‘They hate us. They really hate us.’ (Photo by Nick White/Getty Images)
I received an interesting e-mail over the weekend. I share a portion of it with you with the sender’s permission. Let me sum it up before we get to the end of it, which I’ll quote.
The reader, a white male Millennial, said he was raised in a secular left environment, by liberal Boomers. Mom was an activist, dad was into the counterculture. Six marriages between them. They divorced when the reader was seven; he grew up shuttling between their homes.
He grew up thinking that “organized religion” was the cause of most of the world’s problems, and that specifically, Christian Republicans were the most to blame. Though white, he comes from a mixed-race clan, and grew up with one foot in the black community.
He studied education in college, and said that many of the materials they studied were preoccupied with “white privilege” and woke ideology. He didn’t think it was a problem, because it conformed to the view of the world that he’d been raised with. He ended up in the social work field, which was ideologically the same.
In college, he converted to Christianity, which radically changed some of his values. He now identifies as a conservative, though he has never voted Republican in a presidential race. He says he’s “kind of confused politically” because of all this.
He says that he’s growing increasingly angry by the relentless wokeness in popular culture. He gave a couple of recent examples of having a strong reaction at the overt liberal messaging in TV shows he and his wife watched. He says they talked about it, and she convinced him that the liberal messaging was based somewhat in reality (e.g., racism and sexism really do exist). What surprised him was how “black and white” his thinking has become on these topics, as a result of being on the defensive all the time against the overwhelming progressive messaging he sees.
The reader concludes:
I certainly feel like the progressive ideology is being forced down my throat at every turn. I have unfollowed basically everyone on social media and stopped using it except for work purposes because the stuff people posted made me like them less (both on the left and right). I can’t count how many times I have heard people make flippant comments about the taint white men and the patriarchy have left on our society. I don’t feel like I can express my thoughts about any polarizing topic because I will be dismissed due to my sex and skin color. It really is maddening. In many ways I align with left social principles (care for the poor, minorities, women) but more and more I feel like to support anything on the left is to support something that sees me and people like me as the problem and therefore of less value than other human beings.
I don’t know what to do with this. I certainly don’t want to be “pro-white, pro-male” in some sort of political manner, but I do feel like the left is forcing me into a corner I don’t want to be in. Of course, I recognize I don’t have to let that happen to me, and I don’t want to just sit here and say I’m helplessly being polarized by the rhetoric coming from the left. I won’t ever go down the alt-right road. I don’t want to watch shows and movies and feel so sensitive to what seems like a political agenda or start disliking friends who are left leaning and that I may even agree with about a lot of things! Even if they aren’t militant, I still feel threatened. I have a friend who is letting her 8 year old present as the opposite gender. She announced it on Facebook and got showered with praise. I have said nothing. How can I? I’m just a hater and bigot, right? I have some serious concerns about all of that, but I would be wasting my breath and inviting a lot of stress into my life if I confronted that.
I’m not sure how to conclude this which is why I just ranted a little right there. I’m not completely sure why I’m even writing this to you. I’m probably going to vote for Trump in 2020, so maybe this is about that in some way. I think he is a disaster of a human being and president, but you know, he doesn’t hate me and everything I stand for. I didn’t think the left did even as recently as 2016, but I don’t know what else to think based on their rhetoric and actions. But it’s deeper than just who I vote for. It’s permeating my whole life. I can’t even enjoy a good tv show without getting all fired up about some perceived propaganda. I say perceived because I think I’m looking for it more than I did in the past. In some ways I’m frustrated with myself even.
Boy oh boy, is this ever true. And it’s invisible to so very many on the Left, because like this reader before his religious conversion, their worldview is completely normal. This must be what it was like to be a leftist, or a racial or religious minority prior to the 1960s and 1970s. I mean, the Sixties came from somewhere. The most interesting literature of the 1950s came from writers who were struggling against the conformism of the Eisenhower era.
But now, the Left is the cultural establishment. To watch many TV shows and movies as a social or political conservative is to be acutely aware of the propagandizing element. Or not: I think most people I know who identify as conservative absorb a lot of this stuff without even thinking about it. If, like me, you have a household that is not plugged in to cable TV, and that maintains significant distance from popular culture (though we watch movies and TV in our family, my wife and I heavily curate it), you see it more acutely. I’ve told the story in this space in the past about how going from watching eight to ten movies each week as a professional film critic, to watching maybe three or four a month after I changed jobs following the birth of my first child, forced an unexpected awareness of how much I had become numb to a lot of this messaging, simply by virtue of frequent exposure to it. Even though I was at the time a cultural, religious, and political conservative, and was a lot more “woke” in that way than most, immersing myself in popular culture simply to do my job changed my way of seeing the world. It’s a lesson I made sure to remember as I raised my children.
The reader’s story about how the overwhelming, increasingly militant progressivism of popular culture, and how that is replicated in the lives of many people he knows, rings true to me — as does his frustration with himself over having developed reactionary instincts out of self-defense. I think this is becoming common. Last month here in Louisiana, a few days before our state election, I asked my mom who she thought would win the elections in our home parish. She said she had no idea, because nobody talks about that stuff anymore. She said that for most of her life, people were willing to talk about politics, and were able to do so without getting angry about it, most of the time. Not anymore. Most people just don’t talk about it at all unless they already know that the people to whom they’re talking already agree with them. The idea is that it’s simply too risky to talk about politics — even local politics, which aren’t ideological at all — because you never know when somebody might blow up.
