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The Backlash Is Building

In the near future, a lot of us are going to be James Damore

A reader writes:

I read what you said about having spoken with four people recently who didn’t vote for Trump in 2016 but are considering it now because of the left’s recent behavior. I’m not quite in that camp, but am close to it; I suspect my progress on the issue largely resembles those of your friends and (I suspect) a substantial minority of other Americans as well.

I’m certainly not a typical Trump supporter — I believe in climate change and America’s responsibility to take policy steps to reduce our contribution to it, I’m anti-NRA, pro-Obamacare to an extent, and detest the Republican Party generally. The day after Trump got elected, I posted a scathing denunciation of everyone who had voted for him, which got the millennial social capital gold: hundreds of likes and almost 40 shares, including by several people I didn’t even know.

The year or so since he was elected has made me rethink what I believed about the people who voted for him. I still consider myself anti-Trump, and am not going to vote for him in 2020, above all because I believe the danger of having someone as unstable and hair-trigger reactive in charge of the United States military and nuclear arsenal is a disaster waiting to happen. (Contra National Review, just because he hasn’t started a military disaster yet doesn’t mean it somehow can’t happen.) There is no other electoral factor that could outweigh the danger of a nuclear holocaust, as far as I’m concerned.

But leaving the nuclear issue aside, the Left’s behavior in the last year has pushed me steadily more and more in the direction of being willing to vote for a sort of lower-key Trump (someone like Ben Shapiro), as strongly as I disagree with him on some issues, because I’m increasingly afraid of what a liberal political hegemony would mean.

The firing of James Damore back in August was what really made me start hesitating about my previous view that “political correctness” was, as Vox, the New Yorker, and all the other right-thinking people say, a Fox News attempt to discredit politeness. Here was a guy who was making a calm, carefully reasoned argument that some of Google’s diversity initiatives might not be the best way to achieve diversity, and that Googlers should be free to criticize such policies. In response, not only was he fired (and with a publicity that basically guarantees he’ll never work for a Silicon Valley firm again), but he was subjected to a regularly scheduled bout of Two Minutes’ Hate every day for weeks.

Now, I have no idea whether Damore’s arguments were sound. For all I know, the studies he cited might be garbage or his inferences might be wrong, although I doubt it, in light of at least some psychologists’ willingness to come forward and defend some of his claims. I have no investment in whether his arguments were successful, and for that matter, I doubt he did either. The point is that the very possibility of debate on this issue was foreclosed.

That got me paying more attention to the way the Left handles speech, and it made me realize that “political correctness” was most definitely alive and well, and hardly restricted to trivialities like whether the Washington Redskins should be named something else. In Europe, as Douglas Murray has documented, people who raised concerns prior to 2015 about the influx of immigration were silenced with accusations of racism, until things finally reached a boiling point and spilled out with the growth in populist fascist movements. 20 years ago, Theodore Dalrymple was already writing about how the police in the UK were already growing hesitant to investigate Muslim immigrants’ tendency to keep their daughters out of school for fear of being called racist, and more recent data indicate that such social problems (and the continued fear of being labeled racist for trying to address them) are hardly going away. Things that ought to be the subject of legitimate debate in the United States are being categorically ruled out in the same way: could innate biological differences affect, even if only in a small way, the pay gap between men and women? Sexist. Is it really a good idea to let in a large influx of Muslim immigrants in light of the problems Europe has had in that regard? Islamaphobe. Does IQ vary, on average, by race, and does this create the risk of widening the inequality gap because society increasingly rewards high IQ? Racist. Is Obamacare actually as successful as is claimed? You want poor people to die. Is letting in lots of low-skilled immigrants good for the economy? Racist, nationalist, white supremacist.

The fact is, I don’t want to live in a country where the only views permitted in public debates (if they can be termed “debates” at all) are the ones deemed acceptable by enraged Twitter mobs, and where expressing a perfectly reasonable, measured claim (“America should prioritize its own working class over that of illegal immigrants, while still doing what we can to help the Dreamers”) publicly can put you at quite reasonable fear of getting doxxed and subsequently losing your job and health insurance. It’s bad enough that people like Zack Ford are on social media. The last thing I want is for candidates people like him favor to get political power on top of the formidable socio-cultural power the Left already possesses.

