrow and Friday, we'll review those instructive letters. For today, let's consider why Kristof thinks we shouldn't generalize, especially in such unpleasant ways.

Why shouldn't we morally brilliant liberals generalize about The Others? In last Thursday's column, Kristof offered three reasons. In our view, two of his reasons were quite strong. One was perhaps a bit fuzzy.

Why shouldn't we liberals generalize about the bigoted lizard brains? For starters, Kristof says such claims will be wrong on the merits.

Kristof explains this ridiculous notion below. Warning: Math is hard!
KRISTOF: There are three reasons I think it’s shortsighted to direct liberal fury at the entire mass of Trump voters, a complicated (and, yes, diverse) group of 63 million people.

First, stereotyping a huge slice of America as misogynist bigots is unfair and impairs understanding. Hundreds of thousands of those Trump supporters had voted for Barack Obama. Many are themselves black, Latino or Muslim. Are they all bigots?
Uh-oh! In that passage, Kristof notes that we're talking about 63 million different people when we drop our bombs. He says those people aren't all bigots. On the merits, he says our claim will be wrong.

The modern liberal will understand how silly such nit-picking is. Like Bannon, we're bomb-throwing Leninists Over Here now. We enjoy the practice of drowning all the cats in one huge burlap bag.

Perhaps anticipating such a response, Kristof supplied a second reason why we shouldn't generalize. In our view, this argument isn't exactly wrong, but it's rather abstruse:
KRISTOF (continuing directly): Second, demonizing Trump voters feeds the dysfunction of our political system. One can be passionate about one’s cause, and fight for it, without contributing to political paralysis that risks making our country ungovernable.

Tolerance is a liberal value; name-calling isn’t. This raises knotty questions about tolerating intolerance, but is it really necessary to start with a blanket judgment writing off 46 percent of voters?
According to Kristof, we feed our political system's growing dysfunction when we demonize all Those People. This is probably true, but Kristof makes little effort to explain his point in sufficiently low-IQ ways.

(Our view? Alas! When we name-call The Others, we do heighten the polarization which has increasingly made political action impossible on the national level. This type of paralysis has long been a goal of those "on the right.")

We think Kristof's second point is basically right, but it's highly abstruse. You'll never get tribals to retract their bombs with fuzzy thinking like that!

That brings us to Kristof's third reason. Why shouldn't we liberals name-call The Others, all 63 million of Them at a time? Even people like Us ought to be able to grasp the point advanced in this potent passage:
KRISTOF: The third reason is tactical: It’s hard to win over voters whom you’re insulting.

Many liberals argue that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote and that the focus should be on rallying the base and fighting voter suppression efforts. Yes, but Democrats flopped in Congress, governor races and state legislatures. Republicans now control 68 percent of partisan legislative chambers in the U.S.

If Democrats want to battle voter suppression, it’s crucial to win local races—including in white working-class districts in Ohio, Wisconsin and elsewhere.

Yes, a majority of Trump voters are probably unattainable for Democrats, but millions may be winnable. So don’t blithely give up on 63 million people; instead, make arguments directed at them. Fight for their votes not with race-baiting but with economic pitches for the working and middle classes.
Replace race-baiting with economic pitches? Who will want to do that?

Once again, our liberal attention will likely fade as Kristof hauls out his big numbers. Still, what he says in that passage is very basic—and in our tribe's subsequent letters of protest, we liberals seemed preternaturally skilled at failing to grasp or consider his point.

In that passage, Kristof makes a perfectly sensible point. Let's review his logic:

Most Trump voters are probably unattainable for Democrats, he quite sensibly says. But then, he makes another key point:

Millions may be winnable!

Presumably, liberals and Democrats might want to win some of those Trump voters in future elections. Dropping our B-bombs on all their heads may not be the best way to do this.

You'd think this point would make so much sense that even we liberals could grasp it. But we're the people who have now managed to lose so many elections that "Republicans now control 68 percent of partisan legislative chambers in the U.S."

We were even able to get the craziest candidate in human history elected to the White House! After twenty-five years of ridiculous failure to function, that's how hapless we liberals are!

The day after Kristof's column appeared, the New York Times published three letters about it. In all three letters, fiery liberals found ways to push back against Kristof's silly advice.

In fairness, it was just three letters. There's no way to know what kinds of letters the Times chose not to publish.

Still and all, those letters were the ones which appeared. As we read them, we were struck by the zeal with which we liberals will fight for the right to bomb The Others.

We were struck by the zeal with which we liberals will fight for the right to make transparently unintelligent statements—and of course, for the right to lose future elections, our one transcendent skill.

Tomorrow: Three liberals respond


  1. A major, significant, part of the problem is that Republicans are able to outspend Democrats in local, state and national races. The alliance of the Koch Brothers with other right wing zealots has had devastating consequences.

    1. The problem has also been redistricting and gerrymandering, which has created more Republican districts at the local level. Then people who are outnumbered in their district don't vote and their vote is suppressed on the state and national level.

      I am in CA but in a rural district that is so red my vote will never count toward anything meaningful. That is offset by the knowledge that my Republican elected officials will be so outnumbered at the state level that they can do little harm.

    2. A lot of the Gerrymandering was caused by creating majority black districts. Creating such districts was required by either a judicial decision or an administrative dictate, I forget which. For each very, very heavily Democratic black district, there is more than one majority-Republican district.

    3. Gerrymandering isn't defined by the purpose for which it is employed. It occurs when natural boundaries are ignored in order to accomplish a political outcome (create a safe seat for one or the other party). There are districts where the boundaries are defined by country or city lines or neighborhoods. If people of the same race or ethnicity live there, it would be natural for them to be grouped in such a district and it wouldn't be gerrymandering just because they are all black (nor do all people of the same race or ethnicity necessarily all vote alike). It is hard to find any Republican districts in the city of Chicago proper because of these considerations. Gerrymandering would be when such a district is broken up along different lines, ignoring city and neighborhood boundaries, to make sure black people are scattered among white voters so that they cannot ever achieve a majority and elect a candidate that will represent black interests. The requirement you are talking about was to undo that kind of discrimination against black voters.

    4. Then, on the other hand, dickhead DinC, more often nowadays courts are ordering states to cut the shit with messing with black voting rights. See, dickhead DinC, what they do is pack all the AA into a few districts and then clean up all the other congressional seats for themselves.

      See how it works. Like for example in 2012 NC, there were more Democratic votes than Republican votes for congressional seats, yet the Republicans ended up sending 9 Reps to congress vs. 4 Dems.

      Neat, huh.

      A three-judge panel of the Middle District of North Carolina ruled Tuesday that the Republican-drawn legislative map had illegally packed African-American and Hispanic voters into a few districts, ruling that 28 of them were unconstitutional racial gerrymanders.

  2. Poor Kristoff. He KNOWS it wasn't bigotry that got Trump the votes, but like the entire media complex, he just can't come up with any other reasonable explanation. So sad.

  3. Bob, are you going to do a post about how the media refused to use the term "nanny-state" to describe Trump's speech last night?

  4. Hillary did that and these lost souls didn't listen. Why would they next time?

  5. It seems like a losing proposition to talk liberals out of the name-calling they are doing out of anger and frustration at having the election stolen. We have the right to be mad about that. It is too soon to suggest that we all move on, especially when Trump commits a new outrage daily. Anger is an appropriate response. It is motivating protest, which is needed and effective, and it is keeping people involved when it is tempting to become discouraged and give up.

    Somerby is very wrong to be arguing this way. He doesn't get the way people in his own party feel. He should try his empathy on us before he wastes it on Trump voters.

    Empathy should be used not only to determine what legitimate reasons Trump voters may have had, and address their concerns. It should be used to figure out what other motives Trump voters hold that they are not as willing to tell us about. I think angry liberals are more in touch with those other motives than Somerby is. Trump voters are: confused, greedy, ignorant, bigoted, fearful of change, afraid of death and thus everything else, and unable to grasp the complexity of life in the modern world. They are losers, which is why they are so happy when Trump calls us the losers and tells them they are winners because Trump is a winner (despite having won by cheating). He redeems their failures and they vicariously enjoy his lifestyle and thus forget the poverty of their own.

    Meanwhile, Trump himself is scum and doesn't deserve to be discussed because it wastes good people's time to do so.

  6. I like how 'Voter suppression' is liberal code for bothering to guard against voter fraud. That's right up there with 'Pro-choice'.

    1. I like how "voter fraud" is a figment of the imagination which can't be seen, but you know it has to be real. Right up there with God, and Saddam's WMDs.

    2. Voter fraud is about people who do not have the legitimate right to vote. Voter suppression is about people who do have the legitimate right to vote. Liberals are concerned about the latter. Conservatives are concerned about the former.

      When conservatives express concern about a problem that doesn't occur frequently and propose measures that will interfere with voting by legitimate voters, it appears that they are trying to suppress voters not control voter fraud. Conservatives need to show some concern about the rights of legitimate voters in order for liberals to stop accusing them of vote suppression.

      But you are a troll writing from some backward country where you probably don't get to vote at all (or are voting for a candidate who gets 98% of the ballots). That's no doubt why this is so confusing for you.

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  7. Here is a saying that makes the rounds among conservative voters: "Liberals vote for what feels good, conservatives vote for what does good."

    Tell me that isn't patronizing and condescending. They actually believe this about themselves and us. The meme of liberals voting emotionally doesn't fit other stereotypes about being intellectual or elite or favoring science, or being condescending for that matter, does it?

    Remember the trolls here who were claiming that liberals only pretend to like blacks and support social programs because it makes them feel good to be considered good people, help others, etc. There is a kind of twisted Ayn Randism to that view. It is what they really think about us. So we aren't coming across as patronizing or condescending. We are coming across as childish hypocrites who want to give away the store for their own selfish pleasure (boost to self esteem).

    They are idiots to think that, obviously. But the defensiveness is also obvious -- it keeps them from listening to our criticism and maintains their own self esteem.

    So Somerby and Kristol are both way off base on this. And we aren't going to convince them to vote differently by using more economic arguments. They don't want to be us.

  8. Why does Kristol only hear liberal condescension and not conservative condescension?

    1. Conservatives don't tend to condescend because they don't flatter themselves the way progressives do. Conservative politics are about solving problems for humanity, not boosting their self esteem.

      "When people publicly rage about perceived injustices that don't affect them personally, we tend to assume this expression is rooted in altruism—a "disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of others." But new research suggests that professing such third-party concern—what social scientists refer to as "moral outrage"—is often a function of self-interest, wielded to assuage feelings of personal culpability for societal harms or reinforce (to the self and others) one's own status as a Very Good Person."

    2. Both liberals and conservatives feel moral outrage, about different things. The emotional source (guilt) may be the same in both cases, but the focus of that moral outrage is clearly different. I disagree that conservatives don't condescend. There is nothing in the article you cited that says they don't either.

      These researchers happened to use situations relevant to liberal concerns but I'd bet they'd get similar results if they tested the pro-life crowd or used a scenario about people on welfare or drug users. The researchers didn't choose to do that.

    3. Funny how only talks about psychology when it fits their worldview.

    4. Conservatives don't condescend, because they've never been correct about anything. It's bad enough the get away with bitching about "government waste" and "the nanny state", after whole-heartedly supporting the biggest waste of government money in generations (George W. Bush's Grerat Iraq Clusterfuck).

  9. Bob Somerby "Millions may be winnable!"


    Any evidence of that?

    Has there ever been a case of even a single Trump supporter being convinced to change their minds?

    Even one?????


    Democratics represent significantly more people than Republicans, Republicans are represented more in congress due to redistricting gerrymandering, which outlawing is supported by a majority of people but gets shut down by Republicans, as it did in Florida. Want evidence of Trump supporters generally being deplorable? Read the commenters at Republican websites:

    1. There is evidence many changed their minds about Democrats after they voted for Obama and switched to Trump.

    2. That's why I think there was sexism involved. People were OK with voting for a man but not a woman. There just wasn't enough difference between Obama and Clinton's policies to justify such a switch and the economy had improved in the interim, so it doesn't make much sense otherwise.

    3. 2:44 PM,
      They had no choice but to vote for Obama. What were they going to do, vote for the Republican? They just spent years making believe they were something called "The Tea Party", so they wouldn't be associated with the last Republican President's disastrous record.

  10. Trump voters watch the liberals clinging to their hate and a few even intentionally provoke them into making their own version of Hillary's hateful deplorables speech. They figure being on the receiving end of attacks by unhinged bigots setting cars on fire or dressed like vaginas is worth the payoff of a few more court justices and years of GOP majorities in congress.

    1. Who says Liberals and Conservatives can't agree? 2:43 AM, like me, won't be happy until Wall Street lays in ashes.

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