The smug style in American liberalism, by Emmett Rensin. Odd that this should run on Vox, a very PC media website aimed at young people, Still, better late than never. It’s a long article by a PC person reflecting honestly on their politics, so there is much that is interesting.
There is a smug style in American liberalism. It has been growing these past decades. It is a way of conducting politics, predicated on the belief that American life is not divided by moral difference or policy divergence — not really — but by the failure of half the country to know what’s good for them.
It has led [to] a condescending, defensive sneer toward any person or movement outside of its consensus, dressed up as a monopoly on reason.
Really. We call it political correctness. Fact: the working class increasingly abandoned the Democratic Party from WWII to now.
Minority voters remained, but bereft of the material and social capital required to dominate elite decision-making, they were largely excluded from an agenda driven by the new Democratic core: the educated, the coastal, and the professional. It is not that these forces captured the party so much as it fell to them. When the laborer left, they remained.
Why, asked the remaining Democrats, did our working mates abandon us?
The smug style arose to answer these questions. It provided an answer so simple and so emotionally satisfying that its success was perhaps inevitable: the theory that conservatism, and particularly the kind embraced by those out there in the country, was not a political ideology at all.
The trouble is that stupid hicks don’t know what’s good for them. They’re getting conned by right-wingers and tent revivalists until they believe all the lies that’ve made them so wrong. They don’t know any better. That’s why they’re voting against their own self-interest. …
Finding comfort in the notion that their former allies were disdainful, hapless rubes, smug liberals created a culture animated by that contempt. The rubes noticed and replied in kind. The result is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The tenets of smug:
- Ridicule is the most effective political tactic.
- Ridicule is especially effective when it’s personal and about expressing open disdain for stupid, bad people.
- Political legitimacy is granted by the respect of elite liberals.
- You can’t be legitimate if you’re the butt of our jokes.
- If you don’t agree, we can’t work together politically.
- We can’t even be friends, because politics is social.
- Because politics is performative — if we don’t mock together, we aren’t on the same side.
The author has the honesty to bring up some awkward facts:
Nothing is more confounding to the smug style than the fact that the average Republican is better educated and has a higher IQ than the average Democrat. That for every overpowered study finding superior liberal open-mindedness and intellect and knowledge, there is one to suggest that Republicans have the better of these qualities.
Most damning, perhaps, to the fancy liberal self-conception: Republicans score higher in susceptibility to persuasion. They are willing to change their minds more often.
Bottom line on smug:
It is impossible, in the long run, to cleave the desire to help people from the duty to respect them. It becomes all at once too easy to decide you know best, to never hear … protest to the contrary. …
The smug style, at bottom, is a failure of empathy. Further: It is a failure to believe that empathy has any value at all. It is the notion that anybody worthy of liberal time and attention and respect must capitulate, immediately, to the Good Facts. …
I am suggesting that [the PC] notice how hating and ridiculing the people they say they want to help has led them to stop helping those people, too.
The PC might want to get their “facts” right too.