My FB friend Judith (name changed, clearly) is a hardcore liberal. Yesterday, she posted a “viral” video making the following (paraphrased) claims: “Think protesting doesn’t work? The resistance has accomplished a LOT in the past week. Nordstrom has pulled Ivanka Trump’s clothing line from their shelves. Harley Davidson was pressured to cancel their meeting with Trump. The president of UBER resigned from Trump’s advisory committee after 500,000 people deleted the UBER app. Protestors at the University of California successfully shut down a presentation by neo-nazi Milo…”
And I think several things: first, I hate having to defend Trump. He scares me, too, at least a little, with his seeming recklessness, “my way” mentality. But those who oppose him really seem so comically, preposterously extreme, so loose with their own wild propaganda, that I find myself uncomfortably in the position of looking like I’m pro-Trump simply because my concerns about him are more measured and, yes, based on an attempt at objective truth.
For example, the “neo-Nazi” Milo Yiannopoulis is nothing of the sort (assuming that the term “Nazi” has any official definition anymore and isn’t merely a categorical dismissal of all conservatives). While I’m hardly a fan, I’ve seen videos of the guy. He is an outspoken gay conservative who deliberately provokes, more out of snark than hatefulness. He seems merely to speak very unpopular opinions in a way that liberals find infuriating, in part because they are simply so disused to hearing confident dissent, but also because many find his points difficult to intellectually debate. Thus, they resort to shutting him down.
Which brings me to Judith’s post. I want to ask her: how do any of these “Resistance victories” amount to any sort of ideological win?
Because what they look like, I’m afraid, is mere petulant tantrums, bullying, and censorship.
Of course, I don’t actually ask her that. Because what I find when I do ask many of my liberal friends clarifying questions is a sort of speechless dismay. They know how to respond to defensive conservative shouting (i.e. with louder offensive shouting, and then shutting down the speaker), but most seem to have little idea how to respond to a reasonable query. Intellectually defending and/or respectfully debating their ideology is something that most of them have never, ever had to do, since they live in a media climate that constantly affirms the absolute rightness of their views, without ever actually explaining why they are right (or why the other side is wrong, for that matter, apart from the standard “they’re evil, stupid, racist,” etc).
It wasn’t always like this. A few decades ago, I seem to recall that it was the Christian right that had no idea how to respond to debate, being utterly coddled by their leaders and their media into the sort of intellectual weakness that comes from never being challenged. Now, the tables have turned, and I think I know why.
When one believes that the weight of the popular majority and mainstream media is already firmly on their side, there is NO POSSIBLE GAIN from debate. This is because it is statistically more likely that their side, being more numerous (and often quite sheltered from persuasive dissent) would lose more people to the other side than the other way around.
Being firmly in the (perceived) ideological majority, and having the nearly seamless backing of popular media, is, therefore, a lot like being an aging champion boxer. Why accept any challengers to the title if you already have the title? You stand to gain nothing you don’t already have, while risking it all for no benefit.
The boxer without the championship title, however, being hungry for victory and with nothing to lose, trains like a beast, itching for the opportunity to show his skill and strength. This, ironically, is where the mainstream Christian/conservative right is today.
Until recently. Until this last election.
Because they chose to represent themselves with someone who blatantly fails to exhibit the traits that the best of them have been cultivating in themselves: reasonableness, willingness to engage in discussion and debate, persuasion, moderation, respect. Instead, they built a leader out of all the more petty elements of their long ideological diaspora– impatience, anger, wounded pride, and revenge fantasies.
The Christian/conservative right sold their hard-won ideological birthright for a bowl of Trump-flavored revenge pottage. This, I deeply fear, was a major mistake, and one that will set back their better-selves for years. Maybe generations. Maybe forever.
And yet, for modern liberals, even after their shocking and devastating loss to Trump, asking most of them to defend their beliefs with reasonable debate results in, by my experience, merely a sort of embarrassing moment of awkwardness. They are still much more comfortable angrily shutting down voices of dissent, rather than wasting their time responding to respectful dialogue. Even after their recent nationwide defeat, and the reminder that approximately half of the country wildly disagrees with them (and has the power to overrule them, if desired) they still (with some notable exceptions) do not want to win by persuasion. They want to win only by shutting down debate and censoring opposition.
This is their major mistake, and one that is even now undermining and setting back their often noble agenda for years, and maybe generations, and perhaps forever.
So what are we left with?
Simple: currently, we are left with two broken halves of a broken political/ideological/social machine, running out of control against each other, destroying themselves without accomplishing any of the good the machine was originally designed for.
What I fear most mornings (like this one) when I wake up before dawn, is that the machine will eventually, inevitably, completely break down, and there won’t be anything to replace it with. Because most of us were too obsessed with destroying the parts we don’t like instead of figuring out how to make all the parts mesh their gears, grudgingly understand each other, and work together again for the good of the whole damn thing.