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E-Pluribus | November 3, 2022
More introspection from progressives on the 2020 firing of the New York Times's James Bennet; morality and condoning violence; and is the New Right really conservative?
A round-up of the latest and best writing and musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
Jonathan Chait: Progressive America Needs a Glasnost
Jonathan Chait at New York Magazine joins the Washington Post’s Erik Wemple in retroactive criticism of the New York Times’s handling of Tom Cotton’s 2020 op-ed and Times editor James Bennet, but goes further as well. Chait writes that progressive America needs a larger reckoning with the events of 2020 and the widespread fear of pushing back against conventional narratives.
But the truth is Wemple’s fears were hardly imaginary. In recent years, many journalists lost their jobs as a result of internal social panics even more irrational than the Cotton episode. The Philadelphia Inquirer purged its top editor after its architecture critic wrote a column mourning the destruction of buildings during the George Floyd protests. The Times pushed out its lead science reporter in the middle of a pandemic because a group of prep-school teens he was leading on a foreign trip complained about his centrist politics and having quoted (but not used) a racial slur.
The Post itself had two of its most beloved and decorated staffers retire suddenly after becoming the targets of progressive anger. Gene Weingarten, its Pulitzer-winning humor columnist, wrote a ham-fisted column trying to poke fun at himself for not liking Indian food, which despite his apology set off a wave of calls for him to be fired and replaced with a person of color. Weingarten quietly retired shortly thereafter. The Post also ran a bizarre story about the fact that editorial cartoonist Tom Toles threw a Halloween party at which one guest he barely knew showed up in a costume as “Megyn Kelly in blackface.” A few months later, Toles retired.
[ . . . ]
I am quite sure there are more such incidents that have gone unreported. When I stumbled on the news of David Shor’s firing in 2020, one thing that struck me was that nobody wanted to talk about it. Since these purges occur at institutions whose staff are overwhelmingly on the left, most of the victims in these cases have beliefs that place them somewhere from the center to the left of the political spectrum. They usually don’t want to become famous for being a victim of cancel culture. Indeed, becoming a martyr on Fox News compounds the “social death” that many of these victims experience.
Read it all.
Jonah Goldberg: Grading Morality on a Curve
Political violence and the blame for it are generating a lot of ink this year. At The Dispatch, Jonah Goldberg says there is a great deal of hypocrisy on both sides, and the bottom line is that condoning or encouraging political violence is wrong - full stop.
A great deal of the “debate” about political violence—like so many other things in America today—is often a very stupid argument about hypocrisy: “You didn’t condemn X but now you want me to condemn Y.” But it’s so much stupider than just that.
First, it’s often not true. So-and-so actually did condemn X, but the critics saying otherwise weren’t paying attention or didn’t bother to check. Or perhaps the condemnation wasn’t framed the way the critics wanted.
Second, people often make guilt-by-association arguments. Here’s an example: Person A didn’t say the right thing about Team Blue’s violent act, and so everyone else on Team Blue is, by the transitive property, equally hypocritical when Team Red’s violent act is in the news. The stupidity of this is multiplied by the fact that most of the time the violence wasn’t a team effort, but a one-off act by a single disturbed individual. A fact everyone promotes when convenient and ignores when inconvenient.
Third, and relatedly, each team wants to claim that the other team’s rhetoric caused violence when violence can be connected to that rhetoric and deny any such connection exists when violence can be connected to their own rhetoric. This means that every time some horrible act is committed, the teams switch positions. People who scream, “You’re responsible for this!” at the other team suddenly insist, “I had nothing to do with it!” when some deranged nutter has an inconvenient manifesto or Facebook post.
A lot of this stems from the collective desire to make politics into a form of entertainment—there is a crowd-sourced effort to craft a convenient narrative to turn our culture war fights into a story of good versus evil. This is a very old story in American politics that can be traced in the modern period to the assassination of JFK by Lee Harvey Oswald, a Marxist radical. “He didn’t even have the satisfaction of being killed for civil rights,” Jackie Kennedy lamented to Bobby Kennedy when he told her the news. “It’s—it had to be some silly little Communist.” The liberal establishment needed Kennedy to have been killed by the forces of “hate,” and so that narrative was constructed in real time by people like Dan Rather.
Read the whole thing.
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Seth Moskowitz: Understanding (and Untangling) the New Right
A number of groups claiming the conservatism label have emerged recently as the Right tries to regroup and redefine itself in the wake of Donald Trump. Seth Moskowitz of Discourse Magazine writes that, while different on many particulars, one notable thing about New Right groups is that they are taking the “conserve” out of conservatism.
Exactly how much influence each faction of the New Right will have on the future of right-wing thought and the Republican Party is impossible to know. As of now, national conservatism seems to have gained the most mainstream buy-in and tangible influence on the GOP. But the eminence of national conservatism over integralism or neoreaction is far from settled.
It’s also important to remember that the boundaries among these three New Right groups are fluid. It’s not possible to separate the movements or their followers because they share many of the underlying assessments about what’s gone wrong in American society and what we need to do to fix it. So while a taxonomy is useful as a guide to understanding the currents of thought on the New Right, we should not treat it as a scientific endeavor or imagine that it’s possible to perfectly categorize every idea or person exclusively into one of the three ideologies.
Within all this complexity, one striking thing is clear: None of the New Right ideologies is truly conservative in the sense that they are not trying to conserve anything. Several New Right figures have made this same argument, writing articles with titles like “We Are No Longer Conservatives; We Are Restorationists” and “We Need To Stop Calling Ourselves Conservatives.” The latter article, recently published in “The Federalist,” argues that conservatives “should stop thinking of themselves as conservatives (much less as Republicans) and start thinking of themselves as radicals, restorationists, and counterrevolutionaries. Indeed, that is what they are, whether they embrace those labels or not.”
Read it all here.
Excerpts from a Wesley Yang thread on personal experience with “microaggressions”:
One Twitter user on “BIPOC” [Black, Indigenous, and people of color] as an identifier; Andrew Sullivan chimes in:
And finally, Shadi Hamid with his less-than-generous paraphrase of Joe Biden’s speech on the midterms: