Saturday, July 10, 2021

From the Archives: If only the Left wasn't so . . . you know, divisive

By Aula Minerva
Archives Editor

Who's to blame for the anger of the reactionary right, which has now reached the point where half of Republicans prefer authoritarian rule to democracy?

If you guessed it's the reactionary right and the forces of plutocracy and white supremacy that stoke their insanity and unjustified anger, you lose!

It's really the fault of those oh so angry, rigid, and intolerant “social justice lefties” whose supposed radical intransigence has frustrated all efforts to reach out to their fellow Americans who just happened to hold slightly different values, like racism, bigotry, misogyny, and fascism.

Don't believe us?  Just ask venerable white hack George Packer, who pocketed a healthy advance for a new book in which he divides America into four pieces (sure, why not?):

He thinks America has fractured principally along lines of social class and material hardship, which increasingly persist across generations. He blames “the new aristocracy” and “invisible monopolies,” but also the divide between “two classes, rising professionals and sinking workers.” A few generations ago [in the age of lynchings and segregated schools – Ed.], they “were close in incomes and not so far apart in mores.” But now they “no longer believe they belong to the same country.”

George Packer yearns for the days
when we were united

In the book’s sharpest chapter, Packer describes “Four Americas.” . . .Packer is biting in depicting the left. He divides it into “Smart America” and “Just America.” Neither is a compliment. Smart Americans are the rising professional class, for whom unions hardly exist and college admissions are “the most important event in the life cycle of a family.” Packer allows that striving is human, but skewers Smart Americans for being “meritocrats by birth” yet going “to a lot of trouble not to know it.” He has receipts: “After seven decades of meritocracy, it’s as unlikely for a lower-class child to be admitted to a top Ivy League university as it was in 1954.” In Smart America’s families, passing achievement from one generation to the next is an obsession, and democracy is an afterthought....[Which must be why Smart America is so concerned about voting rights – Ed.]

Just America “is concerned with language and identity more than material conditions.” . . . According to Packer’s rendition of Just America’s ideology, on the other hand, “all disparities between groups result from systems of oppression and demand collective action for redress, often amounting to new forms of discrimination — in other words, equity. In practice, identity politics inverts the old hierarchy of power into a new one: bottom rail on top.”  [These two sentences are contradictory.  If Justice America is interested in redistributive justice, then it is in fact principally concerned with material conditions. – Ed.]

Packer spells out the problems he sees with abandoning the Enlightenment framework. Fixating on language alienates sympathetic outsiders. It’s hard to build a coalition while constantly correcting how people talk. Symbolic fights distract elites while doing nothing to address economic hardship. Just America may also find itself out of touch with people it claims to represent. The activist push to defund the police in many cities, for example, “was stopped by local Black citizens, who wanted better, not less, policing.”

Silly generalizations – the Left makes them all the time, amirite? 

Does any of this line up with reality outside of George Packer's costive imagination (which previously imagined a case for war in Iraq, the opposition to which came almost entirely from – the Left)?

Of course not.  The movement to “defund the police” was not started by rich white elitists – it was a cry of anger and despair from people of color overwhelmed by the continual cycle of white police murdering Black folks.  If other people of color see a value to keeping a police force, that means there's a debate to be had, not that those angered by apparently uncontrollable police violence are somehow responsible for the political polarization caused by that violence. 

And the tired cliché about white lefties and college admissions: is it entirely or even partially their fault that college admissions do not properly reflect diversity across race and class? If only there was a theory that could explain how the embedded effects of racism in our society perpetuate inequality, Packer might learn something.  Or perhaps not, because he could just dismiss it as the product of of the Justice Left's preoccupation with language or its contempt for Enlightenment values.  And by the way, how is insisting on dignity and freedom for all persons regardless of past oppression or current bigotry inconsistent with Enlightenment values?

Perhaps someday, after another large advance, George Packer will enlighten us.

If only the antiwar Left had been less divisive . . .

But we're not here to rubbish mediocre current day hacks like Packer, although it's certainly good sport.

Rather, we'd point out that Packer's Complaint about the left, and how it is to blame for the divisions that plague, and indeed threaten the foundations of, our society is not just ridiculous, it's not even original.

In fact it's consistent with 70 years of white male whining about how those nasty Lefties are to blame for everything from the white backlash to civil rights to the endless prolongation of the Vietnam War (about which the Left was, um, right all along.)

This line was a staple of Southern racists in the 60's. This New York Times News Service dispatch, printed in the July 10, 1964 Massachusetts Spy, is a fair example:

ALBANY, Ga., July 9— Ten Negroes who tried to enter a swimming pool patronized exclusively by whites were convicted of vagrancy today in a case that may provide an important test of the scope of the Civil Rights Act....

Recorders Court Judge Adie N. Durden sentenced the youths to 30 days on the road gang or $102 each.

Then the judge lashed out at “agitators from New York.” He gave voice to the prevalent feeling among whites that Albany's racial troubles were incited by “outside meddlers.”

“Best thing you can do is go back and clean up your own state,” the judge told members of the Students Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which staged the pool demonstration last Sunday.

Substitute the Justice Left for New York agitators, and you've got George Packer.  Those outside agitators who sought to end racial disparities without any concern for the delicate sensibilities of white snowflakes are to blame for the divisiveness of the civil rights movement.  Or at least partly to blame, in Packer's fair and balanced assessment.

It will come as almost equally shocking to recount how the same bushwa was weaponized to blame antiwar protesters for the disaster that was the Vietnam War.  Just before the giant antiwar demonstration of November 15, 1969, crooked Republican President Dick Nixon and his bag carriers were busy accusing the protesters of treason:

Do you support Hanoi? Love it or leave it? If only the Smart and Justice Left had not stabbed our troops in the back, Vietnam might be as democratic today as, just to name one Republican paradise, Texas.

One more bit of idiocy in the vein of blaming injustice on those fighting it and we'll let George Packer go back to autographing his books.  

If you think America exploits and degrades women today, then you probably shouldn't look back on the rise of the feminist movement in the late 60's and early 70's, because then you would learn that their rigidity and extremism caused an inability to reach out to those who wanted them to remain in their second-class economic, social, and political status:

If only they had been more demure

There are political consequences to remembering things that never happened and forgetting things that did. If what you mainly know about modern feminism is that its proponents immolated their underwear, you might well arrive at the conclusion that feminists are “obnoxious,” as Leslie Sanchez does in her new book, [no plug for pisspoor books – Ed.] “I don’t agree with the feminist agenda,” Sanchez writes. “To me, the word ‘feminist’ epitomizes the zealots of an earlier and more disruptive time.” Here’s what Sanchez would prefer: “No bra burning. No belting out Helen Reddy. Just calm concern for how women were faring in the world.”

The world that Sanchez has in mind is really Washington, D.C. Sanchez has a day job as a Republican political analyst; perhaps this is why she measures progress solely by the percentage of people with government jobs who wear bras...[S]he bitterly regrets that the former governor of Alaska did not make it to the West Wing. “Most of us are Sarah Palins to one degree or another,” Sanchez asserts. Palin “so very clearly reflected the lifestyle choices, hard work ethic, and traditional values that so many women admire.”

That was Ariel Levy writing in The New Yorker 12 years ago.  She makes the central point: it's a lot easier to frame a satisfying if false narrative blaming all sides for the bigotry of bigots, the intolerance of the intolerant, the racism of racists, and the greed of plutocrats if you just rewrite history to say what you wished it said. 

At least George Packer has figured out how to get paid for it.

No comments:

Post a Comment