I’ve flip flopped a lot on this whole idea in the wake of Brexit and Trump. At first it seemed all too easy to blame the left’s poor communication and reliance on identity politics. That “they” (all of them, apparently, if reactionaries are any judge) took too much time calling others who disagreed with them racist and privileged. Maybe you’ve already seen the post-election Jonathan Pie video that went viral. But is there really enough evidence to say that this is a prime causal factor, and not just one dredged up by Captain Hindsight as a retroactive self-justifying attack tool of the right, and clasped to like a lifebelt by the drowning, self-loathing left?
What about the idea that these attitudes and people were always there, but that they were less galvanised to make themselves truly heard until now; the time has come when they can freely speak out, safe with their brethren at their backs, now that they have a platform with apparent political viability, and are too strong and numerous to be shut down. Or perhaps they were always shouting about it, but now we’ve given them the spotlight and chased away the shadows. Now they (once more) have figureheads in prominent political positions. They have emerged from the cracks in the world and are standing up. Events like the election of Trump, and the alt-right movements following or running in tandem elsewhere, are taken as a complete validation of their opinions, both those previously declared and those previously hidden deep down in obscurity.
And the left sits down and whines and licks itself and looks up with sad, protesting eyes and blames itself.
Do we really think that most of these small town people were – before the initial rise of Trump – really that up do date and widespread on Tumblr and Twitter and the various online frontline progressive echo chambers? Sure, the left called them racist a lot – and upset their precious, fragile pride at the very idea that they might *gasp* hold racist atttidues – but to take such umbrage surely meant that they already held the views they had, before they were called out on them. It was not that the these views did not exist, and were wormed into being by the faults of the left, but simply that they might have been exaggerated and galvanised under the toxic, populist breath of Trump and Brexit and so forth.
It’s like with the movie Borat. People will open up about the nastier things they think when they’re with someone they think agrees with them. Maybe that’s the unpleasant prime reason – that white nationalism and a desperate need for ‘Othering’ was there all along, fermenting just under the public eye (unless you were looking in the right places and didn’t have your head in the clouds/echo chambers). It just needed a spearhead, a public, visible sense of unity with the likeminded.
The Tumblrism and occasional much-derided liberal arts college campus culture isn’t all there is to the left, just like bigotry isn’t all there is to the right, but that’s how the media (on both sides) has framed it, as though it really plays a significant part. Sure, it helped to incite the alt-right counterculture – but I’d argue that counterculture was looking to be incited, and that giving them their fodder was just an unfortunate price of progress (not progress in all respects, but in the sense of sidelining the white male in order to support underprivileged minority groups – yes).
But while the alt-right helped Trump win, and he wouldn’t have existed as a candidate at all without them at the beginning – that didn’t mean he won the election from them. America is too vast and varied, and most voters I really doubt would have a clue about most of the things alt-righters meme about and circle jerk to in their own online safe spaces. An America where Trump succeeded entirely or almost entirely on the alt-reich vote is not one where Obama could ever have won two terms.
You want to know the biggest reason Trump won? Not his beginning, not his rise, but why he won? I wouldn’t say the left’s identity politics or its poor communication, I wouldn’t say safe spaces or “SJW agendas”, or any of that. I think if you wanted a single core cause, it could be summed up in one easy word.
(Bernie would have won!)
Enough said on that score, it’s been done to death and I’m sure I don’t need to go into it. Suffice to say, I’m certainly not “With Her”, nor ever was.
I agree that the left need better communication – but so does every side. The left is more varied than the right, and certainly far more at war with itself. The infighting is constant. But it’s still just a vast group of individuals after all (this might be hard for some to believe but the left isn’t a hive mind), and as individuals, as common, deeply flawed human beings, they are just as susceptible to easy insults online rather than calm debate, and to anger, trolling, arrogance, patronisation and frustration just as right-wingers are. They’re still just people; they don’t suddenly have a different fundamental way of acting and responding because they’re left-wing.
The left and right are, after all, both entirely reactionary. If people among the left try to debate and discuss pleasantly, rationally and logically (and even empathetically) online, and it does miraculously still happen, do you really think they will continue with that ad finitum when responded to with constant disparagement, verbal shutdowns, all the fallacies in the book, and the same buzzword insults used over and over (‘triggered’, ‘cuck’, ‘snowflake’, ‘libtard’, ‘typical tolerant leftie’, ‘liberal tears’, ‘safe space’ etc.)? Sometimes it seems immediately responding with these aforementioned buzzwords are literally all that’s required of the alt-right when engaging in any capacity – even worse than the left’s reliance on words like “racist”.
