I knew my side had problems. The dogmatism, the self-righteousness, the condescension. But the truth was on our side and we weren’t driven by blind, bigoted hate.
And then the Kavanaugh hearings happened. I cannot overstate how big that was for me. I had been an unpopular kid at school, and to me an ululating, smug crowd hounding a person is disgusting by default. I also had to wonder if such egregious, ridiculous, obvious lies are manufactured and spread so easily, is there other stuff I had been lied to about?
After the hearings, it only got worse. There was a Kavanaugh a month, then a week, then every other day. People – often very sincerely leftist – hounded and destroyed, with incredible viciousness, by what I still considered my side. I have no idea how to describe what happened to Joseph Massey or Sarah Braasch or so many other people if not as hateful bigotry.
In a somewhat pathetic attempt to persuade myself that the other side was still worse, I did the unthinkable and turned on Fox News. I settled down comfortably and awaited a huge dose of reassuring bigotry. It never came but I didn’t give up. I started reading every author and following every online personality my side held to be an exemplar of bigotry. All I wanted was to be reassured that things were worse among my side’s political opponents.
While I was scouring these books and articles in search of bigotry, I couldn’t avoid discovering that “the other side” actually had a coherent, logical and intelligent narrative of history, politics, current events. Before, I was certain that all “they” had was “boo, let’s form a mob and go beat up some marginalized people!” And now I discovered that not only did they have an explanation for their views but that their explanation actually made more sense than ours. It was more nuanced and had fewer holes that needed to be tapped by “if this story doesn’t make sense it’s because the other guys are hateful bigots and nothing they do makes sense.”
Do you know, for instance, the conservative explanation of why leftism (liberalism, whatever) exists? It isn’t based on ad hominem attacks at all. Leftists in this narrative aren’t uniquely evil, bigoted, of hateful. They have a different understanding of the relationship between human nature and human collectivity. Different as in mistaken, not as in “they deny the humanity of everybody else.”
Actually, this thing about erasing people or denying their humanity or words being equivalent to physical violence isn’t part of conservative thinking at all. You hear a lot of, “look at the dumb stuff these leftists say, they are so stupid” but never “look at the dumb stuff they say, it’s just like murder.”
Overall, the interest in analogies (God, how I detest analogies) is much weaker among conservatives. The death metaphors, while not completely absent, are not nearly as central as they are to the Left. If a conservative starts on with “you just want to murder…” you know that what’s coming is “babies” and they are talking about abortion. (And it’s a dumb argument that will never win until it’s proponents figure that out). But with leftists, “you just want to murder” invariably means “you departed from some minor point of orthodoxy in some utterly trivial way.”
The love of hyperbole overall is much stronger on the Left. The apocalyptic thinking, the negativity, the sky-high anxiety. When was anything ever good? When was anything a positive moment? A victory? In 1968? And the guilt! To be a good leftist you constantly have to feel guilt and perform rites of abject self-flagellation. If you are male, you have to post or pretend not to mind articles and discussions about how men suck. If you are white, you learn or pretend not to mind when “white” is used as a stand-in for “bad.” If you are healthy, educated, not on anti-psychotics, not hideous, not starving, and not hating your body, you have to feel constantly, suffocatingly apologetic.
So in the end, I had to go with the movement that is more intellectually solid and goes less against my sense of self and psychological makeup.
P.S. As I write this, I got an email from my union informing me that it will try to force the administration to fire a worker who had a workplace spat with another worker who is black. And, of course, we have to assume that he’s racist because there’s no other reason coworkers can be upset with each other. I could have spared myself the trouble of writing these gigantic posts and simply posted this. I don’t know how anybody can justify being on the side of… this. And I’m ashamed I ever was.