Trump is losing it after more sources confirm his alleged comments on veterans. Ana Kasparian and Cenk Uygur discuss on The Young Turks. Keep Hope (and TYT) Alive: http://tyt.com/go
Like other realms, American intellectual life has been marked by a series of exclusions. The oldest and vastest was the exclusion of people of color from the commanding institutions of our culture.
Today, there’s the exclusion of conservatives from academic life. Then there’s the exclusion of working-class voices from mainstream media. Our profession didn’t used to be all coastal yuppies, but now it mostly is. Then there’s the marginalization of those with radical critiques — from say, the Marxist left and the theological right.
Intellectual exclusion and segregation have been terrible for America, poisoning both the right and the left.
Conservatives were told their voices didn’t matter, and many reacted in a childish way that seemed to justify that exclusion. A corrosive spirit of resentment and victimhood spread across the American right — an intellectual inferiority complex combined with a moral superiority complex.
For many on the right the purpose of thinking changed. Thinking was no longer for understanding. Thinking was for belonging. Right-wing talk radio is the endless repetition of familiar mantras to reassure listeners that they are all on the same team. Thinking was for conquest: Those liberals think they’re better than us, but we own the libs.
Thinking itself became suspect. Sarah Palin and Donald Trump reintroduced anti-intellectualism into the American right: a distrust of the media, expertise and facts. A president who dispenses with the pen inevitably takes up the club.
Intellectual segregation has been bad for the left, too. It produced insularity. Progressives are often blindsided by reality — blindsided that Trump won the presidency; blindsided that Joe Biden clinched the Democratic presidential nomination. The second consequence is fragility. When you make politics the core of your religious identity, and you shield yourself from heresy, then any glimpse of that heresy is going to provoke an extreme emotional reaction. The third consequence is conformity. Writers are now expected to write as a representative of a group, in order to affirm the self-esteem of the group. Predictability is the point.
In some ways the left has become even more conformist than the right. The liberal New Republic has less viewpoint diversity than the conservative National Review — a reversal of historical patterns. Christopher Hitchens was one of the great essayists in America. He would be unemployable today because there was no set of priors he wasn’t willing to offend.
Now the boundaries of exclusion are shifting again. What we erroneously call “cancel culture” is an attempt to shift the boundaries of the sayable so it excludes not only conservatives but liberals and the heterodox as well. Hence the attacks on, say, Steven Pinker and Andrew Sullivan.
This is not just an elite or rare phenomenon. Sixty-two percent of Americans say they are afraid to share things they believe, according to a poll for the Cato Institute. A majority of staunch progressives say they feel free to share their political views, but majorities of liberals, moderates and conservatives are afraid to.
Happily, there’s a growing rebellion against groupthink and exclusion. A Politico poll found that 49 percent of Americans say the cancel culture has a negative impact on society and only 27 say it has a positive impact. This month Yascha Mounk started Persuasion, an online community to celebrate viewpoint diversity and it already has more than 25,000 subscribers.
After being pushed out from New York magazine, Sullivan established his own newsletter, The Weekly Dish, on Substack, a platform that makes it easy for readers to pay writers for their work. He now has 60,000 subscribers, instantly making his venture financially viable.
Other heterodox writers are already on Substack. Matt Taibbi and Judd Legum are iconoclastic left-wing writers with large subscriber bases. The Dispatch is a conservative publication featuring Jonah Goldberg, David French and Stephen F. Hayes, superb writers but too critical of Trump for the orthodox right. The Dispatch is reportedly making about $2 million a year on Substack.
The first good thing about Substack is there’s no canceling. A young, talented heterodox thinker doesn’t have to worry that less talented conformists in his or her organization will use ideology as an outlet for their resentments. The next good thing is there are no ads, just subscription revenue. Online writers don’t have to chase clicks by writing about whatever Trump tweeted 15 seconds ago. They can build deep relationships with the few rather than trying to affirm or titillate the many.
It’s possible that the debate now going on stupidly on Twitter can migrate to newsletters. It’s possible that writers will bundle, with established writers promoting promising ones. It’s possible that those of us at the great remaining mainstream outlets will be enmeshed in conversations that are more freewheeling and thoughtful.
