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Ketman And The Left’s Problem

The barbaric yawp of the Woke is once again heard from coast to coast

Much is still in flux as I write on the day after the Election. We won’t really know what it means until all the votes are counted, and we have had a chance to see the exit polling data, to see why people voted the way they did.

That said, I am not accustomed to being optimistic, and I certainly didn’t anticipate sunshine on the day after the election. But something very good happened, and I want to celebrate it. First, let’s check in on some anti-Trump stalwarts:

(Note well: Jesse Singal is a progressive, but he’s making fun of a certain attitude prevalent among progressives, his own tribe.)

Now, let’s concede that it is possible for a people to become corrupted. Maybe that has happened here. I don’t believe it, but let’s assume for the sake of argument that it has. We remain a democracy, and if the Democratic Party wants to win elections, it had better figure out a way to convince enough of the supposedly corrupt people to vote for it.

As I said, we won’t really know why Americans voted the way they did until we see the exit polling data, but a massive data point that ought to be shoved at the tip of a spear into the brains of anti-Trump liberals is this: all the polls predicted a Biden landslide and quite possibly the GOP losing the Senate. Not only will the GOP almost certainly keep the Senate, but if Biden ultimately wins, it will be by the skin of his teeth.

Why were the polls so wrong? The answer to that question is also a big part of the answer of why people voted against the Democrats, I believe.

Many people are afraid to tell strangers that they support Trump. Why is that? Because they have eyes to see and ears to hear. They get every single day from the media the message that Trump is wicked, and only bad people support Trump. They have seen in their own workplaces, or reported on media (especially social media), how people who get on the wrong side of the Left lose their jobs, or find themselves treated like outcasts. They know that their support for Trump might some day be used against them. I know this because I have talked to these people myself.

They also recognize that left-wing identity politics has conquered all the institutions of middle-class professional life. If you want to succeed in the corporate world, academia, media, and the rest, you had better be seen as woke — that is, as a supporter of hardline ID pol ideology. Again, I know this in part because I hear from these people all the time, mostly within academia. They are afraid, and they’re right to be afraid. Donald Trump has not made them afraid — the Left has. Because they see him on TV a lot, ordinary people know that the elites have made a guru out of Ibram X. Kendi, the Boston University professor whose “antiracist” ideology can be summed up like this (the words are Kendi’s own):

The only remedy to racist discrimination is antiracist discrimination.

The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination.

The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination.

They know that wherever Kendi’s formula is adopted, they will face discrimination for the color of their skin. They do not want to live in such a country. They also know that it is impossible on the Left today to object to any of this without risking your job and your reputation.

I am sure that only a tiny fraction of the American people has any idea what Progressphiles is, but it is a perfect illustration of the ideological malice and fanaticism of leftist elites. Progressphiles is an email list for Democratic Party data professionals — that is, people who work in the party’s establishment, crunching numbers and trying to figure out how to move votes to the Left. One of the most prominent members of Progressphiles was David Shor, a 28-year-old data genius who distinguished himself in service to President Obama. As I wrote in this space back in June, Shor was driven out of Progressphiles because he wrote in public that data show that violent protest helps Republicans, but peaceful protest helps Democrats. You will recall this was the summer of Black Lives Matter riots. Shor warned that this would hurt the party in November.

For this he was vilified by his own colleagues, and driven out. Seriously, read the insane things they wrote about him (from e-mails provided to me by a member of that 1,000-person list). Shor’s accusers said that simply by challenging the preferred narrative (that the riots were completely justified), he was harming BIPOC (black, indigenous, people of color) members of the group. The message was clear: these Democratic data professionals, on whose expertise the party’s fortunes depend, exiled anyone who challenged their narrative. As my inside source at Progressphiles told me, Shor is one of the best in the business, but this disfellowshipping him for ideological reasons is going to hurt his career.

This is precisely why people don’t tell pollsters that they’re going to vote for Trump. They don’t trust progressives with this information. And they’re right not to do so. Progressphiles is unknown to all but a small sliver of Americans, but the madness, the denial of reality, that rules in spaces governed by progressive elites is something that many of us can see and feel.

