One reason for the continued vital role for TAC is that the left makes itself so difficult to identify with. Here is a personal example: white male, late middle age, Christian background, Obama supporter (volunteered in both campaigns) believes that major problems facing this country and the world are global warming, accelerating inequality, the outsourcing and general drying up of middle class jobs. Opposed the Iraq war from the moment the neocons began to push for it (September 12, 2001?); opposes the militarized war-as-first-or-second-resort mindset so dominant within the Beltway; supports Obama’s effort to explore detente with Iran. Supports a reduction in defense expenditures–the savings could be spent on infrastructure, debt reduction, education, health care subsidies. Pretty much a portrait of a 100 percent liberal Democrat, no?
Yet a person like this encounters at every step prominent purveyors of the dominant liberal narratives who spare no effort to repel him. If our would-be liberal is, as mentioned, white, Christian by background, male, he may know that he, or his male children are intended as the indirect targets of public shaming by Lena Dunham, the newly anointed “voice of her [millennial] generation.” Dunham writes in her highly praised best-selling memoir that she was sexually assaulted by a conservative Republican named “Barry” at her private college.
The account of the assault isn’t, I don’t believe, central to the book; it seems to be thrown in like a ketchup pack with the burger takeout. Of course she was sexually assaulted. Aren’t most coeds? Isn’t that what conservative Republicans do? As it happened, there was a guy at her college named Barry who fit Dunham’s description, and he and his lawyer have gotten together, to, I hope, sue the author and her publisher for libel. But the very casualness of Dunham’s lie is telling—the rape accusation is put forth unthinkingly, as if it is simply expected by her intended readership. She couldn’t bother to take the time to invent some details to avoid a potential lawsuit. One begins to get the idea that for the liberal cultural elite it is natural to lie about campus Republican rapists. Haven’t Obama and Biden both said that 20 percent of women on campus are raped by white Republicans? Or by white somebodies? Well, there is an actual statistic of one-half of 1 percent of women raped or sexually assaulted annually, or roughly one-tenth the rate claimed by Biden and the president. Far too many of course. But why bother with accuracy when the point is to defame an entire group, and no one will challenge the defamation?
Dunham’s book was only an amuse-bouche for the season’s hammer blow against white male “rape culture,” Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s eviscerating (but as it turns out, largely fanciful) indictment of the University of Virginia, centered on the brutal gang rape of a coed named Jackie. Rolling Stone which published the mis-reported piece, has acknowledged its error, though there is underway a widespread effort to turn the fiasco into a journalism school how-to tale about how many voicemails a prudent reporter must leave in an effort to contact the accused. If you read the piece, you may not have noticed the details which didn’t make sense or hang together, but cannot fail to recognize who the bad people are. Erdely had earlier considered basing her “rape culture” narrative on events at other colleges, but chose instead to do her “reporting” at a place where the perpetrators could unambiguously presented as white Christian males—a group which would likely be underrepresented at any other prestige college. So amidst the misreporting, there were many hate-signifiers—“the toned, tanned, overwhelmingly blonde” members of the UVA student body, the “genteel” aura of the college, which reeks of “old money” and “privilege,” a place where “social status is paramount.” The students, Erdely claims, all admire Thomas Jefferson, even to the degree of calling him by the familiar “TJ”: where else but in the epicenter of gang-rape culture would an American Founding Father be so revered?
The centerpiece of the piece was, it turns out, a lie—there was a Jackie, but she never was raped. But there is a truth which can be extracted: Sarah Rubin Erdely, who took the trouble to misreport the piece, really really despises the type of people whom she feels predominate at the University of Virginia, and Rolling Stone was very happy to give her its not-unimportant platform. And squadrons of Democratic bloggers—I’m waiting for someone to compile a list—were eager to publicize and amplify the group libel.
