Politics of Fear

My Alma Mater sent me an email titled “Hire Ed In The Age of Trump: What It Means For Students of Color.” You would have to click-through to find out, but the email is advertising an event hosted by Marybeth Gasman, who is theFounding Director” of something called the “Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions.”

Whatever. It’s their money and they can spend it however they choose.

Nah. I’m going to rant a little.

On principle, if you’re genuinely concerned about inclusion as an institution, then don’t signal to all the world that you’re a proxy for the Progressive Party. I (now) know that the University itself wasn’t asking “what the Age of Trump means for Students of Color?” . . . but the talk is “presented” by the college of Arts & Sciences and it sure seems like a question that UPenn administrators feel is worth asking. In terms of wearing their political affiliation on their proverbial sleeves, they might as well have asked “Why are Republicans so mean and stupid?”

If you think I’m being dramatic, just imagine a comparable headline, for example, “Age of Obama: What it Means for Religious Students?” That at least would have a little substance to it. In “Obama’s America,” the lodestars of righteousness include accessible abortion, gay marriage and apparently an abiding hatred of taxpayer money for private (Catholic) schools. That means being Catholic could get you sued (cake bakers and nuns), fired (Mozilla), investigated, censured and otherwise blacklisted. It’s not far-fetched at all, but it would nonetheless rightly be dismissed as partisan sloganeering that grossly exaggerates both the impact and intent of “Obama’s War on Christians.” Y’now, the kind of stuff that people like Marybeth Gasman and the New York Times editorial board come up with.

More importantly, the answer to Prof. Gasman’s question of “what it all means” is easy: “nothing – absolutely nothing. Go on with your lives exactly as before because literally nothing has changed. There is no ‘Age of Trump.’ That’s a preposterous slogan cooked up by people like Marybeth Gasman and the New York Times editorial board. It exists only within the feverish imagination of activists and partisans who need something to rail against, but rest assured, it’s not actually real.”

But what of the Rising Tide of Hate Crimes?! The white supremacists and the Klan?

The MSM has already taken judicial notice of the fact of “empowered” extremists, but I continue to be skeptical. I certainly haven’t done anything rigorous, but it sure seems like there are way more verified cases of recanted accusations (e.g. here [with a grain of salt]) and false flags (e.g. here) than actual right-on-left hate crimes. My personal favorite is still Jasskirat Saini, who was empowered by Obama [that’s how logic works, right?] to break the swastika record in Nassau County.

So there’s little to no evidence that PoC face any particular threat or that white nationalists have evolved beyond a tiny fringe. There is, however, tons of evidence that the overwhelming majority of people in the country have little tolerance for bigotry based on race, gender, color or creed — see, for example, all the protesters — including President Trump.

But, but, but . . . the Mexican rapist thing?! Nope, that’s a lie. But doesn’t he hate gays? I dunno, ask Peter Thiel. What about Bannon, surely he’s an antisemite?! Nope, that’s a lie too. The Muslim ban?! Sorry, also a lie.

Even if one were to assume the administration and its acolytes are as mean-spirited as say, their adversaries, where exactly is the danger? People are spray-painting swastikas under the cover of darkness? They’re anonymously tweeting jokes about the holocaust? Oh boy, they are emboldened — I can hear the jackboots now . . . if only I could find them.

Plus even the MSM agrees there’s nothing for PoC to really worry about. I mean, if ambushing cops, rioting in three cities, putting on masks to beat and intimidate your political opponents with sticks and pepper spray, breaking swastika records and making JCC bomb threats isn’t a rising tide of Progressive intolerance and hatred empowered by Barack Obama, then who could possibly be concerned by a cartoon frog? I mean, antisemitism wasn’t even a thing until it could be pinned on Trump [and when it couldn’t, the outrage at Jill Stein burned so hot you couldn’t even see it].

So what gives?