I won’t vote for Trump in 2020, and I didn’t vote for him in 2016. But more and more, I understand why people will and did. There’s a reasonable fear of severe political revenge from the extreme progressives if and when they get into power. And, on top of that, while I can’t morally justify it, it’s at least humanly understandable that when one group (progressives) continually demeans and belittles another group (poor whites), the demeaned group gets a certain amount of satisfaction and schadenfreude from throwing a brick through the window, so to speak. I won’t defend that sentiment, but more and more, I sympathize with it.

You have to read this article in Quillette about “academic mobbing.” This is the kind of thing that we’re going to see more generally in the culture. Excerpts:

In 1992, the ethics committee of the Montreal Neurological Institute at McGill University accused neurology and neurosurgery professor Justine Sergent of failing to properly obtain their approval for her work using radioactive isotopes to study the brain function of pianists. Sergent claimed no wrongdoing other than, at most, a technical mistake of not re-requesting specific approval to study pianists reading sheet music when she had already received approval to use the same technology to study brain function in people reacting to images of human faces. The following year she was officially reprimanded for the alleged breach but filed an appeal in arbitration.

Over the next two years, Sergent’s dispute with the ethics committee grew bitter and she claimed it was based on personal grievances and not on the validity of her work. Sergent fought to defend herself and the integrity of her work but the steam of pettiness aimed at her increased. In an attempt to further tarnish her, an anonymous source (presumably from within McGill), mailed a letter to the Montreal Gazette accusing her of fraud in her scientific practice.

The Gazette then published an article entitled “Researcher Disciplined by McGill for Breaking Rules.” Shortly after the Gazette published this article, Sergent wrote a letter in which she stated that her love of research was too great to ever consider tampering with data. She defended the quality of her work and stated:

I was a young, successful, woman scientist, and this may not be welcome attributes in the scientific world or at least in the mind of some people. I had a rich and intense life, but there comes a point when one can no longer fight and one needs a rest. It is this rest that my husband, who has supported me in all aspects of my activities and my life, and myself have decide to take.

On April 11 1994, with the assistance of her husband Yves Sergent, Justine Sergent committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning from a motor vehicle that was parked in her garage with a hose running from the tailpipe and into the window of the car. Yves Sergent then composed his last letter:

It is 3:30 a.m. on April 11, Justine is dead, and it will soon be my turn…I’ve just spent the most horrible hours of my life, seeing to the fulfillment of Justine’s last wish. My hour has come, I will join Justine forever and I hope this attempt does not fail.

Yves Sergent returned to the car and sat in the drivers seat. He attempted to slit his own throat but failed to hit an artery. He later died, like Justine Sergent, from carbon monoxide poisoning.

On April 12 1994, Justine and Yves Sergent were found dead in their garage sitting beside each other in the drivers and passenger seats of their car. This is the devastating power that an academic mobbing can have on its targets.

More, from an interview with Dr. Janice Harper, an anthropologist who was brutally mobbed by academic colleagues:

As traumatic and damaging as the experience was, Dr Harper applied her anthropological expertise to understanding the social processes that led so many people to rapidly turn against her once the decision was made to cast her out. As the mobbing intensified, she continued teaching courses on warfare and genocide, and began to note parallels between how people are persuaded to turn against their neighbors and fellow citizens in genocidal contexts, and how people in any group setting can be persuaded to join in dehumanizing and abusing someone marked by leadership for exclusion and destruction.

The result of her work was a series of articles in The Huffington Post and Psychology Today, as well as a book, Mobbed! What to Do When They Really Are Out to Get You, in which she challenged the anti-bullying movement’s focus on “the difficult employee” or “evil bully,” and called instead for a focus on the group psychology that leads otherwise good people to inhumanely attack another person without terms or limits.

