Andrew Sullivan has broken his long silence (after he discontinued his blog) with an essay published yesterday in New York Magazine. His thesis: democracy is problematic.
Plato told us this. Give people too many choices, and you ultimately destabilize society, pitting person against person and opening the door to any garden-variety dictator who comes down the pike. Like, say, Donald Trump.
But the real problem remains, for Sullivan as for other American conservatives (and other Catholic centrists), those who have gotten out of control as participatory democracy has extended itself in the latter half of the 20th century and first part of the 21st century — to women, people of color, and LGBTQ people. White working-class people are enraged not because of this extension of democracy (so Sullivan appears to want us to think), but because it has been bought at their expense, in some sort of zero-sum game which assures that if you have rights and freedom, my rights and freedom must inevitably be diminished.
White working-class people supporting Trump are justifiably angry, Sullivan appears to propose, not at the economic elites who have jerked them around and used their unjustified anger at the increasing rights and freedoms of refractory others, of women, people of color, and LGBTQ people, to get them to vote against their own economic and political interest — but at those whose rights and freedom have been bought, as they believe, at their expense. They're justifiably angry not at themselves, for having allowed themselves to be deceived and to make political targets of other human beings — but at those they've targeted for years now, in order to buy self-esteem and a sense of being in control of their lives.
This is an age in which a woman might succeed a black man as president, but also one in which a member of the white working class has declining options to make a decent living. This is a time when gay people can be married in 50 states, even as working-class families are hanging by a thread. It's a period in which we have become far more aware of the historic injustices that still haunt African-Americans and yet we treat the desperate plight of today’s white working class as an afterthought. And so late-stage capitalism is creating a righteous, revolutionary anger that late-stage democracy has precious little ability to moderate or constrain — and has actually helped exacerbate.
For the white working class, having had their morals roundly mocked, their religion deemed primitive, and their economic prospects decimated, now find their very gender and race, indeed the very way they talk about reality, described as a kind of problem for the nation to overcome. This is just one aspect of what Trump has masterfully signaled as "political correctness" run amok, or what might be better described as the newly rigid progressive passion for racial and sexual equality of outcome, rather than the liberal aspiration to mere equality of opportunity.
Much of the newly energized left has come to see the white working class not as allies but primarily as bigots, misogynists, racists, and homophobes, thereby condemning those often at the near-bottom rung of the economy to the bottom rung of the culture as well. A struggling white man in the heartland is now told to "check his privilege" by students at Ivy League colleges. Even if you agree that the privilege exists, it's hard not to empathize with the object of this disdain. These working-class communities, already alienated, hear — how can they not? — the glib and easy dismissals of "white straight men" as the ultimate source of all our woes. They smell the condescension and the broad generalizations about them — all of which would be repellent if directed at racial minorities — and see themselves, in Hoffer’s words, "disinherited and injured by an unjust order of things."
And so they wait, and they steam, and they lash out. This was part of the emotional force of the tea party: not just the advancement of racial minorities, gays, and women but the simultaneous demonization of the white working-class world, its culture and way of life. Obama never intended this, but he became a symbol to many of this cultural marginalization. The Black Lives Matter left stoked the fires still further; so did the gay left, for whom the word magnanimity seems unknown, even in the wake of stunning successes. And as the tea party swept through Washington in 2010, as its representatives repeatedly held the government budget hostage, threatened the very credit of the U.S., and refused to hold hearings on a Supreme Court nominee, the American political and media Establishment mostly chose to interpret such behavior as something other than unprecedented. But Trump saw what others didn't, just as Hoffer noted: "The frustrated individual and the true believer make better prognosticators than those who have reason to want the preservation of the status quo."
It's liberals, you see, who, with their smugness and their political correctness, their nonsense about how straight white men sit on top of the social order and deny power and privilege to others, who created the way for the tea party. And for Mr. Trump.
It's not the Grand Old Party that Sullivan supported right through Mr. Bush's unjust wars in the Middle East that is the problem. That party and its leaders have had nothing to do with setting the stage for Donald Trump. Liberals are the problem. You do see this, don't you?
I discovered Sullivan's essay last evening as I weeded out my Twitter feed after a bunch of white supremacists (strange: they were all straight white men!) pounced on it due to my recommendation yesterday of David Masciotra's essay arguing that the white working classes are not victims of liberal elites that have deplored their retrogressive ideas about race, gender, and sexual orientation, but they have victimized themselves by letting themselves be convinced by right-wing elites that their self-worth can be bought only by keeping women, people of color, and LGBTQ folks in their rightful places, outside the structures of participatory democracy.
Masciotra's essay has evidently not sat well with white supremacists (who, curiously, in the group attacking me on Twitter, all turn out to be straight white males). Nor has criticism of Trump supporters as being largely fueled by racism and misogyny sat well with white supremacists, I gather from the attacks on my Twitter feed.
And so, as I say, I discovered Sullivan's essay as I scrolled through my Twitter feed to block those trolling it (did I say that they all happen to have been straight white men?: curious!), and as I began to notice Jamelle Bouie's incisive tweets responding to Sullivan's essay. Tweets such as the following:
Once you drill down all you have is an essay where Andrew Sullivan blames political correctness and BLM for Trump. https://t.co/AISlggn6zv— Jamelle Bouie (@jbouie) May 2, 2016
Do you see it? Sullivan moves from discussing the working-class to fixating on the white working class.— Jamelle Bouie (@jbouie) May 2, 2016
But "the working-class"—such that it's an analytically useful category—includes blacks and Latinos and Asian Americans.— Jamelle Bouie (@jbouie) May 2, 2016
And those other working-class Americans aren't clamoring for Trump. They oppose him. Full stop.— Jamelle Bouie (@jbouie) May 2, 2016
Which gets to *my* point about all of this. You can't understand the rise of Trump without centering race and racism.— Jamelle Bouie (@jbouie) May 2, 2016
Understanding the South and its role in American politics in its full glory and complexity is essential. https://t.co/5tWsVcFYHS— Jamelle Bouie (@jbouie) May 2, 2016
Donald Trump only rises out of political correctness if you aren't aware of the clear antecedents to Trump in American history.— Jamelle Bouie (@jbouie) May 2, 2016
After which Bouie retweets Kevin Collins saying the following:
@jbouie I'm shocked, shocked, that a party that has been peddling racialized fear and tax cuts at all costs for decades would choose Trump— Kevin Collins (@kwcollins) May 2, 2016
Oh that Andrew Sullivan (and other Catholic centrists) could hear Jamelle Bouie and other folks like him.
But something tells me they don't intend to listen, since to listen would require opening their hermetically sealed worlds of power and privilege — their parochial worlds lived in elite places with other elite people — open in a way they don't choose to open them.