Month: January 2019

The Rise of the Neo-Liberal and the Death of Political Discourse

I think one of the things I hate most about Trump has been what he has done to this country. And I don’t mean his policies and the way he excites his base. I’m talking about what he has done to my friends. I’m talking about what he has done to liberals. I’m finding it harder and harder to talk to my liberal friends every day that this reckless and dangerous administration teeters more into absurdity. I’m finding that some of my closest friends have become so blind with rage at the man that they have become hysterical and are acting irrationally. I see it in the rise of a kneejerk political correctness and the invasion of censorship. Suddenly, we have become a bunch of entitled and delicate jerks that no one can say anything around, and common decency and respect for diversity isn’t enough. I’m not talking about the good kind of political correctness, where we banish hate speech and bigotry. I’m talking about the kind of virulent political correctness that goes after well-meaning people and attacks free speech. Now we have to police everything we say, shut down productive public discourse, and punish everyone who thinks differently than us. Nowadays, you have a right to your opinion, just so long as you share mine. Voltaire is often credited with saying, “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” Fittingly, this quote is erroneously credited to Voltaire, when it was actually a female writer named Evelyn Beatrice Hall, writing ABOUT Voltaire. The point is, the Left has somehow become the party of censorship and the shutting down of free speech. This ties into identity politics, which has similarly hijacked the party. The Democrats used to be the party of social justice and advocating for the poor. It used to be about healthcare and gender parity. It used to be something entirely different than it is now.


I’m not suggesting that Trump started this movement. This has been gaining momentum since the ‘90s, at least. However, Donald Trump took advantage of this weakness and exploited it for his own power and political ends.


We have become a party of petty vigilantes, who seek to shut down political discourse, and silence our opponents. We have lost the ability to have civil discourse, and we have become course and undignified in our rhetoric. I was inspired to write this essay as a response to newly elected Representative Rashida Tlaib calling Donald Trump a “motherfucker” and vowing to impeach him on her first day in office. I find this troubling on many levels. Firstly, it is her first day in office and there’s nothing like calling for impeachment when we don’t have all the facts yet. It’s illogical on many levels. For one thing, we haven’t seen the results of the Mueller probe yet, and those will certainly shed some light on any impeachable offenses. Secondly, there is no way impeachment would make it through the Senate, where 67 votes are needed to impeach a sitting president. In my opinion, it’s a fool’s errand at this point. Lastly, this was her first day in office. There is no better way to signal your partisanship and shut down discourse and compromise than to make such a brash statement on your first day. She instantly set the tone and tenor of her time in office. She came across as someone who is going to be combative and unprepared to work across the aisle for her stay in Congress. This is not the kind of precedent you want to set on your very first day.


As for the vulgarity, there is no place for that in politics. Ad hominem attacks are uncalled for, and frankly, beneath the office. However, whenever I express such sentiment, my neo-liberal friends cry out that Trump and the Republicans have said much worse. This is another instance of “what aboutism” where politicians justify their rude and boorish behavior by pointing out that their adversaries have said and done far worse. Of course they have. No one is arguing that the Right have distorted facts and used underhanded methods to discredit and smear the Left. They have also used foul language, and shamefully pandered to their base. Trump has sworn on numerous occasions, and continues to demonstrate his lack of civility and manners. So why should we sink to his level, and do the same? Why should we go low, just because they have? As the saying goes, “Never wrestle with a pig. You both get filthy and the pig likes it.” And of course, the Republicans like it. They feign fake outrage, and condemn the language, but it only furthers their agenda and helps energize their base. By using this kind of language, we are not only lowering ourselves to their course demeanor, we are also giving them plenty of ammunition. This is the kind of rhetoric that fills their coffers and motivates them to vote for the opposition. Just as identity politics alienates the mainstream blue-collar voter, so does language like this. It comes across as desperate and partisan, and it only manages to send more votes to the other side. This kind of course and combative language is supremely unhelpful, and only undermines our message. One of the reasons the Obamas are so well liked and respected, is because they never sunk to such depths. The Right may have hated Obama and obstructed his efforts, but they could never claim that he pandered to his base by attacking his adversaries with such vulgarity. As Michelle Obama famously quipped, “When they go low, we go high.” And that is a principle that the nation observed firsthand. Barack Obama was a gentleman, and he valued civility in politics. We undermine the high road and erode our values when we use such language. Representative Rashida Tlaib was wrong to stoop to such levels.


