Today’s trigger is brought to you courtesy of Peter Wehner and Jonathan Rausch at The Atlantic.
Promoting Rausch’s new book, the pair discuss ‘wokeness’ and the dangers of Leftist cancel-culture versus the legacy of Trump’s Soviet-style disinformation campaigns and the growth of the Right’s propaganda machine.
Wehner asks (a bit disingenuously) which is more dangerous? Rausch’s answer — “I think we’ve got an emergency on our hands” — doesn’t satisfy the question let alone suggest a solution, but then I’m reminded he’s spruiking a book and thus avoiding spoilers.
Rausch does cite an incendiary study that 62% of Americans feel “the political climate these days prevents them from saying things they believe because others might find them offensive.” More precisely, Democrats (52%), independents (59%) and Republicans (77%) say they have political opinions they are afraid to share.
There’s a big difference between 52% and 77%, particularly as the only bloc who feel they can speak plainly are the self-described ‘strong liberals’. In other words, only the authors of cancel-culture aren’t afraid of losing their jobs or being mobbed on social media for a careless comment 12 years ago.
This is a huge problem for everybody, but especially for the Left. Why? I’ll let English intellectual and Renaissance man Robert Grosseteste (d. 1253) answer: it’s a problem because “united we stand and divided we fall” unquote.
The echoes of former British PM Tony Blair’s article in New Statesman are deafening, his thesis being that middle-ground progressive politics are facing extinction. I disagreed, but maybe I’m wrong.
Either way, I get the feeling it will get a lot worse before it gets a little bit better.
While our American friends have lost the ability to distinguish truth from lies, America is not Australia, and luckily we can still rely on our natural bullshit-meters to unmask dangerous charlatans.
While I’m tempted to buy Rausch’s book to see whether he frames a solution as neatly as he does the question, I’m tempted to have a crack myself. Simply put, there must be bipartisan agreement for government to function. But how do you talk to conservatives who hate your guts and want you to die?
First and foremost, be pragmatic. The ideological overlap between Left and Right means it’s harder to persuade 100% of your own party than to persuade 10% of the opposition. Forge useful temporary alliances by making friends in low places, but never forget that quid pro quo is a bitch.
Second, only invite the right people to the conversation. Make it clear: If they’re not at the table, they won’t get fed, but dinner will be served. There won’t be other meetings, this is their one chance to end the pity-party and get back to work.
Third, show good faith. Negotiations involve compromise, meaning both sides must give. While the winning team’s mandate means they set the agenda, that doesn’t mean they have carte blanche; nor is it the loser’s prerogative to oppose everything just because you lost (plus, how can you sabotage the enemy’s plans unless you infiltrate their ranks?)
I’m not suggesting olive-branch politics, let alone sleeping with the enemy. It’s gone beyond that. If right-wing political parties are mobilising to undermine democratic processes (which they are, worldwide) the most effective counter-punch is to expose them, divide them, and conquer.
In other words, exactly what we’re doing to ourselves.