A sad case
Who is Swaim, that all the Sophists commend him?
Sometimes I don’t know how to take being so goddamn right all the time. Take my years-old and yet-to-be-disproven diagnosis of the Right Wing Mood Swing: “an endless mobius-strip mood-swing from triumphalism to persecution mania and back again.” (Sometimes I have it as “delusions of grandeur to persecution mania” — same diff, really.)
Seen from a certain perspective, it’s very flattering! Makes me feel real smart, like some kind of wizard! On the other hand, it invites melancholy, even a type of Cassandra Syndrome: Sure, I’ve had these people figured out forever — yet nothing changes; major newspapers still publish them, Sunday show hosts take them seriously, and a whole little fungal effusion of conservative crybullies has sprung up in their damp shadows — why, it’s as if I was never heard, as if I never lived! And you people wonder why I drink.
Take the latest manifestation at The Wall Street Journal by one Barton Swaim. The title is “Why the ‘Smart Party’ Never Learns” and yes, he’s talking about you, Mr. Smarty-Pants Communist, Mr. College Professor, Mr. Beatnik, Mr. Hippie! You’re smart but you’re stupid, and here’s his lede:
The most obvious change in American politics this century is the sorting of voters along educational lines. The Democrats are increasingly the party of educated urban elites; the GOP belongs to the white working class. The dispute is over suburban and minority voters. The latter still plump mostly for Democrats, although the party’s social radicalism is pushing them toward the GOP. Voters with impressive educational credentials tend to be Democrats, and those without them lean strongly Republican.
First thing that strikes me about this is the now-ancient picture it peddles of Archie Bunker Reagan Democrats squaring off against Mr. Agnew’s effete corps of impudent snobs, notwithstanding the actual relative income levels and class identities of the two parties.
The second thing I notice is one of those semi-asides with which tendentious writers try to nudge inattentive readers into agreement: that “suburban and minority voters… still plump mostly for Democrats, although the party’s social radicalism is pushing them toward the GOP.” I realize this wheeze is wingnut gospel — especially the minority thing; look, some hungry gal at Politico just told us black GOP nothingburger Tim Scott is a serious presidential candidate, surely the first anyone has heard of it! — but really, we’ve just come off a midterm election where those black and suburban voters stopped the predicted “red wave,” so this is like telling us about that new “Let’s Go Brandon” thing that’s sweeping the country.
Anyway, Swaim then tells us that “adherents of the smart-people party have lost the capacity for self-criticism”: The press says we’re all in “silos” or “bubbles” or “echo chambers” or “information cocoons,” but nuh uh, Swaim has found an Australian study showing that while “social-media users on all sides get plenty of exposure to content with which they disagree” it’s actually “some journalists, media critics, and politicians’” who “are genuinely more likely to inhabit an information cocoon of sorts.”
Swaim doesn’t explain how the Australian determined this (and I’m not gonna pay 65 bucks to find out!); he just serves up this tiny slice to suggest that even though social media at large is a Marketplace of Ideas, it’s the smart guys — that is, remember, liberals; conservatives are all stevedores and bodybuilders who can’t read so good — who are cocooned and insular:
In any case, the silo/bubble metaphor doesn’t describe American politics in the 2020s for the simple reason that there is no silo or bubble. Or if there is, it’s very large and almost exclusively populated by adherents of the smart-people party.
That one I guess his editor insisted Swaim explain, so he tells us that conservatives can’t be siloed because the monoculture is constantly, cruelly bombarding them with liberalism:
If you’re on the right, you simply can’t isolate yourself from the habits and attitudes of left-liberal progressivism. They are everywhere. The most determined imbiber of right-wing opinion still watches television and movies and reads the mainstream press. The left-liberal outlook is expressed everywhere in these media, and generally it isn’t expressed as viewpoint but as established fact.
Cite please. No, really. I know conservatives have been coasting on “liberal media” for decades — as they have been on “liberal bubble” for a few years — but in an era where the whole prestige media apparatus assigned journalist platoons to go to red state diners and kiss Trump voters’ butts, where the New York Times asks whether Elon Musk is really a conservative while the guy shits out anti-vaxx, anti-trans hooey, where Bret Stephens still has a job — where indeed every front page conforms to the consensus reality that there’s no real difference between the guys who tried to overturn the 2020 election and everyone else — many of us are no longer taking their word for it.
But let’s hear out Swaim’s bill of conservative persecution particulars!
The conservative voter who follows nothing but right-wing accounts on social media still sees CNN as a captive audience at airports.
Sorry, did I miss the great Changing of the Channel because when I’m in public spaces it’s pretty much Fox News all the time.
He advises his college-age children as they negotiate campus environments in which they’re expected to state their “pronouns” and declare themselves “allies” of the “LGBTQ2SIA+ community.”
Whut. This is like saying “Mr. Sober Businessman must explain to his college-age children why they should not accept the liberal buttplug no matter how hard his Liberal Sex professor pushes it against his tender anus.” Which I understand was in Swaim’s first draft!
However scornful of left-wing opinion he may be, his employer still subjects him to diversity training.
“You can’t use racial slurs on the job.” “[thinks] Goddamn liberal indoctrination.”
He attends a concert by the local symphony orchestra and has to listen to a four-minute lecture about systemic racism or climate change before the music starts.
Yeah, I was just listening to a redhat coal-rolling guy non-liberal-non-smartguy complain that he can’t even enjoy an evening of Anton Bruckner anymore without some liberal fascist conductor demanding he save the whales.
He can’t watch a pro football game without enduring little pronouncements of wokeness.
Is he talking about when they played “Lift Every Voice and Sing”? Is he actually mad that before he watched black guys smashing into one another he had to hear their music?
The right-winger may get 100% of his news from Republican-leaning news sites but still has to be vigilant as his 5-year-old browses the children’s section of the local public library.
There is no bubble, no silo, for such a person.
I’m sorry, this is nothing but a fantasy. If someone thinks he has to protect his five-year-old from the library, it is because he’s been hypnotized by cynical rightwing grifters stoking anti-gay propaganda, not because of anything real.
There are more words in the thing, very dumb words, including this remarkable passage:
Every conservative journalist born in the last 70 or 80 years has, early in his career, come to the sad realization that liberal writers and intellectuals, the people conservatives are so careful to read and react to, don’t actually read conservatives or know much about the right. Their attitude recalls that wonderful line in “Casablanca” when Ugarte (Peter Lorre) asks Rick (Humphrey Bogart), “You despise me, don’t you?”
Rick’s answer: “If I gave you any thought, I probably would.”
Look, if you want to compare yourself to Peter Lorre in that situation, be my guest. Also:
Something about Mr. Trump gave Democrats and liberal journalists all the emotional license they needed to discount, once and for all, any possibility that a Republican might have a point.
Wonder what that “something” was. And, sorry, I can’t ignore this bit from the close:
Surely it is the educated voter, the respecter of scientific argumentation and informed debate, who bears a special responsibility to consider contrary views. It’s the smart person, not the stupid or ignorant one, who holds the gravest obligation to respect views other than his own.
Throw another file into the Murc’s Law folder.
But say, I did mention the Right Wing Mood Swing at the top, so I guess I ought to address the obvious question: We’ve certainly seen Swaim’s persecution mania, but where is the triumphalism? The short answer is: The fact that this was published in The Wall Street Journal.