We have become a divided country, where extremism wins the day and civility is vanquished. No one is willing to compromise anymore, and both sides blame the other for obstruction and gridlock in Washington. The Left has been hijacked by identity politics and has become isolated from mainstream America. The Right is obsessed with lowering taxes, while insisting on building a wall to ensure America’s safety. Republicans are using scare tactics and demonstrably false arguments to justify cruelty in the name of national security. The Right are in the pockets of the NRA and big business, and all of their legislation reflects that. Meanwhile, the Left is also beholden to their donors, and is equally corrupted by money and big business. We have reached an impasse, where neither side is willing to budge, and where we are reduced to name-calling and pointing fingers.


One of the most troubling developments in recent years is the rise of the neo-liberal. This is a word I use to describe progressive liberals who have taken extreme views and steered the party into a polarity that rarely values compromise and civility. The Republicans have taken such extreme views on abortion, reproductive rights, gay marriage, gun control, immigration, and tax breaks for the wealthy, the Left has been forced to react in a similarly extreme way, and has moved so far left, it has alienated much of the electorate. The Democratic party used to be a party that valued universal healthcare, fought for the poor and middle class, endorsed sensible gun laws, and advocated for social programs that aided the poor, the vulnerable, and marginalized groups in this country. However, in recent years, the party that historically stood for free speech and civil discourse has become the party of censorship and vigilante justice. The rise of identity politics has alienated middle America and many working people across the country, who rightly thought their party was fighting for their livelihood and economic prosperity. These were blue-collar voters who were often members of unions and worked hard to support their families and put food on the table. For years, this block of voters had been reliable votes for the Democrats, and they trusted in the party to advocate for them and their interests. And yet, we only need to look back to the candidacy of Hillary Clinton to see a candidate who took this voting block for granted, and falsely believed that she still had their votes. These average Americans came to resent the Left for abandoning their promise of economic prosperity and protections, and for focusing so much on identity politics and political correctness. They were alienated and isolated, and opened the door for a man like Donald Trump to exploit their worse fears and foment their worse instincts. Trump preyed on their concerns about losing jobs to immigrants and their fears of security. He used fake news and false statements to inflate their risks and promised to deliver them from poverty and ensure the safety of their families. And many of these fears were real. The middle class was suffering, and paychecks were not keeping up with escalating costs. People were losing their jobs. But Trump blamed the Democrats and crippling regulations for their despair, and promised to bring coal back, while dismissing the reality of climate change. In reality, many of these jobs were being loss to atomization and industries that simply were not viable anymore. But Trump wasn’t about to admit such truths. Trump exploited their fears and sold them a false bill of goods. That, coupled with the Democrats seemingly abandoning them made for a powder keg, and directly led to his election.


While Trump was winning hearts and minds, the Democrats were ignoring the economy and the interests of the working class. The party had become obsessed with social justice and stamping out inequities everywhere. And don’t get me wrong: these were noble pursuits, and certainly had been integral to the party for years. Since the New Deal, and the evolution of the Democratic Party, social justice had been part and parcel of the party’s platform. However, now it was taking a front seat, and most Democrats weren’t talking about the economy anymore. Many of the blue-collar workers who had made up their base for generations were feeling marginalized and forgotten about. Trump pandered to these fears, and exploited their latent racism, homophobia, and xenophobia, and skillfully pitted the white worker against the immigrant and other people of color.


The neo-liberal has become a thing of scorn, and has managed to erode its base and alienate much of its own party. They have become obsessed with policing the thoughts and actions of Americans – many well meaning and natural allies – to push forth an untenable agenda. We should rightly be advocating for people of color and encouraging diversity, economic parity, and gender equality, but not so virulently attacking our potential allies. We do so at our own peril. By isolating the average American, we come across as elitist and bicoastal, and we unnecessarily fracture our party and pit groups against one another. One reason why the Republicans have been so successful is that they always stay on message and are loyal to the party above everything else. They may squabble and fight during primaries, but as soon as one of their own is nominated, they fall in line and support their man. Lindsey Graham was one of Donald Trump’s harshest critics, but as soon as Trump became President, Graham became one of his most ardent supporters. The Republicans are inordinately better at organization and towing the party line, while Democrats continue to fracture themselves beyond recognition.  Democrats have become so polarized, they’ve abandoned the working person, and been undone by their own best intentions. The moderate Democrat has become obsolete, and there doesn’t seem to be anyone left to negotiate with the other party.


