If you thought someone running for president had called you a “deplorable” racist—and you weren’t—what might you do? You probably wouldn’t vote for them.
Last week, America chose Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton. Part of that choice was that an older, white working class was tired of a political and media elite that doesn’t even attempt to understand them.
They were tired of being talked down to and belittled.
I’m a libertarian conservative, a significant part of which has always been trying to convince more conventional conservatives, particularly older ones, to understand that marijuana legalization, gay marriage and immigration won’t “destroy” the country. We want the right to understand that long held fears over certain social change are simply unfounded.
We say the drug war has done more harm than good, particularly to minority communities. We have urged for gay acceptance. We say immigrants aren’t the enemy, police militarization and brutality are real problems, that our criminal justice system needs reforming, and Muslims should not be demonized, particularly in times of widespread public fear.
Little by little, attitudes have progressed on some of these fronts, due in part to age demographics but also because the overall culture has shifted, with the right shifting with it. Even in the age of Trump.
But there is frequently a pushback from conservatives too—“You’re a leftist,” a rightist might say to a libertarian or anyone else who make these points.
This is a pejorative, but it’s not just partisan—it’s saying that those who promote social tolerance are allied with an intolerable lot on the other side of the political spectrum who are hell bent on squelching debate. Conservatives don’t want believe the left even wants a dialogue.
Conservatives aren’t wrong about this. The increasingly characteristic intolerance of the left unquestionably helped Trump win.
British actor and comedian Tom Walker—a progressive vehemently opposed to Trump—went on an angry but poignant video rant after the election. If you haven’t seen the viral video yet, it is worth your time.
“Not everyone that voted for Trump is a sexist or a racist,’ Walker yells. “How many times does the vote not have to go our way before we realize that our argument isn’t won by hurling labels and insults?” Walker continued:
The left is responsible for this result because the left have now decided that any other opinion, any other way of looking at the world is unacceptable. We don’t debate anymore because the left won the cultural wars. So if you’re on the right, you’re a freak. You’re evil. You’re racist. You’re stupid. You are a basket of deplorables. How do you think people are going to vote if you talk to them like that?
“When has anyone ever been persuaded by being insulted or labeled,” Walker asked?
When all you do is ridicule people without listening to them, they tune you out. You lose your ability to reason with them, and deservedly so.
When the Tonight Show’s Jimmy Fallon conducted a generally light-hearted interview with Donald Trump in September, the left excoriated the host for not being tougher. Some even condemned NBC for having Trump on.
Think about it: Some consider it unacceptable for a major network to feature a Republican presidential nominee (who would actually become president) and also believe it is the host’s moral duty to treat the candidate with contempt. Johnny Carson did not grill every political figure he interviewed. Neither did Jay Leno or David Letterman. It was usually some substance mixed with a lot of fun.
They were entertainers.
Imagine the average American flipping through television channels late night, looking for a laugh or a mental break, who instead see famous people insulting them and constantly narrowing the parameters of permissible dissent, leaving millions of viewers out of their progressive vision of America.
That has an effect and Trump benefitted. “Trump won because he convinced a great number of Americans that he would destroy political correctness,” Reason’s Robby Soave believes.
“We have made people unable to articulate their position for fear of being shut down. They’re embarrassed to say it,” Tom Walker ranted. “Every time someone on the left has said, ‘You mustn’t say that,’ they are contributing to this culture,” he added.
Changing hearts and minds has always required dialogue. Can our political discourse become a two-way street again?
Or in their anger over the election, will progressives take away the wrong lessons and make things worse?