That’s how I’ve lived for years, as a matter of prudence, but it really astonished me to hear that it has taken hold in my rural hometown. The reader’s letter made me think about how much I cherish the friendship I have with liberals like Jon F and Franklin Evans, who disagree with my views on many things, but who value our friendship more than they value making political points (and I regard them the same way). Still, my sense is that people who can do that are becoming much fewer in American life. My mom’s anecdote is not data, but it tells me that the spirit of intense polarization is becoming quite common now, even coming to dominate places where you wouldn’t expect it.
In 2017, Gallup found that nearly 2/3 of Americans who identify with a political party say that they would not want their children to marry someone of the opposite political party. My first thought at that data was, “That’s ridiculous.” Then I thought about how political “mixed marriages” would introduce an element of conflict into family gatherings that nobody really wants. Yeah, it’s stupid, but this is the world we have created for ourselves.
I don’t want to make a “pox on both your houses” point, though, because I don’t think that reflects the world as it is. To be clear, it is certainly true that people on both sides of the political divide demonize their opponents. And this is wrong! “They did it first!” is not an excuse. That said, what the reader sees is that in our popular culture, wokeness is the dominant ideology, and it is preached constantly. I subscribe to The New York Times and read it daily. It’s the parish newsletter of the Church of Wokeness. If the Times was your only source of news, you would think that white male heterosexual Christians were the source of evil in the modern world. I exaggerate only slightly. You’ll recall, maybe, the leaked transcript of the Times‘s internal town meeting earlier this year, in which the unnamed staffer challenged executive editor Dean Baquet, telling him that racism is in everything about American life, and that the Times ought to bring the racial angle into everything it covers. I’d bet my paycheck that the person saying that is a Millennial or Zoomer. The important thing about that exchange is that Baquet — a black man, a Boomer, and a lifelong journalist — did not challenge the assertion at all.
This is really important. Baquet behaved like university administrators behave when confronted by progressive militants on campus. For whatever reason or reasons, they cave to the illiberal left, who turn up the extremism and the emotionalism. Now, the reader who sent me that letter concedes that there are truthful and important things that the Left has to say, and that it can be important that their perspective gets an airing in popular culture. But he has become much less willing to hear it because the Left is also so shrill and extreme and relentless about demonizing people like him that he feels pushed into a reactionary stance that does not come naturally to him, simply as a matter of self-respect and self-defense.
Again, I get that, and share a lot of that myself. For example, it ought to be possible to talk seriously about the problems of police treatment of black Americans without having to take the stance that all police officers are racist scum who see their jobs as maintaining white supremacy. It ought to be possible to talk about how yes, LGBT people have to deal with some discrimination, without having to take the position that anything view less extreme than the militant activists’ opinions is “hate,” and must be suppressed. It ought to be possible to talk about the real problem of global warming without taking the idiotic Greta Thunberg view that, as she stated this past weekend in a syndicated op-ed that bore her byline, “Colonial, racist, and patriarchal systems of oppression have created and fueled it. We need to dismantle them all.”
Once again, we see the same thing on the Right, with the hardcore Trump supporters saying that any criticism of Trump from the Right is a manifestation of Trump Derangement Syndrome, or Orange Man Bad-ism. But we’re not talking about ideological policing among the Right here. We’re talking about something massively more influential.
I don’t see an answer here, and I expect most liberal readers to deny the thing, or to admit it, but to resort to whataboutism in an effort to dismiss it. Still, it is worth talking about, because this dynamic is close to the heart of our social disintegration. You have in this letter the testimony of a young man who was raised a liberal, in a mixed-race family, and who acknowledges that the Left has some important and truthful insights to offer, and that conservatives need to hear. But he is also finding himself increasingly unwilling to hear them, because they come as part of a broader message that demonizes people like him. He has been pushed to the point where he is disinclined even to open his mind to any of this, because to do so, he feels that he has to buy the entire vicious narrative — a narrative that, in his view, is racist, sexist, and anti-religious, and, if it keeps growing, is going to make life in America for people like him unlivable.
In his must-read recent book about the cult of social justice, The Madness of Crowds, the UK gay conservative Douglas Murray writes, in a passage criticizing pro-LGBT advocacy journalism:
Perhaps it requires someone who is gay to say this, but there are times when such ‘news’ reporting doesn’t feel like news reporting at all. Rather it seems that some type of message is being sent out either to the public or to people whom the media believe to be in positions of power. This goes beyond ‘This will be good for you’ and nearer to the realm of ‘See how you like this, bigot.’ There are days when you wonder how heterosexuals feel about the growing insistence with which gay stories are crow-barred into any and all areas of news.
Yes, exactly. This is what the reader is saying to me, not only about news reporting, but about popular culture. Woke cultural politics are crow-barred into any and all areas of news and entertainment. And it’s radicalizing to the Right people who don’t want to be.