When the neo-liberals become distracted by perceived injustices, they often take the argument too far, and drown in their social activism. The Right has labeled these people “Social Justice Warriors” and “Snowflakes” and rightfully derides their movement for its utter absurdity. While workers in the Midwest are fighting to keep their jobs and we are losing a trade war to China, these neo-liberals are attacking songs like “Baby It’s Cold Outside” and vehemently condemning it as a rape anthem. There are calls to boycott the song, and radio stations across the country bowed to their demands, and pulled the song from their playlist. These are the absurd and petty diversions that the Left has become enchanted by, and what fuels their sense of social justice. There are people all across this country fighting for their livelihoods, and these neo-liberals are winning skirmishes, while losing voters. In the grand scheme of things, issues like songs and patriarchal reading lists seem minor when compared to the real challenges that lie ahead in a radically changing economy. Promoting social justice and equity are important goals, but we must do so in demonstrably positive ways, and use legislation and economic initiatives to raise people out of poverty, fix our critical infrastructure, repair our substandard education system, and fight racism and homophobia through legitimate means. We become distracted and bogged down with every little perceived injustice, and we alienate voters when we seem to forget their justified concerns and focus on the little things. When we play the game of identity politics, we fracture the party and foment adversarial relationships rather than forge alliances.


Many people blame Millennials and the younger generations for taking the party in this direction. This argument does have merit, as we’ve become a society of petty injustices, hurt feelings, and stubborn alliances. We’ve become a nation of victims, who seem to value participation trophies over personal initiative. That’s not to say that there aren’t real disparities and inequities in minority populations. It is very true that we don’t all start from the same place of privilege. Marginalized groups have less access to healthcare, quality education, and resources that seem to favor white males. This is a reality. But rather than pit one group against another, we must strive to combat poverty and injustice in meaningful ways. Social Justice Warriors are not contributing to the discussion; they are shutting it down completely. When a society is made up of individuals who all feel entitled, but none feel accountable, we start blaming others for our own weaknesses. Of course, we must advocate for the marginalized and vulnerable, but we play a dangerous game when we start pointing fingers rather than come up with real and lasting change. There is no doubt that white privilege exists, and that we continue to be entrenched in a white Christian patriarchy. However, it is supremely unhelpful when we point to white middle class or blue-collar workers, and indict them on charges of racism, privilege, and sexism. It’s true that many of these people do fall victim to such trappings of bigotry, but rather than act as their executioners, we must try and understand where they are coming from. That’s not the same thing as endorsing bigotry or intolerance, but it is about building bridges to better understanding. We must pour our best intentions into these people who may have voted for Trump, but may also be woefully undereducated, misinformed, and isolated from others who may look and worship differently than they do. The neo-liberals seem to think that they can ignore this part of the populace and can’t seem to understand how we could have elected a man like Donald Trump. It’s because he spoke to them. He didn’t blame them. He ostensibly sympathized with them. These people don’t need to hear about white privilege and how they’re to blame for the sins of their ancestors. They need real solutions. It is only through education and economic prosperity that we can hope to capture the hearts of these Americans, and make lasting inroads to their intolerance and prejudice.


When neo-liberals attack authors, politicians, and artists from the past who they perceive as racist, sexist, or antithetical to their egalitarian belief system, they belie a misunderstanding of historical perspective and cultural context. I recently saw articles attacking Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Winston Churchill, and demonizing anyone who celebrated these traditional heroes of injustice. Scott Kelly, a retired American astronaut with multiple space flights under his belt, apologized recently after quoting Winston Churchill and calling the 20th century British prime minister “one of the greatest leaders of modern times.” He came under withering criticism for admiring a man who many perceive as a racist and unapologetic colonialist. Kelly was forced to apologize, and retract his praise, all because his words offended some people who see Churchill as a monster. The problem with such condemnation is that we do it at our own peril. These neo-liberals have no sense of context, and cannot possibly see past their contemporary enlightenment. It’s not fair to hold figures of the past up to our own standards of decency, and negate all the good that they did. It’s not reasonable to condemn historical figures for not being as enlightened and evolved as we are today. It’s a slippery slope when we start demanding our artists, politicians, authors, and thinkers be as culturally sensitive as we are today. After all, who would make the cut? If you can’t appreciate the good deeds of men like Gandhi and Martin Luther King, who can you revere? The problem is, Social Justice Warriors, as they’re often called, have no sense of humor, no perspective, and no ability to contextualize anyone who came before them. They are iconoclasts, who seek to overthrow the patriarchy and everyone who fashioned it, and abandon anyone who doesn’t directly speak for them. These people have no sense of history, and would rather tear down men like our Founding Fathers, rather than try to understand them and put them in their time and place. When it comes down to it, everyone from the past is complicated and flawed. No one could withstand such withering scrutiny. But they don’t seem to understand that. They can’t possibly conceive that a hundred years from now, their own thoughts and motivations may be condemned as backward and intolerant, and that we are all on a timeline with inherent flaws. It is therefore necessary to put things in perspective and put things in their historical context. If we don’t, we risk missing an opportunity to learn from history, and make course adjustments in our own timeline.