Read the entire piece.

I’ve said in The Benedict Option that this kind of thing is fast coming to wider society, and that we need to start forming informal networks now, associations that will be able to support those who are driven out of their careers by the progressive Two-Minutes Hate mob. People who grew up under communism keep telling me that they’re seeing this kind of thing rising in our liberal democracies. They are canaries in the coal mine.

This is not going away anytime soon. Do you remember how, during the 2016 presidential campaign, we were constantly told by the media that Trump supporters were going to form a mob and beat people up? It turned out that the only mobs that emerged were from the left (Antifa and fellow travelers) who set upon Trump supporters, and bloodied them in some cases.

It’s clear that mob action — whether “academic mobbing,” destroying businesses, or some other form — when undertaken on behalf of progressive causes is going to be supported by the media as necessary for the triumph of justice.

Here’s part of an e-mail I received from a reader of this blog, a Millennial friend of mine who is as well educated and as urbane as you can imagine. He lives in a major American city, and is the son of a prominent academic. He has been so disgusted by the travesty progressives have made of his academic field that he has decided he has no future in it. He writes this morning:

I’m not a gun person, at all, I mean until a few months ago I had never even touched a firearm, through a combination of fear and a certain disdain for the kind of culture I thought it represented (like you, I grew up with cosmopolitan leanings). But I was floored by everything you mention, the hysteria and the media bias and the blanket refusal to examine the ways in which Obama’s deliberate policy choices are literally at fault for what happened. I’m not sure if you saw this story, which is still developing, but basically because Cruz registered as a “minority” he was not arrested when he should have been arrested, since Obama insisted on ending the “school to prison pipeline” that “disproportionately” (read: in line with national per capita averages) affected black and Latino students; and, had he been arrested for the offenses of which he was clearly and unambiguously guilty, he would not have been able to acquire or keep the weapon he used.

Anyway, because of all that, and because I am increasingly convinced we are headed for a “hot” violent civil war, and just generally as an “F you,” I joined the NRA and bought an AR-15 style weapon. I’d never fired a rifle before, but it strikes me as a skill that is going to be important to have moving forward. So in answer to your question: “What does it mean to keep fighting, though? What forms should the resistance take?”

I’m not sure if it’s possible to convey to you how remarkable this is, because you don’t know this man. The idea that someone of his class, background, education, and temperament has bought an AR-15 because he doesn’t believe the center is going to hold, and because he fears the progressive march, is stunning. If you are inclined to dismiss this as fraidy-cat fearmongering, you are making a big, big mistake.

I’ve known this man for years, and have heard his first-hand stories of the way progressives in the academy have demolished scholarship and are demonizing anyone who falls short of their ever-shifting purity standards. He once told me about a left-wing atheist colleague in his field, a Millennial who is also a woman and a racial minority, who will not post anything on social media now, out of fear that what she says today might be deployed against her tomorrow by the Two-Minutes Hate mob. Said my friend, “If even a person like that, who fills almost every diversity category, is afraid to say what she really thinks, what chance do people like me have?”

He offers three broad categories for resistance. Here’s one:

1) Network and organize. I think this is probably the single most important thing. There are already some groups doing great work, like the Alliance Defending Freedom, but there aren’t nearly enough, and there especially isn’t enough networking at the hyperlocal level–that’s why I think things like your Benedict Option meetups are so critical. If there’s some kind of calamity, we need to know at least a half dozen people nearby that we can rely on. The left is literally decades ahead of us in their organizational infrastructure, local and national, and we desperately need to close the gap.

I take it that the reader is speaking of some massive event. But you know, for someone who loses their job or their business because of progressive mob action, or court action, that is a calamity. What are conservatives, and conservative Christians, doing to prepare to support each other through this? Because it is coming. 

