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Vox: The Smug Style in American Liberalism

cpwill

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I don't agree with a lot of the author's particular beliefs (I think is economic assumptions are off), but this is fantastically well-written, and, I think, important for more than just liberals. Conservative intellectuals would do well to read it and heed it as well.


Topical to the election:

Here's the conclusion I draw: If Donald Trump has a chance in November, it is because the knowing will dictate our strategy. Unable to countenance the real causes of their collapse, they will comfort with own impotence by shouting, "Idiots!" again and again, angrier and angrier, the handmaidens of their own destruction.

The smug style resists empathy for the unknowing. It denies the possibility of a politics whereby those who do not share knowing culture, who do not like the right things or know the Good Facts or recognize the intellectual bankruptcy of their own ideas can be worked with, in spite of these differences, toward a common goal.

It is this attitude that has driven the dispossessed into the arms of a candidate who shares their fury. It is this attitude that may deliver him the White House, a "serious" threat, a threat to be mocked and called out and hated, but not to be taken seriously.

The wages of smug is Trump
.


And some of the important part:

It is central to the liberal self-conception that what separates them from reactionaries is a desire to help people, a desire to create a fairer and more just world. Liberals still want, or believe they still want, to make a more perfect union.

Whether you believe they are deluded or not, whether you believe this project is worthwhile in any form or not, what I am trying to tell you is that the smug style has fundamentally undermined even the aspiration, that it has made American liberalism into the worst version of itself.
It is impossible, in the long run, to cleave the desire to help people from the duty to respect them...

If they don't (and they won't, no matter how much of your Facts you make them consume), you're free to write them off and mock them. When they suffer, it's their just desserts.

Make no mistake: I am not suggesting that liberals adopt a fuzzy, gentler version of their politics. I am not suggesting they compromise their issues for the sake of playing nice. What I am suggesting is that they consider how the issues they actually fight for have drifted away from their egalitarian intentions.

I am suggesting that they notice how hating and ridiculing the people they say they want to help has led them to stop helping those people, too.

I am suggesting that in the case of a Kim Davis, liberalism resist the impulse to go beyond the necessary legal fight and explicitly delight in punishing an old foe.

I am suggesting that they instead wonder what it might be like to have little left but one's values; to wake up one day to find your whole moral order destroyed; to look around and see the representatives of a new order call you a stupid, hypocritical hick without bothering, even, to wonder how your corner of your poor state found itself so alienated from them in the first place. To work with people who do not share their values or their tastes, who do not live where they live or like what they like or know their Good Facts or their jokes.

This is not a call for civility. Manners are not enough. The smug style did not arise by accident, and it cannot be abolished with a little self-reproach. So long as liberals cannot find common cause with the larger section of the American working class, they will search for reasons to justify that failure. They will resent them. They will find, over and over, how easy it is to justify abandoning them further. They will choose the smug style.

Maybe the cycle is too deeply set already. Perhaps the divide, the disdain, the whole crack-up are inevitable. But if liberal good intentions are to make a play for a better future, they cannot merely recognize the ways they've come to hate their former allies. They must begin to mend the ways they lost them in the first place.


I recommend taking the time to simmer in and read the whole thing.
 

TobyOne

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"Smug" is just a euphemism for pretentious douchebag.
 
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