Monday, July 18, 2016

Maintaining Speed

R.R. Reno traces the evolution of the Democratic Party from its segregationist, nativist, blue-collar roots to the political home of upscale white progressives that it is today. The key to the party's success, Reno asserts, has been the promotion of a sense of "solidarity-in-marginality" in which disparate groups comprised of individuals who see themselves as living outside the socio-cultural mainstream coalesce out of a shared sense of their own marginality.

In order to keep this coalition together, though, liberal progressives must constantly be producing new demons, bigots, and oppressors against which they can fight the good fight. When they run out of such targets they must invent issues to bait their foes into coming out of the woodwork - transgender bathrooms for example. Reno calls this "bigot-baiting."

He has some interesting things to say about it. Here are a few:
The problem, of course, is that a solidarity-in-­marginality coalition capable of commanding electoral majorities has an increasingly hard time maintaining its plausibility. How long can a coalition that wins elections and exercises power pose as the party of the marginalized? At some point, political success undermines the urgency of a rainbow coalition. The tensions between the One Percent focus of feminism and the LGBT movements and the interests of immigrants and African Americans becomes more visible, to say nothing of the disconnect between the base of the Democratic party from the economic and cultural interests of those who fund and run it.

To motivate their voter base, liberals have invested a great deal in identifying ever-new patterns of discrimination. Notions such as “microaggression” and “intersectionality” reflect second-wave (or is it third-wave?) liberation politics. They gain currency because of the law of political supply and demand. The twenty-first-century Democratic solidarity-in-marginality coalition is held together by anxieties about exclusion and domination by the “other,” which is to say by Republican voters. This ­creates a strong political demand for narratives of oppression, which liberal intellectuals are happy to supply.

This dynamic operates most visibly at our universities, where well-off, mostly white liberals—the post-Protestant WASPs—rule. The legitimacy of this elite depends upon its commitment to “include” the “excluded.” It goes without saying that an Ivy League administrator must manage the optics very carefully to sustain “marginality” among the talented students who have gained admission. “Microaggression” and other key terms in the ever-­evolving scholasticism of discrimination thus play very useful roles. They renew the threats of discrimination and exclusion, and this reinforces the power of liberal elites.

Their institutional ascendancy is necessary to protect and provide patronage to the “excluded.” I’m quite certain that if political correctness succeeds in suppressing “microaggressions,” we’ll soon hear about “nano-­aggressions.” The logic of solidarity in marginality requires oppression, and solidarity in marginality is necessary in order to sustain liberal power.

Outside our universities, life is less theoretical and the rhetoric more demotic. The standard approach has been to renew solidarity in marginality by demonizing conservatives as racists, xenophobes, and “haters.” To maintain loyalty, the Democratic party incites anxiety about discrimination and exclusion. A form of reverse race-baiting, perhaps best thought of as bigot-baiting, has become crucial for sustaining the Democratic coalition, which is why we hear so much about “hate” these days. At the recent gay pride parade in New York, a few weeks after the mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, marchers held aloft an avenue-wide banner that read, “Republican Hate Kills!”

It’s important to remember a first law of politics for solidarity in marginality: Political success makes it harder and harder to sustain solidarity in marginality, and this leads to bigot-baiting. We’ve seen an increase of harsh denunciations, not in spite of progressive victories on issues like gay marriage, but because of them. When Obama became president, a superficial observer might have con­cluded that the election of a black man to the nation’s highest office would diminish the political currency of anti-­racist rhetoric. But this ignores the symbolic needs of the Democratic party. Black Lives Matter and redoubled attacks on discrimination are demanded by racial pro­gress. Solidarity in marginality needs to be renewed, especially when the marginal gain access to power.

This pattern of rhetorical escalation because of pro­gress in the fight against discrimination is also evident in characterizations of Trump voters as racists and bigots. Leon Wieseltier says of them, “They kindle, in the myopia of their pain, to racism and nativism and xenophobia and misogyny and homophobia and anti-Semitism.” No mainstream figure talked this way when I was young—and when these descriptions were much more plausible. Incendiary, denunciatory rhetoric was characteristic of a marginal figure like George Wallace, who spoke of “sissy-britches welfare people” and called civil-rights protesters “anarchists.”

It’s commonplace now for liberals to talk this way. This is not because America has become more racially, ethnically, religiously, or sexually divided. All the indicators suggest otherwise. It’s because the Democratic party depends on a constant bombardment of denunciation to gin up fear. That someone as intelligent as Wieseltier participates in bigot-baiting in such blatant ways indicates how indispensable it has become for maintaining liberal power.
Reading Reno's column I thought of the movie Speed. In the film a disgruntled explosives expert has rigged a bomb to a bus in such a way that if the speed of the bus drops below 50 mph the bomb will go off, destroy the bus, and kill all aboard.

Progressivism is a bit like that bus. It can't slow down, much less stop. It has to keep finding new sources of hate and bigotry to battle against or else it'll perish of ideological inanition. If it can't find these bugaboos in a society which has largely eradicated the old bigotries then it has to manufacture new ones. In any case, progressivism, by its nature, can never reach a point where it can say that we have finally achieved a satisfactory society. Were progressives ever to acknowledge that we've finally attained the ideal society they'd no longer be progressives, they'd be conservatives, and that would be unendurable for them.

Reno closes with this:
The present crusade for transgender bathroom privileges in high schools, like so much of the progressive agenda in recent years, is not about civil rights. It’s about renewing the symbolism of oppression and finding the “haters” that rich, mostly white liberals need to sustain their political power.
Should they fail to come up with something, anything, to point to as yet another example of oppression it'd be like the speed of the bus falling below 50 mph and would be the death of progressivism.