With President Trump’s disapproval numbers for his handling of the pandemic in the mid-60%, with states that pushed his early opening — Florida and Texas — now the hottest of hot spots, with the economy going in the wrong direction, and with polls showing Biden opening a double-digit distance on Trump, you would think that Trump’s defeat in November is a done deal. Not so fast.
In his 4th of July speech at Mt. Rushmore, Trump previewed his new strategy and message. Drumming up fears of “left-wing fascism” and “attacks” on our nation’s heritage and heroes were his themes. You might be inclined to dismiss all that as simply more of the same-old Trump divisiveness and fear-mongering — which it is.
But a string of recent events in the world of journalism indicate that the charge of “left-wing fascism” has enough basis in reality that it could be a way Trump changes the subject from his handling of the pandemic, rallies his troops, and recaptures some who are waffling.
Last month the distinguished and eminently decent editorial page editor of The New York Times, James Bennet, resigned amid a storm of protest from Times staff members for his publication of an op-ed by Senator Tom Cotton. The Arkansas senator advocated the use of military troops to quell civil unrest. Such views, according to Times staff members, should never have seen the light of day, at least not on the pages of the New York Times.
Then this week another member of the editorial staff of the Times, again a distinguished author, Bari Weiss, called it quits. She cited a hostile work environment, bullying and on-line attacks by her own colleagues from the Times. Here is how Weiss’s work and outlook were characterized in a recent Vanity Fair profile.
“Broadly speaking, Weiss’s work is heterodox, defying easy us/them, left/right categorization. Since getting hired at the paper in the spring of 2017, she has focused on hot-button cultural topics, such as #MeToo, the Women’s March, and campus activism, approaching each topic with a confrontational skepticism that until recently had a strong place within the liberal discourse. Her basic gist: while such movements are well-intentioned, their excesses of zeal, often imposed by the hard left, can backfire.”
In her lengthy letter of resignation to Times publisher A. G. Sulzberger, Weiss wrote (referencing the 2016 election),
” . . . the lessons that ought to have followed the election—lessons about the importance of understanding other Americans, the necessity of resisting tribalism, and the centrality of the free exchange of ideas to a democratic society—have not been learned. Instead, a new consensus has emerged in the press, but perhaps especially at this paper: that truth isn’t a process of collective discovery, but an orthodoxy already known to an enlightened few whose job is to inform everyone else.”
Weiss gets right to the nub of it there. “Truth isn’t a process of collective discovery, but an orthodoxy already known to an enlightened few whose job it is to inform everyone else.” A deficit of epistemological humility that.
This is the Achilles heel of too many liberals and even more so of progressives and the Woke. We know the truth. We have the truth. We’re here to tell you the truth. You who don’t see things as we do are simply unenlightened, deluded and, well, “deplorable.”
The third strike in this trifecta of Bennet and Weiss is Andrew Sullivan, again an excellent writer and analyst. He has been a regular columnist for New York Magazine. Sullivan has resigned for reasons and experiences similar to those of Weiss, though at a different New York publication. He will say more about this in his final regular column this Friday.
Bennet, Weiss and Sullivan, while spanning three generations (Millennial, X’er and Boomer), represent an older liberal tradition which argues the importance of hearing viewpoints with which we do not agree and with raising questions about any received orthodoxy, no matter how well-intended.
As Weiss suggests in her letter of resignation one of the problems with the Times becoming so ideological is that as the house organ of America’s cultural elites the NYT then merely confirms their prejudices and insulates them from other Americans. So instead of building bridges of understanding into Red or Conservative or “deplorable” America, liberal elites are siloing themselves in a way similar to those who watch only FOX News.
The truth, which Trump knows, is that there are many Americans out there who are terrified of what they perceive to be left/ progressive/ Woke agendas, and it is not because they are all right-wing fascists. They worry about memorials to Washington and Jefferson being torn down, as one NYT op-ed recently advocated. They worry about their children being taught that gender is merely a social construct. They worry about their churches and clergy being required to perform weddings they don’t support. They worry about having all public restrooms turned into “uni-sex” facilities. They worry about blanket indictments of “white culture.” They worry that all forms of traditional masculinity are now labelled “toxic.”
While some of these fears have little basis in reality, the drift of the New York Times and the saga of Bennet, Weiss and Sullivan — as well as arrogance on the left evident in varied settings, from academia to the Seattle City Council — suggest that there is enough basis in reality that Trump has material to work with and exploit.