Of course the enemy is not only white male “rape culture.” It’s also the police, with their unrelenting murderous targeting of innocent black men. It seemed as if an unconscious wave swept through the major media in August, reporting on the major international event going on at the time was no longer enjoyable. There was a minor police blotter item, a young black man committed a robbery, got in a fight with a cop, and got shot. But Jake Tapper and co. arrive on the scene with camera crews, and all the world is presented with Ferguson, Missouri as Selma, Alabama. The story eventually becomes twinned with another, in New York, when an ostensibly amiable black man with asthma is told by the cops to stop selling loose cigarettes, refuses to do so and is taken down, stops breathing and dies. Nobody who saw that Eric Garner video thinks this guy should be dead, including most emphatically the cops who tried to arrest him. There are two main prisms through which to view the tragedy: a) the difficulty of making arrests of suspects who are noncompliant and have serious health problems, or b) racist white cops intent on murdering innocent black men. Which version comes closest to the truth? Which version is the one embraced by the Democratic media, and hammered at us 24 hours a day?
And make no mistake, the target is white police officers. In the ’60s, the looney left called them pigs, and advocated their murder. I once believed those days would never return, but in the day of outrage which took place over the weekend, one could see photos of demonstrators recreating the pig meme with masks and other accessories. The left’s dehumanization of the white police officer has a broader cultural significance; the police of course are men and women with jobs to do, but more broadly represent law and order: when they are repeatedly vilified by dishonest claims that they are waging “war” on black males, it means something far more serious than a desire for precisely calibrated policing is intended.
In recent days two important essays have been published analyzing the disconnect between the Democrats and the white working class—a disconnect which may have fatal consequences for the Democrats in the coming years. In the Times, Thomas Edsall systematically goes through the sources of the erosion of white working-class life in America: the collapse of the industrial job market is the main thing, but was surely exacerbated by the simultaneous Democratic party effort to aid and empower other previously disenfranchised and impoverished groups—except white working-class males. The fact remains that no group in America is on a steeper downward trajectory economically—not blacks, not Hispanics, not women. Edsall cites a slew of comparative polls of whites and blacks demonstrating both greater improvement of black income from generation to generation and greater optimism about the future. There is, literally, no program put forth by any major party to do anything about the collapse in white working-class incomes.
A more pointed statement comes from the international affairs blogger John Schindler, a former Naval War College professor whose views about Russia I mostly disagree with. But Schindler describes powerfully his sense of political homelessness, with which I can very much identify. About the Democrats, he writes
I worry deeply about rising inequality in America, which has been growing my whole life and shows no signs of abating, rather the contrary. It is making the country something very different from what it was for several happy generations. Accepting that mass prosperity, which peaked in the middle of the last century, making us the envy of the world, is gone for good will change American politics in ways that we can only yet see in outline. We cannot stop globalization and technological changes that promise to up-end the economy, nor should we try to, but wise and compassionate politicians will seek to soften their impacts on fellow citizens.
The obvious home for socio-economic reform, the Democrats, once the proud party of working people like many of my forebears, has lost its way. Its emphasis on identity politics at the expense of basic socio-economic fairness has driven away countless average people who are struggling and want justice, yet don’t like being lectured endlessly about how racist, sexist and cisnormative they are.
Schindler gives good TACish reasons for skepticism about the Republicans: free-market absolutism and the neoconservative foreign policy adventurism are now deeply embedded in the GOP. But the essay closes with a pointed warning about complacency—we tend to think the continued, unrelenting immiseration of the working class, combined with exploitation of every identity politics issue to shame and humiliate a selected target group can’t possibly have bad consequences. He continues:
Moreover, having spent quite a bit of time in the Balkans, I have an acute sense of how fragile civilization really is. Beneath the pleasant surface there lurk monsters, and those monsters are us. In a few short years, Yugoslavia went from being a success story, a benign socialist regime with a high standard of living and apparent amity among its photogenically diverse peoples, to a charnel house of terror. Economic decline and ethnic resentments, combined in evil fashion, led to war and genocide. It’s nice to pretend this can’t happen, but history shows plainly that it can. After all, American optimists in the 1850s, the TV talking heads of the day, considered the Civil War that was looming ominously to be impossible — right until cannons roared at Fort Sumter.
Schindler is on to something here, something which few have acknowledged. The current trends in America, Wall Street getting richer, everyone else getting poorer, politicians of both parties feeding brazenly at Wall Street’s trough, the party of the Left in full blown attack gear not on inequality, which it has done nothing to address, but picking at and rubbing raw the scabs of identity politics—this can’t keep going on indefinitely without something really bad happening.
Scott McConnell is a founding editor of The American Conservative.