Mostly I’m hopeful that the long history of intellectual exclusion and segregation will seem disgraceful. It will seem disgraceful if you’re at a university and only 1.5 percent of the faculty members are conservative. (I’m looking at you, Harvard). A person who ideologically self-segregates will seem pathetic. I’m hoping the definition of a pundit changes — not a foot soldier out for power, but a person who argues in order to come closer to understanding.
Thomas Chatterton Williams talks cancel culture and his contribution to the Harper’s Letter on Justice and Open Debate. Matt and Katie discuss the departure of Bari Weiss from the New York Times
It’s true that some leftists try to repress viewpoints they find offensive. A group of intellectual luminaries has even faced a backlash for releasing an open letter decrying this trend. But here’s the thing. The right has little standing to complain about the left’s cancel culture, because it has its own cancel culture that is just as pervasive and might be even more powerful.
Trump’s hypocrisy is glaring. As my fellow Post columnist Catherine Rampell pointed out, he is trying to intimidate critical media organizations, stop the publication of books that he doesn’t like, and purge the executive branch of anyone who disagrees with him. To cite but one egregious example: Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman was fired from the National Security Council and now has been forced into early retirement, without a peep of protest from Republicans, because he testified truthfully about Trump’s impeachable conduct.
The rest of the conservative movement can be just as intolerant of dissent. I learned this the hard way when I was the op-ed editor of the Wall Street Journal from 1997 to 2002. As I recount in my book “The Corrosion of Conservatism: Why I Left the Right,” I was nearly fired for trying to run an op-ed critical of supply-side economics by Paul Krugman, a future Nobel laureate in economics. The editorial-page philosophy was that it would run one liberal column a week; if readers wanted more, they could turn to the New York Times.
In more recent years, I have been dismayed to see conservative organizations purging Never Trumpers. There are practically no Trump critics left at Fox News save for Juan Williams,whose liberal views probably have little resonance with its conservative audience. Never Trump conservatives such as Steve Hayes, George F. Will and Bill Kristol are long gone at the network. Fox’s prime-time programming is wall-to-wall Trump idolatry.
Something similar happened at National Review. The conservative magazine ran a cover article in January 2016 “Against Trump,” but it has since become noisily pro-Trump. When it does gingerly criticize Trump, it typically asserts that his opponents are way worse. Two of its leading Trump skeptics— David French and Jonah Goldberg —decamped to a new website called the Dispatch. Another new website, the Bulwark, was started by refugees from the Weekly Standard, which had been the most anti-Trump conservative publication until it was shuttered at the end of 2018 by its owner, a major Republican donor named Philip Anschutz.
These are hardly isolated examples. Sol Stern, a former fellow at the Manhattan Institute and longtime contributor to its influential magazine, City Journal, has just published an essay in Democracy: A Journal of Ideas recounting how these New York-based entities were Trumpified. (The Manhattan Institute’s director of communications declined to comment on Stern’s article.)
Initially, City Journal, like other conservative organs, was quite critical of the reality TV star. But once it became clear Trump was going to be the Republican nominee, criticism of him all but vanished from its pages. When Stern pitched an article about “Trump’s hate-filled campaign rallies,” he was told, “We’re steering clear of that now.” The pressure to toe the Trump line only intensified after his election, because, Stern writes, the Manhattan Institute’s major supporters include Trump donors such as Rebekah Mercer and Paul Singer.
Stern resigned in protest in October 2017. He hoped that his letter of resignation would spark an “internal conversation about City Journal’s political direction in the Trump era,” but, he writes, it never happened. “The historical validation of Trump thus became our magazine’s default position. For a journal of ideas, this was a dereliction of duty.”
Not even Trump’s catastrophic mishandling of the novel coronavirus has altered City Journal’s approach. While the magazine has blasted New York Mayor Bill de Blasio’s performance as a “daily exercise in justification, accountability denial and self-aggrandizement,” it has hardly mentioned Trump’s scandalous role. Stern notes: “Only one piece, written by an outside contributor, cited the President’s slow response to the crisis. Yet even that minor criticism was rendered moot when the writer falsely claimed that Trump’s performance was no worse than that of any other world leader.”
All organizations have the right to tell their audiences what they want to hear. But when it comes to a diversity of opinions, the right doesn’t practice what it preaches. It (rightly) demands conservative representation in universities, corporations and mainstream media organizations, but it shuns liberal views in its own sphere of control — which now extends to the entire federal government.