Column
March 8, 2017

Principle and prejudice

Writers of internet content are in general unoriginal, pandering, and shamelessly given to formula, so when one particular article becomes a successful and widely shared piece of clickbait, you can bet that other articles in same vein will follow. Was that dress blue and black or white and gold?

For the past couple months, I’ve been periodically seeing articles by writers who, despite living in “liberal enclaves” (usually New York City, occasionally San Francisco), have long held conservative beliefs in secret and now have finally “come out” as Trump supporters to their Republican-bashing friends. The gist of these articles is that the writer in question is amazed by the scorn and hatred he’s forced to endure simply on account of being different, in this one sense, from his or her liberal cohort: aren’t we all human beings, after all?

If we accept that these essays reflect lived experience rather than a contrived basis upon which to articulate—on a sympathetic, individualized level—the idea (promulgated by conservatives) that liberals have “gone too far” in their hatred of Trump, inhabiting such a frenzy of contempt as to destroy their sense of fairness or of decency (not to mention any hope of national unity), then, well, these essays still don’t really deserve our attention, but at this point I’ve seen them shared enough times on Facebook—not so much by conservative friends, in fact, as by mild liberals who, urged by the times into deeper, choppier political waters than they would prefer to inhabit, feel bashful of their growing partisanship and fearful of slipping into what they deem leftist “extremism”—that I’ve felt compelled to take a look.

The key to this sort of piece, in which the author laments the cruelty and prejudice of the various friends who have insulted him or outright shunned him on account of his innocent enthusiasm for our 45th president, is the phrase “come out”—the author has nearly always just “come out” as a Trump supporter, and the term deliberately links the experience of the essayist to the trials of LGBTQ community, in which, simply for admitting to what they are, people have often found themselves lowered, in the eyes of their peers, to a subhuman status. In at least one iteration that I’ve seen, the essayist actually is a gay man and makes the comparison explicit. The experience of a Republican in New York City is supposedly is the same as that of a young gay person in, say, Arkansas, but there is a twist: while the LGBTQ community has faced rejection primarily from the narrow-minded Bible thumpers on the Right, the Trump voter receives this treatment from the supposedly broad-minded Left, which has always trafficked in high-minded disapproval of such behavior.

In this way, the coming-out-for-Trump essay is a variation on a common conservative idea: what if the Democrats—supposedly the party of open-mindedness and diversity—are actually the intolerant ones? What if the allegedly fascistic Republicans are just decent, ordinary folks who want to get along with their neighbors, whatever their neighbors may believe, while the hypercritical liberal intellectuals on the other side will grab their pitchforks at the smallest sign of deviation from the strict political orthodoxy developed in the remote ivory towers of their elite universities? Can it really be OK that the acceptable range of political difference, among the oh-so-cosmopolitan Democrats, has grown so vanishingly small, whatever the merits or problems of liberal or conservative thought?

When conservatives ask these questions, they expect smug, intolerant liberals to take a hard look at themselves and end up shocked by their own hypocrisy—the same wholly imaginary reaction liberals hope to provoke in right-wing evangelicals when they point out that that bigotry and stinginess of the Republican Party directly conflicts with the teachings of Jesus Christ.

Hinging on an obvious misinterpretation of the word “diversity” and an exaggeration of the like-mindedness of liberals, the abovementioned conservative line is one of those arguments that sound real but are actually just distractions from the real issues.

If you think about it for more than two seconds, you’ll realize that, in actuality, there’s a fundamental difference between rejecting someone for his or her values, on the one hand, and rejecting someone for his or her sexuality, on the other. The reason why it’s wrong to condemn someone for being gay is that being gay has nothing to do with one’s merits as a human being—homophobia bespeaks prejudice, not an equitable judgment. The same goes for racism, classism, xenophobia, and Islamophobia. It is in the suspension of prejudice that the traditional liberal commitment to diversity lies; it is not in the suspension of judgment altogether.

None of us has ever believed that no one is worthy of condemnation; the point is that no one is worthy of condemnation on the basis of his or her skin color, religion, national origin, or sexual identity. Politics are less incidental: they are reflections of our morals and values. They’re not the whole of us, true, and they’re complicated and difficult, by which I mean that it’s not always easy to determine which candidates represent our deepest principles, and we all make mistakes as we figure it out—but if you’re a Manhattanite who’s old enough to write clickbait articles and you voted for Trump, I don’t want to be friends with you, either, because you’re probably terrible  —or still haven’t figured out that Trump does not actually represent your good values.

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