Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

The Woke Elite Have No Clothes

Report: most Americans -- left and right -- are sick of political correctness, the pseudo-religion of progressive power-holders
Screen Shot 2018-10-11 at 8.58.59 AM

Here’s a genuinely fascinating essay in The Atlantic, by Yascha Mounk, who writes about research showing that overwhelming majorities of Americans hate political correctness. 

It starts like this:

On social media, the country seems to divide into two neat camps: Call them the woke and the resentful. Team Resentment is manned—pun very much intended—by people who are predominantly old and almost exclusively white. Team Woke is young, likely to be female, and predominantly black, brown, or Asian (though white “allies” do their dutiful part). These teams are roughly equal in number, and they disagree most vehemently, as well as most routinely, about the catchall known as political correctness.

Reality is nothing like this. As scholars Stephen Hawkins, Daniel Yudkin, Miriam Juan-Torres, and Tim Dixon argue in a report published Wednesday, “Hidden Tribes: A Study of America’s Polarized Landscape,” most Americans don’t fit into either of these camps. They also share more common ground than the daily fights on social media might suggest—including a general aversion to PC culture.

You don’t say. More:

If you look at what Americans have to say on issues such as immigration, the extent of white privilege, and the prevalence of sexual harassment, the authors argue, seven distinct clusters emerge: progressive activists, traditional liberals, passive liberals, the politically disengaged, moderates, traditional conservatives, and devoted conservatives.

According to the report, 25 percent of Americans are traditional or devoted conservatives, and their views are far outside the American mainstream. Some 8 percent of Americans are progressive activists, and their views are even less typical. By contrast, the two-thirds of Americans who don’t belong to either extreme constitute an “exhausted majority.” Their members “share a sense of fatigue with our polarized national conversation, a willingness to be flexible in their political viewpoints, and a lack of voice in the national conversation.”

Hmm. If one out of four people believe something, are they really “far” out of the American mainstream? In the report, “Traditional Liberals” and “Passive Liberals” make up 26 percent of the population. Aren’t they part of the mainstream too? Or am I reading this wrong? Here’s a graphic from the “Hidden Tribes” report that shows how they sort us:

How do the authors define these groups? Here:

Anyway, the story goes on to say that race and youth are not indicators of openness to PC.  Black Americans are the minority group most accepting of PC, but even then, 75 percent of them think it’s a problem. More:

If age and race do not predict support for political correctness, what does? Income and education.

While 83 percent of respondents who make less than $50,000 dislike political correctness, just 70 percent of those who make more than $100,000 are skeptical about it. And while 87 percent who have never attended college think that political correctness has grown to be a problem, only 66 percent of those with a postgraduate degree share that sentiment.

Political tribe—as defined by the authors—is an even better predictor of views on political correctness. Among devoted conservatives, 97 percent believe that political correctness is a problem. Among traditional liberals, 61 percent do. Progressive activists are the only group that strongly backs political correctness: Only 30 percent see it as a problem.

Here’s the heart of it:

So what does this group look like? Compared with the rest of the (nationally representative) polling sample, progressive activists are much more likely to be rich, highly educated—and white. They are nearly twice as likely as the average to make more than $100,000 a year. They are nearly three times as likely to have a postgraduate degree. And while 12 percent of the overall sample in the study is African American, only 3 percent of progressive activists are. With the exception of the small tribe of devoted conservatives, progressive activists are the most racially homogeneous group in the country.

This, a thousand times:

As one 57- year-old woman in Mississippi fretted:

The way you have to term everything just right. And if you don’t term it right you discriminate them. It’s like everybody is going to be in the know of what people call themselves now and some of us just don’t know. But if you don’t know then there is something seriously wrong with you.

Seriously, read the whole thing. It’s encouraging news.

So, guess who runs most of the institutions in this country: academia, media, entertainment, corporations? Educated, rich white liberals (and minorities who come out of those institutions, and who agree with their PC ideology). They have created a social space in which they lord their ideology over everybody else, and have intimidated everyone into going along with it, out of fear of harsh consequences, and stigma, for dissenters.

Mounk points out that it’s not that majorities believe racism and bigotry aren’t things to be concerned about. They do! It’s that they believe that PC is the wrong way to address those problems.

If you have the time, read the whole “Hidden Tribes” report on which Mounk bases his essay. They reveal something that has actually been brought out by Pew Research studies in the past: that US political conversation is entirely driven by the extremes, while most people in the middle are more open to compromise. It’s not that most of these people are moderates, are centrists. It’s that they aren’t driven by a strong sense of tribalism.

The authors call these “hidden tribes” because they are defined not by race, sex, and the usual tribal markers, but rather by a shared agreement on how the world works, whether they’re aware of it or not. Where individuals come down on these points generally determines where they’ll come down on hot button political and cultural issues (e.g., immigration, feminism):

You shouldn’t assume that most Americans share the same basic values. As the report indicates, there are substantive differences among us. It’s simply not accurate to blame tension over these divisions on extremists of the right or the left who exaggerate them. Though the differences are real, what seems to set the majority-middle apart is their general unwillingness to push those differences to the breaking point.

I want to point out one aspect of the analysis that means a lot to me, as a religious conservative. It’s on page 81 of the report. Here’s a graph recording answers to the question, “How important is religious faith to you?”

Religion is important to almost two-thirds of Americans.The only tribe in which a majority finds it unimportant are Progressive Activists. UPDATE: Sorry, but I misread the graph. Religion is not important to two-thirds of Americans. That’s really depressing. It tells us that religious belief, which is important to almost four in 10 Americans, is something that the rest of the country doesn’t really grok.

UPDATE.2: Argh! Some of you point out that the error has to be in the graph itself, because the numbers don’t add up if you say that religion is unimportant to two-thirds of Americans. So I’ve restored the original.

According to the study:

Strong identification with religious belief appears to be a strong tribal marker for the Devoted and Traditional Conservatives, and an absence of religious belief appears to be a marker for Progressive Activists.

Guess which tribe runs the culture-making institutions in our society (e.g., major media, universities, entertainment)?

I am reminded of something one of you readers, a conservative academic, wrote to me once: that you feel safe because your department is run by traditional liberals, who don’t agree with you, but who value free and open exchange of ideas. You are very worried about what happens when those people — who are Baby Boomers — retire, because the generational cohort behind them are hardcore left-wing ideologues who do not share the traditional liberal view.

This just in from Reuters:

Hollywood has been at the forefront of the political resistance to President Donald Trump, using awards shows, social media and donations to promote progressive positions on issues from immigration to gun control.

Now, the entertainment industry is using its star power and creativity to support down-ballot candidates in the Nov. 6 elections. Down-ballot races are typically state and local positions that are listed on voting ballots below national posts.

This approach is part of the way Hollywood is rewriting its script for political action following Trump’s shock election in 2016.

I can’t blame anyone for advocating for their political beliefs in the public square. But these are among the most privileged people on the planet. They are Progressive Activists — and they are massively out of touch with the rest of the country, though they have massively more cultural power to define the narrative than their adversaries.

Here’s another interesting factoid from the report:

Progressive Activists are unique in seeing the world as a much less dangerous place than other Americans. For other tribes, the differences are much smaller. On average, 14 percent of Americans view the world as generally safe and nonthreatening, while among Progressive Activists almost three times as many people hold this view (40 percent). This figure is especially striking in light of Progressive Activists’ deep pessimism about the direction of the country (98 percent say it is going in the wrong direction) and their emotions toward the country (45 percent say they currently feel “very” scared about the country’s direction).

Think of the psychology of this! How can they feel that the world is “generally safe and nonthreatening” while at the same time be “very” scared about the direction of the US? The answer, I think, is that in their own lives, they feel secure. And why not? Remember this from Yascha Mounk’s essay on this study:

So what does this group look like? Compared with the rest of the (nationally representative) polling sample, progressive activists are much more likely to be rich, highly educated—and white. They are nearly twice as likely as the average to make more than $100,000 a year. They are nearly three times as likely to have a postgraduate degree.

Economically, educationally, and racially, Progressive Activists are the most elite group in the country. 

Look at this amazing fact:

First, notice that one out of three African Americans think that people are too sensitive about race, the same percentage of Traditional Liberals who do. A solid majority of Hispanic Americans believe that, and nearly three out of four Asian Americans believe that. Sixty percent of Americans overall agree with this viewpoint. Who rejects it overwhelmingly? Progressive Activists — the rich, educated white people who control academia and media.

Note well that majorities are not saying that racism isn’t a problem (81 percent agree that we have serious problems with racism), only that there is too much emphasis on it. Do you get that? They’re saying that racism is a serious issue, but it has been disproportionately emphasized relative to other serious issues. On bread-and-butter issues like college admissions, Progressive Activists are far, far removed from everybody else, even Traditional Liberals:

The numbers are similar on gender issues. Progressive Activists are radically far apart from the views of most Americans. No wonder the media can’t understand why everybody doesn’t agree with them that Brett Kavanaugh is a sexist monster.

Finally, the last chapter of the study focuses on what its authors call the “Exhausted Majority” — Traditional Liberals, Passive Liberals, Politically Disengaged and Moderates:

The four segments in the Exhausted Majority have many differences, but they share four main attributes:

– They are more ideologically flexible

– They support finding political compromise

– They are fatigued by US politics today

– They feel forgotten in political debate

Importantly, the Traditional Conservatives do not belong to the Exhausted Majority, while the Traditional Liberals do. The key difference lies in their mood towards the country’s politics. While the Exhausted Majority express disillusionment, frustration, and anger at the current state of US politics, Traditional Conservatives are far more likely to express confidence, excitement and optimism. As such, the Traditional Conservatives hold a meaningfully different emotional disposition towards the country that aligns them more with the Devoted Conservatives.

