The worst elements of the left bolster the worst elements of the right. Both sides should help create a healthier politics.
Trump is awful. In April, I called him a demagogue and a sexist. I’ve called him a lot worse, too.
Looking back, I wouldn’t change a word. But he isnow our President. The outrage and even the self-pity of left-wing students in the immediate aftermath of the election seems like a natural reaction to the abrupt halting of the progressive march of History, and I have no problem with it. As Russian dissident and Grandmaster Garry Kasparov has written, “Those who tell you that solidarity and protest are worthless are those who want you to fail.” I just hope the outrage will be followed by self-reflection on all sides.
So what can we do differently? First, let’s acknowledge that the worst elements of the left bolster the worst elements of the right.
Nothing makes the right dumber and meaner than the dumb and mean political correctness of the left, and vice-versa. Campus speech codes that restrict honest discussion inevitably end up policing political speech. They should be opposed. But like clockwork, the right will grab the moral high ground and attempt to flaunt PC rules by being awful human beings. Milo Yiannopoulos, who has won an immense online following, is the perfect example. PC is stifling, so naturally he shares white-nationalist memes and says things like “100% of fat people are f—ing disgusting.” In response to people like him, Hillary Clinton foolishly dismisses half of Trump supporters (25% of the electorate) as “deplorables” who are “irredeemable.”
And we wonder why she didn’t win over more Trump voters during the campaign.
That intolerance can trickle down from a presidential candidate to the campus. Or perhaps it trickled up, in the first place. For example, in response to a Stanford Review article published after the election, a Stanford student wrote on the Facebook page of one of our writers, “I am revolted by you as a human being…Of course you are a white, privileged, cisgender, heterosexual male and that concept of discrimination has never really touched you…This article is an act of violence against my community and any other minority communities.” Just reading that, by itself, made part of me want to support Trump. The meaningless jargon whereby someone’s free speech that you don’t like is transformed into “violence” and totally dismissed on account of his race and gender is infuriating. And if this is going to be the new ideology of our elites, that part of me thinks, maybe we do a need a Trump to shatter political correctness once and for all.
The hysterics of leftist protesters can be just as harmful as political correctness. When BlackLivesMatter jumps to conclusions and seems to foment riots, the response should be to critique their excesses but support their call for much-needed criminal justice reforms. Instead, elements of the right again sense that they have the moral high ground, go on Fox News, callBLM activists “subhuman creeps,” and demand the eradication of the movement “from American society.” This behavior promptly hands the moral high ground right back, and the cycle continues. Both sides get the worst out of each other in a never-ending feedback loop of ugliness that disfigures political discourse.
We saw the same at Stanford. The radicals at Who’s Teaching Uslaunched their “DEMANDS,” which crusaded against Wells Fargo for racism while simultaneously advocating genuine hiring discrimination in the interest of diversity. The Review’s editorial boardresponded with a faux demand list of its own, mocking the activist community but upsetting many others in the process.
I’ve been guilty of fueling this cycle more than a few times. But it isn’t helpful, from either side. And its effects aren’t minor either.
Conservatives magnified and exploited the left’s endless speech codes, demands, and safe spaces to play off the fears of uninformed parents and grandparents who believed they were experiencing a leftist cancer metastasizing from university campuses to Hollywood to the White House. Giving in to its worst instincts, the conservative movement and media conditioned a large part of its base to want a Donald Trump to take their country back.
The refusal to say “radical Islamic terror” instead of generic “extremism” or — my personal favorite from the Obama administration — “man-caused disasters” can seem trivial. So can the substitution of “undocumented migrants” for “illegal immigrants.” But both were powerful signs to a primed and fed-up American people that “America might not survive another four years” of the supposedly pathetic, America-hating, politically correct establishment. These “globalist” elites, from Hillary Clinton to Paul Ryan, had stopped caring about the average American, it seemed. The average guy was one of Obama’s “bitter clingers,” or Clinton’s “deplorables.”
A problem like that can cost a party a national election.
The Republican party allowed Donald Trump to coast by unassailed and leverage his celebrity among the large number of competitors to win the Republican primary. Combined with a Democratic establishment that rallied around Hillary too early, discouraging other (non-historically awful) candidates from running, the election became a free throw for Trump, no matter what he said or did. Millions of Americans thought Trump was unfit for the presidency, but got past that because they knew he would smash our failing establishment, which they hated.
Over the next four years, both the right and left must do better and avoid their worst instincts. The left must avoid the temptation to marginalize itself by threatening free speech, rationalizing violent protests, using euphemisms for terrorism, and writing off the half of the electorate that voted for Trump. The right must resist its dangerous tendency to sensationalize the spread of political correctness and cease using it to justify cruelty or insensitivity to concerned minority groups. It should care less about who its leaders are against and more about what they are for.
Perhaps both sides can also learn to lower the stakes of political conflict. Not everything needs to be solved with political power. We can instead focus on reinvigorating our schools, churches, and communities, and loving our families and friends. We can improve our own lives and those of our neighbors such that the bitter feedback loop of far right and far left politics would be left to a sad fringe.
Because in a healthy republic, who needs that garbage in their lives? In a healthy republic, Donald Trump would not be elected President.