When I see an article with the title “You are the Problem” Is liberal smugness to blame for our godawful political climate? the answer inside the article better be a hearty NO! But for Reason editor’s Katherine Mangu-Ward it’s a chicken and the egg situation: the “smug” left is countered by an increasingly angry and irrational right.
Isaac Chotiner: You write in your piece that, “The problem isn’t just filter bubbles, echo chambers or alternative facts. It’s tone: When the loudest voices on the left talk about people on the right as either beyond the pale or dupes of their betters, it is with an air of barely concealed smugness. Right-wingers, for their part, increasingly respond with a churlish ‘Oh, yeah? Hold my beer,’ and then double down on whatever politically incorrect sentiment brought on the disdain in the first place.” The way that’s written implies that the right-wing attitude that we see online and from the president is a response to a smug leftism. Is that how you see this—that essentially the right is merely reacting to something?
Katherine Mangu-Ward: The sentence that’s at the very top of the piece is, “It’s hard to tell who started it.” I actually do believe that. I think it is not a case of a single original sin that sent us cascading down into the rhetorical swamps where we now live. But I do find that, although I am demographically and in many ways even ideologically sympathetic to people on the left, in this story, in the story of smug versus trolls, I find myself sympathetic to the right, sympathetic to this response of, “Fine, if you’re going to see me that way, I’ll double down on it. I’ll be as bad as you think I am.”
We are talking about an election that was propelled by crypto-fascists like Bannon and the Mercers, pushing a nationalist agenda that includes an absolute anti-immigration platform with strong undercurrents of racism, sexism and anti-semitism. But smugness is so insufferable liberals probably drive otherwise fine people to embrace all that hate. They don’t really want to, they have to to counter the smug monsters.
All that said and such craziness sufficiently skewered, I’m going to give Mangu-Ward (whose name sounds like a Monty Python upper class twit put on name) the slightest bit of credit. Yes, I am.
Katherine Mangu-Ward: I think this is the argument for [saying], “OK, maybe these people who we are talking about here, these Trump voters, it is not that they are confused about their own interests, but simply that I am not looking at the world the way they look at the world. How can I do better at that?” It’s an Oprah thing to say, but it is nonetheless the answer.
Isaac Chotiner: It seems like what you’re saying is a version of political correctness. It’s as if saying this, even if it’s the truth, doesn’t work, so you should stop saying it, which is itself almost condescending. It’s essentially, “You people can’t hear this.”
Katherine Mangu-Ward: Yeah, I think that’s right. It is a version of political correctness, but the origins of political correctness are nonpernicious. The very, very beginning of the political correctness movement was basically just people saying, “Hey, why not temper your speech slightly to avoid giving offense to those in a position of less power than yourself?” That’s a good idea. I think obviously you don’t want to pull every punch, but at the same time, to say over and over, both formally as the Democratic Party and also rhetorically as the pundit class, “You all are wrong about what you need and want,” is not doing it.
Well that’s true. To the extent we’re having any discussion with the right, we’re not getting through. Instead of “smugness” I prefer to say we’re living in the fact based, reality-based universe. Our opponents of course think that they are. So screaming ensues. Unless maybe we keep our cool and listen and espouse the same values of patriotism, make our case and earn their trust with a sort of “political correctness” that prevents us from berating them with insults.
It sounds good anyway. Count as my attempt to reach out to Ms. Mangu-Ward, libertarian thinker, without stating out loud that the term libertarian thinker is an oxymoron. See I can be kind and calm and quietly think she’s a moron without saying it out loud. I’ll even give her credit for maybe having a point. Maybe. A point that makes sense at least in theory, if not in practice.
Unfortunately, when a stereotype, a reputation, whatever you want to call it, has been established, no matter how much you want to deny its veracity and legitimacy, it is there and has to be taken into account and countered. Liberal smugness as a cause of our toxic political environment may sound ridiculous, but a lot of people accept it, even if we do not. And just telling them they’re wrong is indeed, not working.