That’s really interesting. Having read the detailed descriptions of the various tribes, I fall more into the Traditional Conservative camp, but I am much more pessimistic about the country’s politics than TCs in this study. What accounts for that? Is it:

a) I spend a lot of time looking at the cultural fundamentals and trends, especially regarding religion, and believe that the optimism of Traditional Conservatives is irrational; or

b) I spend a lot of time reading and analyzing the mainstream media, including social media, and therefore overestimate the power and influence of Progressive Activists

I’d say the answer is probably 80 percent a) and 20 percent b). I believe my fellow Traditional Conservatives (like the Devoted Conservatives to our right) believe that things are more stable than they actually are.

Anyway, if you have the time, I encourage you to read the entire report.  It’s basic point is that neither extreme of left and right speak for the majority of Americans, though their stridency, and the nature of media to emphasize conflict, conditions most of us to think that things are far more polarized than they actually are.

For me, the best news in the entire report is learning how sick and tired most Americans are of political correctness. It’s not that most people believe there aren’t serious problems in the country having to do with race, sex, immigration, and so forth. It’s that people are tired of the Progressive Speech Police stalking around like Saudi imams with sticks in hand, whacking anyone who fails to observe strict pieties. As Yascha Mounk says in his piece about the report:

The gap between the progressive perception and the reality of public views on this issue could do damage to the institutions that the woke elite collectively run. A publication whose editors think they represent the views of a majority of Americans when they actually speak to a small minority of the country may eventually see its influence wane and its readership decline. And a political candidate who believes she is speaking for half of the population when she is actually voicing the opinions of one-fifth is likely to lose the next election.

Yes. And — drums please — that has a lot to do with how we got Trump.

UPDATE: Reader JG:

The report is good news. But I agree with you Rod, that it’s hard to be really optimistic. The reason is a somewhat more specific application of your explanation a). While Americans are tired of the vitriol in the national media/politics, and while that is overwhelmingly due to the dominance of the woke elite in our cultural institutions, my pessimism is that most people tacitly support the basic values of the woke brigade, while being put off by their disgusting tactics (even though their tactics flow directly from their vision of the world).

For example. I cannot understand baby boomers who say it’s ok to be gay, that’s the way you were born, but draw the line at trans or intersectionality. If there is such a thing as biological men and women and that defines what sex you must identify as, why is it not true that biology defines attraction, since, biologically, men are supposed to be attracted to women and women to men? If gay people transcend their biology in their attraction, why can’t a trans person transcend their biology in identity? To hold to one ‘biological’ position but not the other is inconsistent. Thus, baby boomers who are ‘traditional liberals’ in the sense of being cautious and pro-gay etc still support the basic assumptions of the woke: that biology can be transcended by personality.

Another case: It is normal in my church for new couples to put off having children to whatever age (pick a number) then dump them in childcare when they do arrive, and even build childcare facilities to dump them in (because you gotta have Christian options available for all the Christians who want to work to pay for the childcare, you know). The reason is that they see the central goods in life to be the same as the secular people around them: money (and possessions) and work (doing what you enjoy doing without the interference of family). Our church preaches against the prosperity gospel, but never mentions the worship of goods that is present in the congregation. It’s not that I’m being legalistic (you gotta have kids or you’re disobeying the Law of God) or promoting worshiping the family (I have experienced the problems with that first-hand), but rather that the *norms* in our Christian culture are the same as the secular culture (apart from, you know, say traditional marriage). Thus, the values of the woke progressives (where work and market is the centre of life) are implicit in even a traditional/devoted conservative Christian church.

Or another, softer, instance: why do churches with conservative values nevertheless imitate our therapeutic popular music, and seek to recreate the casual, pop-drenched atmosphere of the mall? In doing so, they sing the gospel according to “The Shack” (God conforms himself to whatever you need him to be) and the gospel according to the mall (you will be complete if you own this) every single week, even though on paper, they don’t support either of those things. The woke elite assumes we are, at our core, emotive, individualistic beings: it is up to us to determine who we are and what we want; conservative church music/atmosphere supports that idea.

It is for reasons like these that I think you and James KA Smith (despite his disagreements with you, I think he is in furious agreement with you) are correct. Conservative churches are bewildered by such things as a 60% popular vote for same sex marriage in Australia (70% turnout overall). We must exegete our culture, and consciously incarnate our faith: we can no longer assume a broadly Christian ethos. But that is exactly what conservative Christian churches seem to be doing.