The neo-liberal is a problematic figure of contemporary culture. Their intentions are just and their heart is in the right place, but their methods are flawed and ineffective. Rather than stimulate discussion and open doors of discourse, they have managed to shut down conversations and outlawed disagreement. Rather than try and understand their adversaries, they have either dismissed them outright or viciously attacked or maligned them for their ignorance and bigotry. They seem preoccupied with fighting battles over inconsequential things, and have such a sense of entitlement, they punish anyone who disagrees with them. They are not accountable to anyone, and they have no understanding of history and context. They are utterly humorless and have little sense of irony. Theirs is a battle for social justice and equity, but they go about it in ways that alienate groups and demonize potential allies. Rather than see us all as one nation with each our own flaws and shortcomings, they back themselves into a corner and use extreme and inflammatory language to attack their enemies. They are radical activists, who have no interest in compromise, but seek to beat and berate our society into compliance and tolerance. Egalitarian societies don’t emerge from derision and scorn, but from education and tolerance of diverse opinion. Neo-liberals don’t believe in gray areas, but live in a black and white world, where you’re either with me or against me, and it’s a zero sum game to the top. Despite their protestations of tolerance, they are one of the most intolerant groups in the nation. As they spiral down their rabbit hole of blame and derision, they continue to lose supporters and manage to alienate vast portions of this country. With their strident voices, there is little hope for genuine discourse and meaningful compromise. It is solely a fight to the bottom.


All my life, I have considered myself a progressive liberal. I have advocated for social justice, and have sought to build bridges between cultures and opposing viewpoints. I have vehemently defended free speech, and supported open dialogue in colleges and universities, and in the public forum. I don’t think we benefit from shutting down speech, while we still encourage respectful and appropriate language. I do not endorse racism, homophobia, xenophobia, or any other form of bigotry, and have spent my life working to overcome such obstacles. I believe in gender equality, economic parity, and social programs that aid the poor and vulnerable. I strongly believe that education is the key to tolerance and building a verdant and just society, and I believe that eradicating poverty is the answer for most social ills. I am very vocal in my support for universal healthcare, and think that healthcare and access to education are fundamental rights in any just society. My values have traditionally aligned with the Democratic Party, and as I said, I have always considered myself a liberal. However, today, I question my own allegiance, as the party has moved away from me, and become radicalized and extremist in its views. There are few moderates left, and I find the party has become hysterical and insensible in its views. I believe in compromise and working across the aisle, but I see very little of that mentality, as Congresswoman are using expletives and waging war on their first day of office. I sometimes think I’m not liberal enough for the Left, and too progressive for the Right. I am a dying breed of moderate liberals, who believe in social justice and all the platforms of the party, but question the direction it’s heading. I feel alienated and put off by the words and actions of these so-called neo-liberals, and I feel increasingly marginalized in my own party. While on social media, I have come under attack by my liberal friends, who I simply don’t recognize anymore. They have become frothing extremists in my view, and their rage is palpable. And so is mine. I hate Donald Trump, and want to see our country fulfill its potential and become great – not again – but once and for all. That means justice and tolerance and access to the American Dream for ALL. But I have little faith that these neo-liberals have the answers or the means to deliver us to that genteel and hopeful Promised Land. And so, in the end, I am a man without a party, and although I still consider myself a Democrat, I abhor and detest many of its adherents and the actions of many of its members. I am a moderate. The last of a dying breed. I seek compromise, civility, and cooperation. These days, those seem like dirty words. I hope this changes sometime soon.