Tuesday, May 2, 2017

How Does one get from "Trump Voters Registered a Protest against the Hegemony of Liberal Values" to "Liberal Values are the Problem?"

David A. French/from his National Review bio
He looks likable enough! 
David French, a senior writer for National Review, uses liberal criticism of Bret Stephens to illustrate an argument--and he paints with a broad brush indeed. America has a problem, says French: the problem is not Donald Trump and his Fox addled supporters, the problem is smug liberalism.

Yeah, let's try to illustrate that with smug conservatism.

"Liberal dogma is fast becoming a secular religion," says French. It's a curious criticism coming from a man of religion. What, pray tell? It's O.K. for you to be religious but not us liberals?

French, it seems, means to generally impugn everything liberals stand for: equal rights, rule of law, due process, separation of church and state, a tolerant and kind stance towards sexual identity issues, tolerance and caring towards refugees and immigrants, racial equality, universal education, free speech, a minimum wage, progressive taxation, equality between the sexes, equal representation in Congress, public support for the arts, universal health care (not just access to healthcare if you can afford it), security in retirement, and caring about the environment ("Liberal Values"). It's hard to tell what he means exactly. He does not offer up his definition of Liberal Values. But if French wants to carve out some of these Liberal Values from his criticism, I have a comments section and he can clarify. Specifically, though, he means to impugn Samantha Bee and climate change.

French does not practice what he says we should aspire to.

America has a "smug liberal problem," he says.  He means the late night satire shows (Samantha Bee's Full Frontal, Stephen Colbert's Late Show, or John Oliver's Last Week Tonight) and the liberals who watch these shows.  They (these liberals embracing Liberal Values) are shallow because they only have a "quick Wikipedia- and Google-search level of factual understanding," charges French.

His headline is a perversion of the recent Ross Douthat column in the NYT, Clinton's Samantha Bee Problem. Douthat made the interesting, and I think valid, point that late night satire shows reflect the ascendancy of big city culture and that the Trump phenomenon can be viewed, in part, as a reaction by his supporters to what they perceive as the stifling hegemony of big city Liberal Values: from sexual equality, to racial equality, to support for science. "Outside the liberal tent," says Douthat, "the feeling of being suffocated by the left’s cultural dominance is turning voting Republican into an act of cultural rebellion."

But there is a gulf of difference between Douthat's headline of "Clinton's Samantha Bee problem" and David French's argument that "America has a Samantha Bee problem."  David French has taken Douthat's electoral politics analysis and turned it into "Liberals are the problem."

French points to liberal criticism (all liberal criticism) of Bret Stephens as a paragon of the "smug liberal problem." "So shallow," as Trump would put it. But French might think about leading more by example. He does not. As is often the case, to find the sinner, look to the one who complains about sin the loudest.

French launches his broadside at the shallowness of the "smug liberal problem" he sees embodied in the criticism of Bret Stephens, while demonstrating no more than a "shallow and quick Google-search level of understanding" of the criticism liberals make of Bret Stephens. If French has a deeper understanding, he avoids going there.

What characterizes Bret Stephens, recently hired to write Op-Ed pieces for the New York Times, is "an irritable callowness that easily flares into prejudice" laments liberal Philip Weiss who has been following Stephens's Mid-East writings carefully.  Weiss cites chapter and verse to make his case.

What characterizes Bret Stephens is that he is "utterly disingenuous," and that he "uses incorrect facts and terrible arguments" in the service of not doing anything about climate change, says liberal Dave Roberts, who writes about energy and climate change at Vox. Roberts cites chapter and verse to make his case.  He makes arguments.  You wouldn't know it from reading David French.

French has a valid point: you can't gain adherents by mocking them. Fair enough.  And, yes, Samantha Bee and Stephen Colbert, and John Oliver are smug.  So is Paul Ryan.  Paul Ryan's smugness annoys me. The antidote, I find, is to focus on the substance. That's, mostly, what the satirists on late night television are doing.

French can't take it. He doesn't want to deal with the substance, and, as Hasan Minhaj quipped about Donald Trump: he can't take a joke. So he resorts to:

  • "The only people who can't recognize our nation has a smug liberal problem are smug liberals;"
  • "Jake Tapper 'called out' Bee and other late night 'propagandists;'" (Watch, I wouldn't put it that way)
  • "It’s like sitting through an especially ignorant and heavy-handed Ivy League lecture, complete with the sycophantic crowd lapping up every word."
  • French repeats a not funny and somewhat shocking tweet of OMFG from George Takei that Bee re-tweeted (b/c all these shows are just like that all the time); and 
  • "smug liberals were in full melt-down mode over Bret Stephens." 
All the while French is demonstrating smug contempt for liberals while failing to engage substantively in a fair and honest manner with the arguments.  

French accuses David Roberts, who wrote a serious and lengthy piece at Vox as "bizarrely" and "inadvertently" admitting that science isn't, by definition, 100% certain.  But there is nothing "bizarre" or "inadvertent" about this: read Roberts. Disagree if you will, but engage. 

"Liberal dogma" (read liberal drivel) "conspicuously omits any requirement that one love his enemies," French continues.  "Post-Christian countries eschew Christian values, including the very values that can and should prevent even the most ardent activists from becoming arrogant . . . and intolerant."  Does that sound arrogant and intolerant? To my ears it does. 

"The unbelievers deserve their pain," French concludes.  With Christians like that, who needs to worry about post-Christian countries? 

Follow me on Twitter @RolandNikles

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