I had been planning to write my reflections on the election today, as it is one month out. I was going to summarize all the bad things that have happened, the failure to drain the swamp, the threats to civil liberties, environmental justice, international relations, the tweet-storms, and on and on. But I’m not going to do that. Instead, I am writing about the political left.
Quite honestly, I am fed up with the left. I am sick and tired of what I have come to see as sanctimonious bullshit, wrapped in self-righteousness. And it did not start on November 9th. It has been going on for quite some time. The left has taken an approach in which every “progressive” issue is the same. It is one-size-fits-all, from LGBT to Black Lives Matter to Boycotting Israel to a wide range of other “progressive” causes. And the left has demonstrated an incredible amount of intolerance for any political view points that run counter to its own moral code. I can hardly believe I am writing this, but it is political correctness run amuck. And quite frankly, I am sick of it.
A few weeks ago Mark Lilla wrote an essay in the New York Times called “The End of Identity Liberalism.” It was an op-ed which resulted in a massive amount of attention, and numerous criticisms by those who felt slighted by it. Lilla placed a good deal of the blame for Clinton’s loss on identity liberalism. He placed blame on Clinton towing the left line, and completely ignoring the working class.
Lilla writes: “But the fixation on diversity in our schools and in the press has produced a generation of liberals and progressives narcissistically unaware of conditions outside their self-defined groups, and indifferent to the task of reaching out to Americans in every walk of life.”
When I first read his essay, the first half of it resonated with me, primarily due to how I have experienced the indifference of self-defined “progressives” in the context of the Presbyterian Church USA; the rapidly declining mainline protestant church that is symbolically far more important to the left and progressive politics, than it is in terms of actual people in the pews.
For me, what resonated was exactly what I felt at the PCUSA General Assembly, the Church’s legislative body that meets every two years. GA is dominated by people so passionately committed to progressivism and causes that they are blinded and completely unsympathetic to ANY competing views, even going so far as to mocking them (ironically enough) on twitter.
This year I sat on the committee dealing with fossil fuel divestment. While PCUSA has a piddling amount of money to invest, the big ticket issue was whether the church should divest all pension funds from fossil fuel energy companies, and thus have zero leverage whatsoever on climate change through those companies, but they would feel better about themselves by making a political statement and ensuring that the Church’s moral conscience was clear. I sat on that committee for 2 days, and listened to pastors from places in Texas and Oklahoma practically begging for the committee – and the Church itself – to not throw their entire congregations and communities – who live and work in the energy industry – under the bus. Desperate pleas from pastors saying, look yes, climate change is an issue, and we need to pressure companies, but don’t do it in a way that literally tears our congregations apart. AND then witnessing other pastors who just basically said, I’m sorry, but I don’t care, we have to divest. It was a truly disturbing thing to witness. There was no place at the table for anyone other than the far left. In the end, the assembly voted to take a middle position, and not immediately divest, and you would have thought the world had come to an end.
I compare that to the Church’s historic vote for marriage equality in 2014. That decision, which I voted for, resulted in a a lot of congregations leaving the denomination. And many more conservative rural congregations were staying, but struggling. BUT rather than just being happy with the historic decision, the church’s progressives decided that they wanted more. They wanted the church issue to issue an apology to LGBTQ folk. It was mind boggling. A lot of moderate and conservative churches trying to grapple with marriage equality, and trying to stay in the denomination, but these folks weren’t happy with what they had gained; they had to pour salt into an open wound. It was equally disturbing to watch. It was all or nothing. There is no room at the table for diverse viewpoints.
Now I’m not saying I don’t agree with the vast majority of what identity liberals want, but having come down on the side of an issue where they are opposed (Israel/Palestine) and watching what in many ways is a biased, one-sided, take-no-prisoners, facts be damned approach, it made me much more cognizant of HOW the left is viewed by those who don’t “fit” into the mold. PCUSA is a case-study in the identity politics Lilla was writing about. And I certainly can understand why many people might feel left behind.
A conservative friend from college commented when the Lilla essay was shared on my wall. When I replied with a much shorter version of what I wrote above, he responded “Odd how insulting people turns out not to be such a great strategy for gaining their support.” He is correct. I can visualize the stump speeches, the focus was almost entirely on the core liberal issues. And I come back to what I shared above: “.. a generation of liberals and progressives narcissistically unaware of conditions outside their self-defined groups, and indifferent to the task of reaching out to Americans in every walk of life.”
The irony of diversity politics
But it isn’t limited to the churches. Campus politics today are knee-deep in it. In the immediate aftermath of the election there have been some seriously disturbing acts of intimidation and bigotry reported. I am NOT in any way justifying them. I remain vigilant against bigotry, anti-Semitism, islamophobia, and any other acts of hatred. I have even changed my “Amazon smile” donations to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
BUT freedom of speech and assembly goes both ways. Conservatives have just as much right to engage in political activism as liberals do. Yet, I am hearing reports on my own campus of conservative student groups being harassed by faculty members while doing a recruitment table in a classroom building. I am grappling with faculty who are proposing statements seeking to be approved by the university senate which are blatantly partisan, and which profess to lecture to the community about proper behavior and standards. Gotta be honest here, and I recognize the irony of me saying it, in an essay I am writing, but no one wants to be lectured by academics from their ivory tower about this. As a former student said to me, “when you write messages like that, it emboldens the very people you are trying to persuade.” It doesn’t convince anyone. It makes people dig in their heels. It serves no purpose but to make you feel better about yourself, and to pat yourself on the back for having “done something.”
The left needs to re-think its approach. The time to have protested was not on November 9th. It was on November 8th. It was to get out the vote. But it is hard to get out the vote of millions of working class people, when you have been ignoring them, primarily because they are the very “ignoramuses” that aren’t smart enough to share your enlightened beliefs, and when after 8 years of a Democratic president they are little better off then they were before. And when you assume they will always be there. Well, guess what? They weren’t.
Look, I despise Trump. I can’t even bring myself to using his name and the honorific president together. I think political resistance and protest is important, and will remain essential. I will protest what I believe needs being protested. I will contribute funds to the ACLU, to Americans United to Separation of Church and State, and to the SPLC. We need to remain vigilant against threats to democracy.
BUT if we are truly committed to democracy we have to respect DIVERSE political discourse, while insisting on civility. Showing respect for others of different beliefs, and tolerance of a range of political viewpoints that are absolutely essential elements of a democratic society. Don’t get me wrong. Such political discourse cannot co-exist with acts of bigotry, intimidation, or hate-filled rhetoric. Every single one of us have to call that out. And I’ll be the first in line. But if a conservative student group can’t do a tabling event without being harassed by “liberal” faculty, then I think we are missing the point entirely. Civil liberties are for all Americans. Even those we disagree with.
This doesn’t mean I won’t call out bullshit when I see it from the right; it is there all the time. But it goes both ways.