If people come to believe that to tell the truth to a pollster, or to anybody in authority over them, could put them in danger, they are going to lie. They are going to practice what Czeslaw Milosz called ketman. I explain it in my book Live Not By Lies:

Ketman is the strategy that everyone in our society who isn’t a true believer in “social justice” and identity politics has to adopt to stay out of trouble. On Sunday, I heard about a professor in a large state university in a state that yesterday went for Trump, who is filled with constant anxiety. He believes that his interactions with colleagues and students are filled with the potential to destroy his career. Why? Because all it takes is an accusation of racism, sexism, or some other form of bigotry to wreck a lifetime of work. This is the world that the identity politics left has created for us. As long as we have the secret ballot, though, we can register our discontent in the vote without suffering backlash.

I believe that that explains yesterday’s results to a certain extent.

Look at what happened in California, the wokest state in America. There was a ballot initiative to re-instate affirmative action, and thereby allow racial discrimination to remedy past discrimination. The ballot initiative went down handily, 56 percent to 44 percent. Here’s how the vote was distributed:

Only in L.A. and the Bay Area did Californians support returning official discrimination to public life. Look at this list of all the elected officials, organizations, and business groups who supported Prop 16 — that is, who wanted to see a return to discrimination for progressive ends. That list includes every single major Democratic official in the state, as well as all the Chambers of Commerce.

And they lost. It wasn’t close. In pre-election polling, whites, Latinos, and Asians indicated that they were likely to vote against it. As it turns out, most Americans want to live in a country where people are not judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character, and their accomplishments.

I would wager that most Americans do not want to live in the anti-American fantasy world of The New York Times, whose 1619 Project proclaims that the United States was conceived in iniquity, and dedicated to the proposition that the black man must be kept down at all times. If anybody at the Times — or the Washington Post, or any major American newspaper or broadcast network — had a heretical thought about this racialist narrative, would they have been able to express it? As longtime readers know, I have long been a fan of NPR, but I quit listening to it this year because the network gave itself over to woke propaganda, especially on race. Our elite media have rendered themselves incapable of seeing reality in this country, and reflecting those complex realities in their reporting.

My hope is that finally the Republican Party will get off its butt and take legislative action against woke bigotries. It’s okay to talk about it! Defend America and its classically liberal values! We are about to see the media progressives double down on the poisonous lies that got them to this point. Here is the 1619 Commissar’s verdict:

I believe that the Democratic Party’s elites — including those in the academy and the coastal media epistemic bubbles — are incapable of learning a damn thing from these results. Good. If they can barely beat Donald Trump, for pity’s sake, and cannot flip the Senate after four years of Trump’s chaotic government, and at the height of a pandemic, then that shows that their message remains unpopular. Americans don’t want wokeness. They want old-fashioned American values. They’re tired of living by ketman.

Come on, GOP, whatever happens to the Trump presidency, it’s time to find your voice and lead. You have the people on your side. If the Democrats cannot even sell wokeness in California, where can they sell it? The administrative and journalistic elites are going to double down on the woke narrative, because they cannot abide the alternative. Now is the time to fight back, and fight back hard.

UPDATE: A reader writes:

About today’s article where you mention California voters rejected bringing back Affirmative Action.  Yes, this ballot measure lost, but Californians overwhelmingly voting for the party whose ideology supports what the people reject on a ballot measure, shows there is a disconnection in our politics between policy and the appeal of a party to voters.  This is an intentional disconnection because the Democrats hide their real aims, and the Republicans do not know how to reach voters about specific policies, because their electioneering is controlled by a small group of profiteers with no interest in policy, and are likely Progressives themselves.
As for the exit polls, there are two results I think are not getting enough attention.
1. Demographics: The two factors that determine Democrat party affiliation are college education and immigration.  These two factors create a break toward the Democrat party by two to one.  As debt-funded college education and unlimited immigration are increasingly significant in the national life, it will shut out any chance of Republican election victories in the near future, as the older Republican voters die off.  Republicans are completely blind to these ceaselessly growing demographic factors.
Singleness is also a powerful determining factor of Democrat affiliation, and this increasing demographic trend is showing no signs of slowing.
2. Washington D.C. and the surrounding suburbs vote 95% Democrat every election.  That means that the political center of power is grossly unrepresentative of the American public.  This is the kind of ideological conformity that you see in countries like Iraq under Saddam Hussein.  The GOP that you hope will “get it together” are surrounded by neighbors and colleagues who are hostile to them, and the bureaucracy that does the work of policy are 95% Progressive Democrats, people who will do whatever they can to put the breaks to policy changes for any GOP electoral victory, and will do all in their power to put into effect the hidden Progressive policies of any Democrat victory.  We saw this mentality clearly on display in the FBI emails surrounding the faux “Russia” investigation.
That last graf makes a good point. I would not be surprised if it explains why the Republican Party is so useless on culture war issues: their members and staff live in hostile territory, and don’t want to have to put up with cold shoulders at their kids’ sports events.
UPDATE.2:  I received the following e-mail from a gay reader who shared with me his name and institutional affiliation, and granted me permission to publish this letter if I conceal those facts to protect him. He describes himself as “a Mondale/Ferraro Democrat”:
Just wanted to say bravo on the Ketman column, and that I’m living that Ketman reality every day, being a professor in higher ed.  I met my boss today to discuss something work-related, and she held forth about the election for a bit, before ending, “I just can’t understand why anyone would vote for that man!”
I kept my mouth shut, but…I voted for him!
I believe in the need for immigration controls. My mother’s sister was killed by an illegal immigrant who had been caught and released as well as deported several times before he finally killed someone. The experience of having her sister taken from her changed my mother, and not for the better. The Democrats have completely abdicated all responsibility re. immigration.
I believe that wokeness in higher ed will eventually result in the death of academia. In my own field, my program’s curriculum has recently been destroyed – basic functional knowledge removed in favor of discussions of identity, nationalism, etc.  After all, the basic material can be “looked up on Wikipedia,” but it’s necessary to introduce “culture” via the foundational courses. This summer, a colleague demanded that we “put race at the center of all we do” – that statement received approving noises from a number of senior colleagues, though nothing concrete has yet been put into place. (That colleague, btw, made that statement from his vacation home in Martha’s Vineyard). The Democrats are pushing the notions which are destroying higher ed.
I believe that we should not be involved in foreign wars, even ones where the reasoning presented involves humanitarian claims. The Democrats voted en masse for Iraq and Afghanistan, and did nothing substantial to end those wars, particularly the latter. The Democratic party’s “foreign policy experts” are no less neo-con than the Bush gang, and I have no doubt that if Uncle Joe makes it into office, we’ll have another war within a year or two.
Most of all, I believe that people should be able to have differing political opinions and discuss those things with folks who have opposing views without anyone resorting to hysteria. The Jesse Singal joke quoted in your column is right on, and I’ve already experienced it ca. 100 times today. Every time I turned on NPR this year, or popped open Facebook to see new baby/pet pictures, I was inundated with variations on “orange man bad!” Eventually, the contrarian in me decided enough was enough.
I don’t have tenure yet, so I will continue to keep my mouth shut, but I hope that once tenure is granted (knock on wood), I have the balls to fight for the things I believe and be willing to have reasoned debates with my friends and colleagues who currently control the discourse.
UPDATE.3: A reader sends in Nature magazine’s report on the election results. Why on earth is a leading scientific journal reporting on the US presidential election? The headline and subhed say it all:
Said the reader who sent this:
These people are are incapable of seeing how much damage they are doing themselves. So much for objectivity.
Idiots. Total idiots.
Say, if you’re interested in exploring the topic more of the dangers of confusing what is correct with what is true, check out my new Substack newsletter tonight, “Where’s Comrade Brezhnev?” I’d love it if you’d subscribe. It’s free, and I write there in a far less polemical vein.
UPDATE.4: Reader Jonah R.:

I wonder if there’s a complementary term to “ketman” to describe people who can’t even admit the truth to themselves?

My crowded liberal suburb is full of immigrants, and has been for decades, with pleasant cultural benefits and little ethnic friction. But in the past 20 years, a huge influx of illegal immigrants from Latin America has left our schools, social services, and law enforcement seriously strained, even stretched past their limit. My neighbors are willing to speak vaguely about certain schools being “bad schools” and certain neighborhoods that have “gotten really rough.” They see public transportation and construction projects being delayed as our county redirects funds to new gang-interdiction programs for children. Like all of us, they see cases of identity theft, rape, and murder on the rise.

But when you even try to mention, purely as a matter of fact, that our budget and infrastructure were totally unprepared for feel-good mass illegal immigration and that having an MS-13 presence here has made our county worse, they look at you like you just took a dump on their kitchen table. They know all these things are true because they literally choose where they live and which schools their children attend on the basis of these facts! But it shatters their comforting delusions to hear it out loud, because only those ghastly fascist Republicans even consciously acknowledge such things.

So maybe the 2020 election is its own sort of mini apocalypse, unveiling who can afford to live in denial and who cannot.

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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