BOTH sides are dominated by fanatics

This morning while having my coffee, I happened to pick up a copy of The New Yorker.

Living as I do in that backwater known variously as "flyover country," "the Middle," and "the United States of America," The New Yorker is not the essential tool for living for me that some think it is in, for example, New York. It is available, but I have to admit to being such a philistine that when I glance at it I'm usually looking for its superb cartoons, perhaps unequaled in any other American publication. The ones which are drawn in pen and ink, and, not usually the ones masquerading as articles.

I had forgotten what an echo chamber The New Yorker is. I'm not necessarily referring to its understandably Manhattancentric view of the world; after all, there are relatively few articles in Chicago or DSM about New York or the Eastern seaboard. But this morning's encounter was a salutary reminder that even in the Age of Trump the Left is just as insulated from reality as the extreme Right is, and every bit as crazy.

Now, part of the problem is that the Left is very good at recognizing the craziness of the Right, but totally oblivious to its own. It's an article of faith among "progressives" that their own sanity is the main thing distinguishing them from everybody else. Well, their sanity, their intelligence, their wit, and the privilege all these grant them of being able to answer those with whom they disagree with scorn, snark, and a general air of superiority rather than with mundane things like arguments.

I needed to go no further than the "Letters" column of The New Yorker to be reminded both of the arrogance which characterizes the American Left and of its craziness. To be sure, the conspiracy theories here involved the Koch Brothers and "The Rich" rather than the media and the "socialists" and the "cucks." Liberals tell themselves that they are far too genteel to even use a term as vulgar and as stupid as the latter. But their rhetoric is just is hysterical even if their spelling is better, and the tinfoil hats are every bit as shiny.

I learned this morning that the deficit is an illusion and that America is not really broke. It's just that all our capital is tied up in luxury yachts and summer homes. Yes, that odd argument was, at least, made on behalf of the worthy premise that society has an obligation to the least fortunate of its members. But there seemed no more awareness on the part of the person who made it that his arithmetic doesn't add up than there is on the part of conservatives who insist with an equally oblivious abandon that there is no need for the government to help the poor because that's the job of the churches and private charity. That the bill is in each case exponentially, and even comically larger than the resources being suggested for paying it doesn't seem to occur to the extremists on either side of the political divide.

Making Mexicans and Muslims the scapegoats for all of our problems is crazy. It's demagogic, it's unproductive, and it's a lie. But then, so is the notion that "the rich" don't pay their fair share of taxes.

Consider 2012, the latest year for which detailed statistics are available, The richest 50% that year paid 97.2% of all income taxes, compared with 2.8% being paid by the bottom 50%.

The infamous "one percent" paid 31.2% of all income taxes in 2012, compared with 29.8% being paid by the bottom 90%.

The effective tax rate for "the one percent" was seven times higher than that of the bottom 50%.

Neither fanaticism nor demagoguery is unique to the Right. The fact is that our political discourse takes place mostly in echo chambers among people who share our own prejudices. And isolated as we are from rational discourse (or even its expectation) on those rare occasions when we encounter those with whom we disagree, we end up calling each other names and spouting craziness at each other rather than engaging in the kind of rational debate upon which democracy depends. We are well-catechized in the talking points of our own individual flavors of crazy, and when our arguments fall apart when challenged by the other side, we blame their perversity rather than our own disconnection from reality. And the phenomenon is equally valid on both sides of the political divide.

But I will say one thing. In fact, I'm almost tempted to write a letter to The New Yorker to point it out: as crazy as the Trumpist Right is these days, finding relative sanity is a lot easier on the Right than on the Left. I, for one, am unable to think of analogs on the Left for Lindsey Graham, or John McCain, or even Ben Sasse or Mitt Romney.

Can you?


Robert Frohlich said…
I agree, it's impossible to have any rational dialogue about politics. I tried, during the last campaign to reason with people about two equally unworthy candidates. But if I could not support Clinton, then I had to be for Trump. If I refused to vote for Trump, then I had to be supporting Clinton. No one could see further than that either/or position. Now, if I don't criticize every move Trump makes, I'm a racist fanatic. If I do speak up, then I'm a knee-jerk liberal. Gone are the days of the statesmen, Democrat or Republican, who put country first. Instead we are subjected daily to hateful, spiteful, mouth-foaming rhetoric that serves to further tear at the fragile fabric of this once-great nation.
I fear for our nation. The election of Trump was in itself a disturbing sign; that a person so categorically and obviously unfit could be elected suggests that it's not so much the system that's broken as the electorate. Even the fact that his opponent was almost as bad personally and even worse ideologically doesn't excuse it.

The quote from Lincoln I've put in the header for this blog haunts me. I wish I'd had room to fit the whole quotation, which is very eloquent and powerful. But we as a society have in many ways simply ceased to be able to live with one another. We've lost our way, and even if Trump doesn't turn out to be the one who finally takes our freedom we seem utterly unable to hang onto it. We even vote for people who promise to take it away from us, and then become indignant when it's pointed out that that is what we've done.