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.In his original tweet, Kristof had said that Democrats often sound patronizing when speaking about Trump voters.
“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.
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.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.
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?
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.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.
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?
(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.Replace race-baiting with economic pitches? Who will want to do that?
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.
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