THE WAY WE LOOK: They way we looked in 2009!

FRIDAY, APRIL 14, 2017

Part 4—The start of the current cycle:
All too often, we liberals are skilled at taking offense.

We're often insulted by The Others. We're sometimes skilled at finding offense where no such offense has been given.

Consider this one example:

We've remained struck, in the past few years, by the opening episode in Ta-Nehisi Coates' award-winning book, Between The World and Me. Coates describes a dispiriting experience he underwent on a Sunday morning show—the fruit of a dispiriting set of events which, by any normal standard, plainly didn't occur.

The incident was easily fact-checked, but it seems that no one bothered or dared. (The unnamed program was Face the Nation. The unnamed moderator was Norah O'Donnell.) Adding to the oddness of this episode, Coates' book is written as a heartfelt, truth-telling letter from Coates to his teen-aged son.

According to Coates' book, Coates was thrown into despair by the offensive incident in question, which rather plainly didn't occur. How did our liberal world respond to this odd performance?

No one fact-checked Coates' account, which is impossible to square with the tape and transcript of the program. Instead, Coates' book received the National Book Award, a very high liberal-ish honor.

Overall, did Coates' book deserve that award? We don't have a view on that. But that opening episode is quite odd, as is our liberal culture.

At present, our liberal culture is heavily built around the skill of taking offense. We constantly see that Those People, the ones Over There, are giving offense through their inveterate racism, misogyny, homophobia, bigotry and xenophobia—and of course their ridiculous voting behavior.

We're highly skilled at taking offense. Do we ever give offense? Consider what the young novelist Willie Davis said about Samantha Bee's above-ground swimming pool joke.

Bee offered the joke last November 9, the night after Donald Trump won. Months later, Davis wrote the following passage in Salon, part of a longer rumination about contemporary liberalism:
DAVIS (2/25/17): On her first show after the election, Samantha Bee, the comedic equivalent of a Facebook “share if you agree” post, said, “America has done the diplomatic equivalent of installing an above-ground pool. Even in the best case scenario and it doesn’t seep into the foundation, our neighbors will never look at us in the same way again.”

Who has above-ground pools? Poor people of all races. Rural people with yards. The joke is simply “Poor people who try to act rich are tacky. People who don’t have the money to get a proper pool are an embarrassment, and they should be more concerned with the judgment of neighbors than their own happiness.”

Does that attitude matter to people? One of my best friends—a woman from West Virginia who organizes labor unions and has received commendations from the Obama White House—said when she heard Bee’s above-ground pool joke, she instantly felt like “the poorest kid in class.” She organizes unions and had everything at stake in Clinton winning, but to Bee she was just the stupid, poor kid from a stupid, poor state. That is the flip side of identity politics. It doesn’t matter what she does—only who she is.
Should Davis' friend have felt that way? Not necessarily, no.

Did others hear Bee's joke that way? Quite possibly, yes. That said, we liberals often give severe offense, in ways which nobody misses.

Whatever her intention may have been, Rebecca Solnit's attitude was clear in the recent comments we quoted yesterday. No one would have missed it—no one, that is, except Us.

That said, sneering condescension toward the white working class has been a basic part of liberal culture since the 1960s. Our big stars have long been skilled at giving offense, to tens of millions of voters, in the standard old highly enjoyable ways.

In Solnit's case, a Berkeley crowd was encouraged to chuckle at the thought of Those (ridiculous) People out there "in America" amidst their kids' rural drug addiction. Also in their "bleak suburbs!"

Our attitude at such times is clear. This is one of the obvious ways in which we sent Trump to the White House.

Would Solnit deliberately give offense? We will assume that she wouldn't. When Frank Rich rails about the nation's "hillbillies," we feel a bit less sure.

(Rich, of course, was trashing Al Gore all through the 2000 campaign—and well beyond, even as Gore opposed the war in Iraq and wrote an Oscar-winning film about climate change. Gore, of course, was from Tennessee, just as Bill Clinton had been from Arkansas. If you think those facts are unrelated, you're an easier tribal sell than we are. Our mindless tribal condescension has often hurt us badly.)

Again and again in the past decade, we've sneered at the white working class. Solnit mocked their rural drug addiction. But at the start of the current era, we had Rachel's dick bombs.

Barack Obama had been elected; a "tea party" movement had started. Out in America, many people were being misled by powerful right-wing and Republican figures.

Maddow decided to kick way down, a practice our tribe adores.

You may remember the episode. Night after night, through the course of two weeks, she invited Ana Marie Cox onto her TV show to lob dick jokes at the "tea-baggers." They weren't as culturally hip as Us! This made them ripe for discard.

(Maddow pretended, night after night, that she was embarrassed by Cox's jokes. In this way, she also displayed her contempt for Us. We just sat there and took it.)

Maddow bombed the ridiculous baggers. Eight years later, Solnit snarked about their rural addict sons.

We displayed our uglier, less wise sides. Everyone sees this out "in America." Everyone sees this but Us.

We liberals tend to believe, and to say, that we're just extremely bright. The numbskulls are all found Over There! Within our tribe, we actually tend to believe this.

The truth of the matter is quite different. Everyone knows this but Us.

In part through our massive arrogance, we keep electing people like Bush, even leading to Donald J. Trump. Even now, we can't quite see that some of the problem may lie Over Here, with Us.

We're angered and puzzled by the idea that we should stop insulting The Others (and sneering about their misfortunes). Insulting The Others is our tribe's greatest joy. It lies at the heart of our culture.

We liberals love to take offense; through our unkindness and our indecency, we're also quite good at giving it. We've walked away from Rose of Sharon. When we hear about older women who can't afford to see a doctor, our intellectual leaders angrily say that it's their own dumb fault.