The times are getting crazy. People are defaulting to tribalism as a matter of self-protection. My tribe is not white nationalists, or right-wing extremists, or anybody like that. My tribe is the Church. My vocation is not to advocate buying AR-15s — though I don’t oppose buying weaponry for self-protection (ask Bethany Mandel, who had to fear neo-Nazis) — but rather to help build practical spiritual, moral, and communal resistance. We are entering a period of exile (read the Rev. Peter Sanlon on this) — and it’s past time that our leaders understood this fact, and acted on it. And not just our leaders.

UPDATE: A reader e-mails:

It looks like you just posted something similar to what I am about to write, but I committed to writing this before I saw it and am intentionally not reading it (“The Backlash is Building) so it doesn’t contaminate the thoughts that I wish to convey.

Not too long ago I was your typical Millennial Leftist.  Born in 1983, I firmly think that my entire adulthood has been shaped by one institutional failure after another, from 9-11 when I was a Freshman in college to the current total breakdown of the United States Congress.

In 2016 I was angry.  I see my friend growing under student loan debt, young black boys and men being gunned down in the streets, friends going bankrupt from sky rocketing medical costs, and myself and my wife struggle in what seems to us to be a stagnated economy where we (both with college degrees) were struggling to get ahead.

We were both Sanders voters in the primary, attracted by his economic populism but also his sincerity.  After Clinton secured the nomination I hoped that John Kasich would find a way to defeat Trump as I found Clinton untrustworthy and emblematic of the problem in D.C.  When Trump secured the nomination, however, my vote for Clinton was all but ensured, especially since I live in the “battle ground” of Virginia.

Now I’ve never been much of a culture warrior, but I towed the party line on most cultural issues.  As an evangelical (and a seminarian to boot) I had to twist and contort scripture in order to do so, but there was always someone standing right there happy to show me how it was done.  But it was a matter of “justice” and “fairness” so I needed to understand the “enemy” (see the language that I was enculturated to use?).  Also, even though I was a native born son of the South, I found myself perplexed that so many of the wonderful, God fearing people that I knew and loved had voted for Trump.

And so, for the first time in my life I began to really read people with whom I did not agree.  I read conservative Reformed writers.  I began to read your blog.  I sought out other voices, some that had voted for Trump, some that fell closer to the “Never Trumper” category.

An amazing thing happened.  I began to see that there were enormous logical inconsistencies in some of the things that I had thought, especially on cultural issues.  I saw that my beliefs couldn’t stand up to rigorous thought and scrutiny.  And more than that, if I claimed Christ, there were things that I believed and espoused, especially regarding abortion and sexuality, that had to change.  I had gone looking for intellectual rigor and much to my surprise I found it not in Cultural Leftism, but in orthodox Christian, especially Reformed (broadly defined), thought.

So where do I find myself now?  I still see Trump and his crew as an existential threat to our Republic.  The wholesale destruction of democratic norms and the open and blatant corruption pains me (I might be unusual among [former] Leftists in that I have always had a great love of the Republic, with all of its flaws and foibles.  It comes, I think, from being a deep student of the Revolutionary era).  I can only hope that the system of check and balances given to us in 1788 holds, retrains Trump’s (and other’s) abuse of power.

But I also have come to see that certain elements of this Cultural Leftism pose existential threats, not to our Republic, but to the very foundation of our civilization.  I’m still a skeptic, however, of free market economics, as so often it does too little to protect the most vulnerable and seeks to commodity everything, including human life.

In describing how I feel to my wife recently, I said that I felt as if the riptide had pulled me off my feet and out too sea, and now that I am free of it, I can’t feel the bottom with my feet, having no place to plant my feet in culture.  My option, it seems, is the plant myself firmly in the Word, both the incarnate and written, and in the Church and its centuries long proclamation of the Word.

Feel free to post this, however if you do so, without my name as I am still in spaces, having conversations and asking questions that I would be banished from if the totality of my cultural “conversion” was known.

A cultural riptide. I know the feeling. Just imagine: this young man’s friends would banish him if he said what was on his mind. To hell with that world. It’s not a world of love, or care, or common human decency. It is totalitarian.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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