Professor Williams was wrong: Are we humans really able to handle our own affairs?
Increasingly, it seems to us that the answer is no. As a case in point, reading this morning's New York Times seemed like a descent into madness.
We were stunned by the type of work we found all over the paper. For now, consider the letters the paper published in reply to Professor Williams' recent column, "The Dumb Politics of Elite Condescension."
Professor Williams said we liberals should stop displaying class-based condescension toward working-class whites. Question:
Could someone possibly live on this planet and be unaware of such behavior? According to this morning's Times, at least three people have managed to do so, or they've at least come pretty darn close.
The Times published three letters in response to Williams' column. None of the letters agreed with her basic premise or point of view. In varying ways, all three writers said Williams was wrong in her picture of the world, or in her political advice.
The first letter came from East Brunswick, New Jersey. The writer's denial was total:
LETTER TO THE NEW YORK TIMES (6/5/17): Joan C. Williams says Democrats need to address the “working-class revolt against global elites.” No; Democrats need to figure out why the party of the poor, the working class and the disenfranchised has allowed the right-wing spin doctors to paint them as condescending, out-of-touch elites.According to this true believer, there is no merit to Williams' complaint. Instead, right-wing spin doctors have somehow managed to portray liberals and Democrats as condescending.
Ms. Williams cites Hillary Clinton’s use of “deplorables” as an example of this condescension. It seems to me that Mrs. Clinton was referring to the white nationalists and those spouting racism, sexism and anti-Muslim propaganda.
The issue is not one of class: The Democratic Party has long fought for the poor. It is more an issue of who defines the narrative.
(This writer doesn't see a problem with Hillary Clinton's "deplorables" comment. Clinton said half the people who didn't support her fit into this group. The letter writer seems to believe that Clinton was merely stating a fact.)
This first writer said we liberals have been slandered by spin doctors. The second writer, in Santa Barbara, took a somewhat different approach.
She too implied that Democrats get "labeled" as elitists when they're actually doing what's right. But she closed with this:
LETTER TO THE NEW YORK TIMES: The true elitists are the 1 percenters who use their money to elect corrupt politicians and stir up class warfare to divide and conquer.It's human history's oldest response. The very bad people of whom you speak are actually all Over There!
The third letter, from Anaheim, was perhaps saddest of all. The writer "readily" admitted that "elites can be condescending." But the other tribe is very bad too, and he doesn't want Us to heal ourselves until They do the same:
LETTER TO THE NEW YORK TIMES: I readily accept that the pain of the underprivileged is real and that elites can be condescending. That said, the essay falls short of addressing the entire problem. It assumes that the condescension is one-sided (it is not) and that it exists in a vacuum (it does not).Asking progressives to be less condescending "won't fix anything?"
What else can one call it when the heartland refers to itself as the “real” America while the diverse middle-class California neighborhood I live in is seen as a threatening abnormality?
Being more open to other points of view is almost always a good idea. But asking progressives to be more open to and gentle with the Trump base without asking anything in return won’t fix anything.
In principle, couldn't it fix the problem of progressives being condescending? (According to Williams, this type of behavior is causing liberals and Democrats to lose elections.)
That letter comes very close to saying They did it first. Beyond that, the writer is very eager to generalize about Them. (Does everyone in "the heartland"—his term—refer to themselves in the way he describes? He seems to think They do.)
Most strikingly, this writer doesn't want Us to improve our approach until They agree to improve Theirs. This reasoning comes to us live and direct from the first grade playground. Meanwhile, it ignores Williams' claim that we liberals are losing elections through this condescending behavior. He's willing to let that situation continue until The Others admit that They are very bad too!
These letters strike us as depressing. Then too, there's the conduct of the Times itself. Did all the letters about Williams' column express this party line view? To judge from the selection they published, the Times received zero letters affirming Williams' views.
Increasingly, our team is tribal, hateful, ditto-headed, dumb. We're being trained in this dumbness by corporate cable, much as conservatives were trained by corporate talk radio during the earlier years of corporate tribal "news."
We long to loathe the Others. More than anything else on earth, we long to call them racists. More and more, it seems to be the only play we know.
We insist that We are good, and They are bad. This is what all other tribals in human history have (self-destructively) said.
Professor Williams speaks: At this link, Professor Williams is interviewed by Slate's Isaac Chotiner.
In our view, Chotiner just thoroughly doesn't get it. We've been disappointed by his tribal certainty before.
Chotiner is technically bright. He's also very, very sure that his own tribe is moral and good, and that The Others are racists. As has been true through the annals of time:
The Others, who are very bad, are under every bed.
As we type, Slate offers this as the "Top Comment" to Chotiner's piece. We think the comment is right on point. In this age of corporate cable, how many will notice or care?