Vox had an overly long piece in April sternly taking liberals to task for their smug style: The Smug Style In American Liberalism. The symbolic implications of (a) this being published on Vox and (b) it being reviewed by The Omnivore who refers to himself in the 3rd person could get Inception-like pretty quickly--but let's stick to the basics here.
What's This About The 'Smug Style?'
Everybody knows this. It's obvious: John Oliver, Jon Stewart, and the sarcastic mocking style of liberal . . . "explainer-ism"(?). The author hits on the Bush-Is-Stupid belief (note: they don't let idiots fly jet fighters no matter who your daddy is--so you can reject the theory that he's of average or below right there guys). He's upset at the way the clerk who refused to ratify same-sex marriages was treated--and the Indiana Pizza parlor gay-pizza thing.
He suggests that instead of lamenting hicks being "so dumb" and instead should maybe be: " Maybe they're savvier than we thought. Maybe they're angry for a reason."
Hmm . . . what if?
He points to Obama's "Clinging to Guns and Religion" comment that was famously insulting to, well, everyone with guns or religion, The Omnivore is told.
He lists some guiding principles:
- 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.
He says that the wages of smugness is Trump. In the end, he calls for more than mere civility or even compassion--but understanding:
I am suggesting that in the case of a Kim Davis, liberalism resist the impulse to go beyond the necessary legal fight and explicitly delight in punishing an old foe.
I am suggesting that they instead wonder what it might be like to have little left but one's values; to wake up one day to find your whole moral order destroyed; to look around and see the representatives of a new order call you a stupid, hypocritical hick without bothering, even, to wonder how your corner of your poor state found itself so alienated from them in the first place. To work with people who do not share their values or their tastes, who do not live where they live or like what they like or know their Good Facts or their jokes.
Well, Is He Right?
No. He's not right. He's misdiagnosing the problem and offering the wrong solutions. He's wrongy-Mc-Wrong of the clan McWrong.
But . . . We Just Got Trump. And Liberals ARE Smug. You Deny It?
The Omnivore has a question for you: Do you think you're humble? The Omnivore will tell you something True: if you are reading this, deep down where it counts you do not think you are humble. There are a lot of ways The Omnivore knows this (The Omnivore knows a thing or two about his readership's demographics, for one thing)--but consider this: humble people--really humble people--are not reading 500 words into The Political Omnivore's blog based on its style alone.
Furthermore: You either think you're humble (maybe you're a salt of the earth farmer living in the South--what could be more humble??)--which is the most self-deceptive case or you said "Well, heh, yeah. Guess I'm not all that humble. I'm kind of cool, I guess." In which case there is a decent chance that you many times edge into the asshole category and excuse it with the same kind "heh, I guess so" emotional bulwark.
The Omnivore knows things about you.
What he gets wrong is that the left and the right are utterly symmetric. The hard-core Social Justice Left is an emotional mirror of the alt-right. The right is every bit as smug, insulting, and intolerant as the left. The closer you are to the middle--and the less het-up you are about global questions of tolerance that do not apply directly to you the more you're what he's calling for--but the fact that he's calling for it on one side and not the other is what he's wrong about.
Smugness is an emotional protection used by people who feel emotionally under-fire to justify their feelings of righteousness. This is why for-real Christians aren't running around smug about it: they don't feel under fire to justify their feelings. See how that works?
The tell for the Vox author is in two places:
- Her bullet points apply directly to the right as well as the left (with a few flips of the terms).
- He is asking liberals to "understand" what it's like to be someone who sees "their moral order" being destroyed.
Empathy is certainly a good thing--but ask yourself: does there seem to be a surfeit of empathetic understanding of the left on the part of the right? Are they going "Gee, I can see how a vulnerable transgender person could really feel threatened with all that bathroom bill stuff?"
No. If that were happening, there wouldn't be a bathroom bill. If people on the left were going "Anyone who forces a Christian baker to bake a wedding cake for a same sex marriage" is not only not empathizing but needs to do some explaining about forcing a Jewish baker to bake a Nazi cake--but the fact is that if the Christian bakers gently and in a very friendly fashion referred their gay/lesbian clients to other bakers who would help and the gay/lesbian clients took the well-offered referral there would be no problem here.
The problem is that no one's doing that. No one's even suggesting everyone do it. People who are appalled at the smugness of liberals were generally pretty quiet about the inherent racism of birtherism that flourished under our current President Elect.
It all comes down to basis that almost no one is engaging in self-reflection and almost everyone is engaged in bad behavior of the type the Vox author calls out.
So: Both Sides?Nope. Just because the groups are emotionally symmetric and both share the use of mockery, smugness, and absolute lack-of-empathy does not make everyone effectually equal. There are two axis where you can look for this:
- Proportions of people in power
- History of movement
In terms of proportions of people in power, Trump--not even the GOP--now controls two and soon (probably?) three lobes of Federal government. The Democrats had several months of this kind of control--not the two years you've heard about--before they lost the mid-terms. They didn't have even a divided court.
And we got Obamacare--which you probably think is an absolute outrage.
For people who are actually disempowered--think of, for example, the transgender people who lack numbers, broad cultural currency, and even prominent people (save maybe Jenner)--the idea that the left and right are equally smug and snarky isn't meaningfully important.
In terms of history, if BLM is the same as the KKK, when was the last KKK lynching? 1920? 1950? The late 60's?
That's just not that long ago and it wasn't an act-of-violence killing: it was an ideologically motivated Klan lynching. If you didn't know that--consider that a lot of people in the cross-hairs of the Klan, well, they just might.
So, Fuck Civility? Fuck Understanding?
What do you think happens when you "deploy" empathy or understanding? What do you discover? That it's not-so-bad? That the objections and the anger has a real basis? Nope. When you look into it, it's a mess of They-Started-It and I'm-A-Victim and They're-Bullies and I-Got-My-Own-Facts. That's it. The drivers for this are red-team / blue-team and there isn't going to be rapprochement based on understanding that the other side is Okay.
The other side isn't interested in the safety of your side. They're worried about the safety of their own side. This is why one juror on the Walter Scott case refuses to return a guilty verdict even though the officer shot a man running away. In the back. Five times. And then planted a taser to back up his story. Does The Omnivore know this juror is a Blue Lives Matter Trump voter?
The Omnivore is psychic.