Yes, it does indeed go both ways. Neither side should ever pretend a great deal of its supporters don’t shut down arguments and turn to insults as a first resort. Everything is reactionary. I have deep respect for those who continue to engage in as polite and reasoned discourse as they can, but can you truly blame those who fall to frustration and cynicism, and just plain give up on ever trying to take the high road?
The left wing has its hypocrisies of course – we all do – but in my opinion nothing compares to the alt-right. It annoys me that people expect the left wing to be weak, pacifist and to bow down under pressure, and yet when they are confrontational and fight suddenly it’s “ooh, see the so-called tolerance of the left! They’re the real thugs.” Non-violence only works because it is the velvet glove covering the iron fist.
Or people on the right will accuse the left of being the real racists (because of a fear-mongering and pride-sensitive concept of an anti-white agenda that is almost farcical if it wasn’t clung to by so many), or of being foul mouthed (witness the irony of all those comments attacking Madonna’s “degenerate” and “disgusting” speech at the Women’s March, whilst lauding the “straight-talking” of Trump).
The ultimate double standards come to communication. That the left wing actually accuses ITSELF, agreeing with the right, of not talking nicely and politely and limply enough, whilst giving the alt-right a free reign to be as horrible as they like, because hey, it’s the right, they don’t know any better right? They can be as nasty as they like to whoever they like (well, apart from good white Christian men of course), whereas it’s the left who has to bend the knee and not hurt the alt-right’s fragile snowflake super-easily-offended feelings (yep, there’s the final irony). Apparently a leftie showing some fight in them is more objectionable than a neo-nazi whose belief system is based on state violence and ethnic cleansing (“soft” or otherwise).
The most important quality for every member of every political persuasion is self-awareness. I feel members of every side supremely lack that. As I’ve already stated, everything is reactionary, and people need to recognise that more. Someone will take one particularly aggressive left/rightwinger and use that to then fuel their own future verbal assaults, because all left/rightwingers are the same, right? And because it’s easier to rise to anger and insults than to discuss and debate, it just creates a shitstorm that never, ever dies down. And when someone does offer an olive branch and try and debate rationally (which I do happen to see much more often on the left, but then again I am biased) it’s too late, the waters are already thoroughly muddied – all I see in reply to those honest posters are endless insults and ad hominems.
It’s fascinating (in a profoundly irritating way) to see the left painted as a weak target (both by its opponents and by itself). The right is so, so, SO easy to attack. Especially the alt-right. They fail on so many counts – science being one of them (the left has it’s science problems too, but not as many). And yet the right keep winning. That’s because the majority of people are naturally, innately drawn to right-wing concepts like the xenophobia of Othering, traditional values, deep faith and national identity/pride. The alt-right just exaggerates them all, and plays up to the idea of the wounded and victimised white man left behind.
It’s up to the left to pry people away from these tendencies, and that’s why they have the much harder fight. The alt-right could literally just sit there and trot out buzzwords and make a million offensive gaffes and piss off whoever they like, and lie and lie and lie more than any other, and act like total fools, absurdist caricatures, and they’d still have a good chance of winning, simply because they play on age-old fears and miseries and bitterness of a changing new world, simply because they tell people what they want to hear. Really, just about all you need to do is shout “BAH, IMMIGRATION!” and you’ll be applauded. The bar is set very low for right-wing populists.
Because they did win. They won because of establishment politicians like Hillary, who left them behind in the ensuing march of globalisation. They won because everybody confused the modern strain of liberal with the left wing, and they needed a real alternative. They won because the left was weak and divided, and because the siren calls of the right were attractive. A desire to be Great Again (when were they great exactly? Nobody seems to be pointing out exact time periods here).
They won. For now.
The real question for those lefties blaming themselves is: do we then open up leftleaning doors and deliberately give greater free reign and tolerance to attitudes that we were trying to stamp out or block, just so we get their vote? Which attitudes? A great many people want validation and acceptance of white pride and for Christianity to be free of persecution (i.e. keep privilege), for groups like BLM to be shut down, for the feminist movement to end, and for transexualism and other LGBT issues to be laughed out the room. Others want state-sanctioned violence against minorities and protesters, and worse besides. And they want the freedom to discuss these things as viable alternatives-certain-to-become-mainstream-once-more. What lines are drawn? How much lenience do you give regression? How wide do you open the door to fascism? And that’s not even getting started on climate change denialism, which affects us all and is the single biggest issue of them all.
