Trump Battles the Progressive ‘Fear Society’

Trump Battles the Progressive ‘Fear Society’, by Bruce Thornton.

“Fear Society” is Natan Sharansky’s term for a socio-political order that flunks the “town square” test: People are too frightened to speak their mind in public spaces because they fear retribution. A victim of Soviet tyranny before emigrating to Israel, for Sharansky the consequences of free expression could be arrest, imprisonment, torture, and death.

For us, the regime of political correctness, “cancel culture,” “microaggressions,” and “woke” commissars reinforces a similar repression, a “softer” one, as Tocqueville called it, but effective nonetheless in silencing dissent and promoting an illiberal progressive ideology.

Sharansky goes on to describe the consequences of living in a fear society, which typically comprises three groups:

  1. True believers, those who sincerely believe in the regime’s ideology;
  2. Dissidents, those who oppose the regime and speak out against it;
  3. Doublethinkers, the majority who oppose the regime yet do not publicly express their opposition, particularly to outsiders.

Donald Trump’s political success has emboldened the conservative and Republican “doublethinkers” to express their opinions in the “town square” and challenge the domination that for several decades the progressives have enjoyed over political speech. …

One method is to discredit and ostracize any alternative to progressive doctrine … That is the point of political correctness: to demonize alternatives to the dominant ideology by attributing them to mental disorders like racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, xenophobia, and “white privilege.” Violence will sometimes be used, as in the mobs shouting down conservative speakers, or the Antifa goons physically attacking opponents. But more effective is the self-censorship of the “doublethinkers” who know that political correctness is illiberal and compromises political freedom, but will not publicly challenge its doctrines. Over time, the assumptions and vocabulary of political correctness become reflexive positions people express in public spaces.

We have seen this process at work in establishment Republicans who accept the Left’s degradation of language. “Racism” in particular has been a powerful verbal weapon for bludgeoning opponents into conformity. … Mere criticism, no matter how justified or unrelated to race, of a “person of color” is prima facie racism. …

Moreover, this progressive revision of language has now become joined to notions of decorum, civility, “principles,” or manners, which always have been instruments of social-class identification and elite gate-keeping. Now ideologically skewed terms like “racism” or “homophobia” define public decorum. The “right” people — those with university credentials and a self-proclaimed superiority of intellect, taste, and knowledge — distance themselves from the semiliterate rubes and “bitter clingers to guns and religion” by conspicuously condemning and decrying “racism” and other thought-crimes. Self-censorship has evolved into good manners that sacrifice truth and coherence of argument to one’s class identity.

Donald Trump has challenged this whole regime of doublethink, and encouraged the “dissidents” who for decades now have been frustrated by alleged conservatives ceding so much moral and linguistic high-ground to the illiberal Left. Trump’s blunt, sometimes crude manner and style relentlessly attack the tyrannical regime of political correctness, and its abettors among NeverTrump Republicans who mask their irrational bitterness and wounded professional and personal self-love in cries of violated “principles” and “decorum.” Most important, he has exposed the hypocrisy of both cohorts: The affluent progressives who compensate for their privilege by endorsing the illiberal tenets of identity politics and political correctness, and the NeverTrump careerists and elitists angry that their political country club has been crashed by a brash vulgarian.

We obviously live in a society that is becoming more fearful. Over the two decades, the left has turned us into a fear society. The typical punishments for contradicting the left on any of many, many topics include ostracism, a side-lined career, public ridicule, and possible loss of job.