(Why didn't they read Paul Krugman last year? As Krugman himself seemed to say last week, you can't help people like that!)

We snark about people "in America" with their comically addicted sons. When we behave in these time-honored ways, everyone in America can see the way we look.

Everyone can see who we are. Everybody but Us!


  1. I go around liberal and left blogs and they are consumed by hatred for Rs because of Trump. Although anyone with half a brain knows it was democrats who did that. Rarely I see anyone addressing that uncomfortable fact and giving it the same amount of ink they do to Rs. Also l know Bill Clinton's major sin for liberals and the left he wasn't a Kennedy,or an equivalent of that. For all his talents and the fact that he had saved the democratic party's ass still they couldn't forgive his upbringing. They just couldn't bear another one of them succeed.

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  2. I am tired of the condescension thing. The fact is, I condescend to people a lot, and in turn, a lot of people condescend to me. In politics, it's part of the deal. Concerning anger and being offended, what I think of as the dudgeon running high, I have concluded that practically all of it is just so much posing. We used to have less of that stuff because in olden times, researching remarks was a whole lot harder, but now any intern with an iPhone can unearth hideous stuff about practically all of us, and I for one am really, really bored by it.

  3. Only Bob could write a post decrying how liberals LOVE to take offense and, also, beat one modestly snobbish joke into the ground. Actually, Bee's real problem was taking the obvious fraud Jaunita Braoddrick's bullshit story that Clinton raped her as credible, AND calling Bill Clinton a Hillbilly. But that would take a little effort, and The Daily Howler has been phoning it in for years.

  4. Well, the only new anecdote Bob is serving in this sermon of previously chewed and rechewed tales of liberal sins is the Samantha Bee joke. And that comes from a nearly two month old Salon article.

    Here's one from today's Salon:

  5. The parenthesis that summarizes the bulk of Somerby's body of work:

    (Why didn't they read Paul Krugman last year? As Krugman himself seemed to say last week, you can't help people like that!)

    Sentence One: Why didn't anyone read or cover our War on Gore?

    Sentence two: If it wasn't said we will say it seemed to be said. The better to serve the meme!

  6. Seeing offense where none exists? Like how a stupid category error and bad analogy became Holocaust Denialism. Yeah, Scott Spicer's an idiot. He failed to take into account chemical weapons that were not deployed as ordinance on the field of battle. Usually, the Zyklon-B used in the Nazi gas chambers is called a mass murder weapon or a weapon of genocide. It's not usually called a chemical weapon, though clearly it is. So Spicer stupidly failed to think laterally. And failed to immediately correct himself, and attempted a foolish, inarticulate defense. That's totally different than denying the Holocaust.

    1. Excuse me, all Hitler did is arrest and transport millions of people, use them as slave labor until they could work no more, then murder them in gas chambers, and he gets a pass on that because he didn't drop chemical weapons from planes is pretty much denying the Holocaust.

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  8. OK. We get it, Bob. We "Liberals" are terrible, just horrible, because some pundits at the Times and on MSNBC seem to condescend to or mock hard-working know, the "real America". I don't even know who half of the people are that Bob even mentions in his blog. I don't watch Rachel Maddow, etc, and I couldn't give a rat's ass what Frank Rich says.
    Since the sub-heading of the blog is 'musings on the mainstream press corps', where are the critiques of Fox, the most-watched (ie therefore "mainstream") cable news network? Or Limbaugh et al?
    And what about the condescension, vitriol, and propaganda that has been and continues to be spewed for decades from the conservative punditry? Do you think that affects conservatives' opinions of liberals just a tad?

    1. Bob wants to tie our hands behind our backs, then call us losers for not winning the battle.

    2. And this is my point: While America's most fatuous pundits continue to wring their hands and worry about Democrats offending America's inbred nitwits, bigots and Fox News rage-a-holics by blaming them for, y'know, electing President Stupid...

      ...Conservatives continue their successful, 30-year strategy of never, ever missing an opportunity to heap blame on the Left for every fucking thing that has ever gone wrong since the Battle of Thermopylae.

      And what has this strategy of using every camera, microphone and printed word at their command -- from the pulpit to the publishing house to coast-t-coast Hate Radio -- to relentlessly lie, obstruct and demonize the Left while mainstreaming overt racism, crackpot conspiracies and pandering to the worst inbred nitwits, bigots and Fox News rage-a-holics in America gotten them?

      The House of Representatives.

      The Senate.

      The White House.

      The Supreme Court.

      32 state legislatures and 33 governors.

      Reserved seating at every "respectable" political talking head program on teevee.

      Rollbacks of every single aspect of America's forward progress, from civil rights to environmental protection.

      All of which was carried our openly, in public, the the cheers of the worst inbred nitwits, bigots and Fox News rage-a-holics in America...

      ...while America's most fatuous pundits kept right om counseling the Left to bend over further, to compromise more, to dig even deeper to find ways to extend yet another olive branch and another and another and another to thugs and lunatics pissed in our faces ever time we tried.

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  10. A book club I belong to just read "Between the World and Me", so I posted Bob's comment about that book. One member wrote back:

    I just finished "fact checking" what Somerby claimed. He is wrong. The incident did occur. At the end of the show Nora O'Donnell asks James Peterson and Coates to comment on what a photo of a black child and a policeman hugging by asking them, "What does this say to you." Peterson comments on hope and Coates does not and remains silent. By Coates not replying it causes him to feel that he failed. Whatever Somerby was trying to say was not accurate. I re-read the passage in the book and I read the Face the Nation transcript. In this day and age, we all have to be very vigilant about what we read. Most of it is not news, but, rather, opinion. The Somerby piece is obviously opinion.

    I haven't checked this personally, so I don't know who to believe. I wish Bob read these comments, so that he could respond.