Well, many things, but certainly part of the equation is a calculated effort to engage the politics of fear. That’s not a concept that needs much explaining since it’s the well-documented centerpiece of Trump’s playbook. Y’know, the guy who can’t be allowed to win because he’s a fear monger and if he wins the country is going to hell. It’s not complicated stuff, but I’m going to be pedantic anyway, since this is a rant:

  • demonize the other team and specifically accuse them of fear-mongering to capture the moral high ground;
  • feverishly promote your worst fears and biases about the other team;
  • exclusively search for evidence to confirm your worst fears and biases about the other team (and ignore everything else);
  • resist “normalization” that might conflict with your worst fears and biases about the other team;
  • demand that the other team renounce the pogrom they’re secretly planning and then cite their denials as further evidence of the coming pogrom;
  • feverishly prepare for the coming pogrom by, among other things, closing ranks, identifying and censuring the enemies in your midst and hosting academic events titled “The coming pogrom: what it means for the soon-to-be victims of the pogrom”;
  • repeat from the top.

This comes naturally to people, especially when they’re convinced that fear mongering is totally something that only the other team would do because duh, that’s what they’re fighting against. How can I be a bigot when I’m on the anti-bigot team?!

I think it comes really naturally to statists like Progressives because that is after all what the Progressive state is about: good people protecting gentle people from mean people. Vote for us because the racists and the sexists and the homophobes are out there and they’re gonna gitchyou! Vote for us because the wolves of Wall Street and the greedy money lenders are out there and they’re gonna gitchyou! Vote for us because the polluters and the plunderers are out there and they’re gonna gitchyou! Vote for us because the slumlords are out there and they’re gonna gitchyou!

I’m being impolite, but I don’t think I’m exaggerating. The whole point of the Progressive state is that it’s publicly interested, altruistic and good, as opposed to non-state actors that are privately interested, selfish and bad. You can debate the extent to which that dichotomy us meaningful, but you can’t really debate that it’s ripe for fear-mongering.

If you’re specialty is fighting injustice, then you need injustice to avoid being out of a job. You’re going to look for it hard and you’re going to see it everywhere you can. Can you imagine something like the Center for Minority Serving Institutions announcing that it was shuttering its doors because there was no more injustice left to fight? Or a federal agency? “We’ve looked into it, and we conclude that there simply aren’t enough civil rights violations to justify the continuing existence of a Civil Rights Division of the DOJ. So, we’re all going to become regular people with day jobs. Mission Accomplished!” Nope. Making that observation is likely to get you branded a racist, for example, suggesting the Voting Rights Act has outlived its original mandate.

Anyway, what’s my point? I dunno, this is a rant, so I lost track.

I suppose part of the point is that this is yet another instance of Progressives looking in the mirror, seeing Trump and freaking out in horror. There is only so much hypocrisy an anonymous blogger can take before he takes to the blogosphere!

That Progressives are terrified by their own reflection is amusing. Is it concerning? I guess a little, insofar as they still haven’t made the connection yet and by all indications they appear to be doubling-down. It would be nice to see a “call to action” against pepper-spraying old men in MAGA hats or assembling a mob to physically intimidate people you disagree with. It would be really nice to see a fraction of the intellectual gymnastics devoted to finding and fighting “intersectional” discrimination dedicated to finding and fighting viewpoint discrimination (which requires far less intellectual gymnastics to find and fight).

To be clear, I don’t want to overstate Progressive intolerance anymore than I want to overstate Richard Spencer. I do think monoculture and viewpoint diversity are real problems. I think they are especially problematic when coupled with the administrative creep (both public and quasi-public) on campuses and in the workplace. But on the whole, I think most Progressives (or Democrats) genuinely favor viewpoint diversity and recognize that the status quo could be improved. It’s not really their priority and they’re likely to downplay the issue, but other than at the margins, I think non-Progressive viewpoints are generally safe — if not in the academy, then elsewhere. I also think that violence is not really the Progressive weapon of choice, but again, combating (their own) violence is not a strong priority.

Liberals that still remain part of the Progressive coalition ought to be concerned though. If you’re genuinely committed to fighting intolerance (and not just elevating the stature of certain groups at the expense of others) then it should bother you that your coalition seems totally blind to the closest thing resembling an actual “rising tide of intolerance.” It should bother you that antisemitism only exists when white supremacists are the suspects, or that “rape culture” only exists when frat boys are the suspects. You might even wonder whether Team Anti-Bigot is still really the anti-bigot team.

[Update: Credit where credit is due: mild condemnation from Peter Beinart. According to Beinart, bigotry is commonplace among Conservatives, so if campuses policed bigotry, Conservatives would have nothing left to say. And that’s bad, right? Because sometimes even Democrats agree with stuff that Conservatives say and then campuses might censure the good team too. Or something.]


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