Comments and observations on social and political trends and events.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Demonizing the Opposition – An Example

Kevin Vallier at Bleeding Heart Libertarians comments on a post by Robert Krugman in which he dehumanizes conservatives in order to justify his approach for ignoring anything they say. The context of Krugman’s post is to explain why Republican evangelicals can support Trump who doesn’t align with their conservative principles. According to Krugman,

What happened to conservative principles?

Actually, nothing — because those alleged principles were never real. Conservative religiosity, conservative faith in markets, were never about living a godly life or letting the invisible hand promote entrepreneurship. Instead, it was all as Corey Robin describes it: Conservatism is

a reactionary movement, a defense of power and privilege against democratic challenges from below, particularly in the private spheres of the family and the workplace.

It’s really about who’s boss, and making sure that the man in charge stays boss. Trump is admired for putting women and workers in their place, and it doesn’t matter if he covets his neighbor’s wife or demands trade wars.

As Vallier says, “Krugman’s opponents aren’t just wrong: they oppose fundamental moral and political values (equality) that any reasonable, decent person should accept. How are Very Serious Progressives like Krugman to share a country such individuals? Krugman’s answer is clear: support state power to crush conservative policies and criticize their intelligence and character.”

I’ve been harping recently on Arnold Kling’s e-book Three Languages of Politics but to me Krugman provides a clear example of the preference that Kling has identified for liberals to explain things in terms of the oppressed versus the oppressors. Trump and conservatives don’t believe what they do (and who knows what Trump really believes?) because they’re mistaken. Oh, no. It’s because they want to maintain their oppressor status. So that absolves progressives of the need to fairly answer positions taken by Republicans or conservatives. After all, these right wingers are the enemy and sub-human and therefore don’t deserve to be treated fairly.

There are several problems with this. First, this will continue the polarization that almost everyone decries. Second, Krugman implicitly alleges to be able to read the minds of everyone who claims to be a conservative. In other words, anyone who espouses conservative principles by definition doesn’t really believe what they’re saying. He can somehow divine that their real intent is to oppress people. Not just some conservatives. All of them. Nice, huh? This in turn leads to the third problem: intellectual laziness. Your principles are protected behind the insular force field of demonizing the opposition. Essentially this mind set boils down to: “Move on. Move on. There is nothing to hear folks. This is just a crazy right (or left) winger ranting. Our ideas are so indisputably and blindingly correct that anyone who challenges them just proves how subhuman and despicable they are.”