Space to debate is good, of course it is, but it is also surely naive if you don’t realise that confronting certain deeply held (perhaps crossing generations) issues and trying to get these people to acknowledge them as deeply problematic is to them the very same as being victimised and having their free speech infringed upon. Go on, try and debate a staunch white nationalist. See where it gets you. See where validating these attitudes in the name of fairness get you. I don’t know, maybe you’d like things to return to a 1930s Germany state of… expectation.
The biggest priority of a racist is that nobody should be allowed to call them racist. Apparently not honouring this will always be something the left has to answer for.
Certainly, the left (that cyclopean hive mind…) needs to do better at appealing to what people “do” like, rather than simply what is wrong with them. Not that that should be entirely left out the picture, but it should be tempered with “yes, I understand where you’re coming from, but [here’s something you like and is good for you]”. Oh, and people on the left should strive to be more self-aware and careful before throwing out complicated, layered terms like ‘privilege’ (especially when white middle-class students do it), and to better explain accusations of racism.
That said, they’re all just individuals, barking at each other online.
It’s good to be self-critical, of course (it is after all a necessary effect and component of good self-awareness), but not if you only do that at the expense of combatting your opponents, especially when your opponents have zero interest in their own self-criticism. It’s simply become popular, both individually and in a wider narrative, to hate the left, because they’re perpetually seen as the victim (even when they’re winning), probably because they victimise themselves. They need to start standing up. They need to be careful that using certain words too much could trivialise them in the eyes of others, and they need to focus on pushing a stronger, more unifying narrative. They need to stop giving so much attention to its most farcical and sensationalist fringe elements and individuals. They need to start representing the people and stop relying on corporate establishment politicians to provide ugly echoes of what the left is really about. They need to offer hope.
And in particular, we need to settle down with this perverse pleasure in identifying the left as left’s worst enemy. We’re like some abused domestic partner with Stockholm syndrome at times – “oh, it must be my fault” – it’s no wonder we get identified as handwringers. Less pacifistic conciliation and infighting, more fighting the right (but in a more effective manner), for god’s sake!
Rise the Alt-Left!
P.S. As a finisher, here’s a quote from a friend-of-a-friend, lifted from a Facebook discussion that inspired this piece:
“What I do know is that our failure doesn’t come from our echo chambers or our sneering. If echo chambers and sneering were enough to lose a referendum/election, the right wouldn’t stand a chance. The difference between the left and the right is that the right seems able to create numerous smaller, independent echo chambers. The right manages to play the middle class, working class and unemployed off against each other. Meanwhile, the left seems obsessed with making sure everyone is on the same page, so you wind up with intersectionality, identity politics, third-wave feminism and so forth.
This also ties in with sneering. The right is able to create closed communities and conversations so that it can sneer at whatever person or group it wants to, create strawmen and bogeymen alike. This doesn’t work so well on the left. The reason the left is prone to squabbling and in-fighting is that our echo chambers aren’t soundproofed. If someone on the left starts acting like an idiot, we draw battle lines to attack or defend them. If someone on the right starts acting like an idiot, they elect him to the highest office in the land.
That’s not to say the left doesn’t have problems with self-righteous arseholes. But it just feels weird that we’re so quick to blame ourselves for a fascist demagogue getting into power when we weren’t the ones supporting him. We seem to want to twist the facts to paint ourselves as the problem. We don’t listen to the right? Must be our fault for sequestering ourselves away in our echo chambers. The right doesn’t listen to us? Must be our fault for coming across as sneering tossers. I’m just saying the reasoning seems a little suspect.
All that said, I will agree with you that key influential elements of the left have no interest in dialogue or debate. What you miss out, however, is that their lack of interest in debate is exactly why they’re influential. Left or right, people seem drawn to those who are loud, obnoxious and uncompromising. For some time now, I’ve felt that the most controversial thing you can say about an issue is that it’s complicated or multifaceted.
Speaking of things being more complicated than they appear, the rise of the alt-right and everything associated with it. Yeah, some of it was the left acting like pricks. But another, not insignificant part of it, was caused by the right being fearmongering cunts. Painting these politically correct, gay agenda-pushing, feminazi SJWs as a large, faceless, all-controlling, sinister force. Getting people to close their hearts and minds to anything that seems a bit too progressive; to lash out at anything too left wing.
And you might say that this reaction (along with people voting for Trump or Brexit) is understandable, given what divisive bastards the left have been acting like. But then couldn’t you say the way the left has been behaving is understandable, given the way the right has behaved? I’m sure I’ve spoken at length about the cyclical nature of political hostility before, so I guess I’ll cut this short by saying that paying dismissiveness unto dismissiveness is not the answer. Although, I guess it is understandable.”