The American “Left” and the Paradox of Tolerance
I’ve been living in the US for about 5 years now. I’m not an expert on any kind of social study, but I have been forming some perceptions on the political dynamics at play in this country. It certainly feels like today’s level of polarization will be very hard to reverse, but it’ll be downright impossible if the “left” is not willing to admit — or even able to see — the huge role they played in Donald Trump’s rise to power.
Since I’m criticizing the American “left” here, you might assume I’m a conservative of sorts. The reality is that my political leanings are so damn socialist that most Americans have been indoctrinated to reject them outright as “communist” — which, of course, is an inaccurate description, but anything left of the “global” center is “communism” for the neoliberal indoctrinates. Also, if you’re an American, look up “neoliberalism,” it probably doesn’t mean what you think. Moving on.
The Paradox of Tolerance is usually brought up in the context of what the PC media calls the “alt-right,” and that in more precise terms, we may describe as xenophobic fascist extremists: neo-nazis, white supremacists, etcetera. Conventional understanding of this paradox justifies any measure we may take to silence these people, because a society that tolerates intolerance can never be truly tolerant. Congratulations, it’s a paradox, and a necessary one if we don’t want another Holocaust.
But I’d like to argue here that the original wave of intolerance came, in fact, from the “liberals.” Through the 2010s, the US “social justice” culture war had people up in arms about fair causes, like marriage equality, free abortion, LGBTQ+ rights, thoughtful use of language, and so on. (I wanted to say “worker’s rights” or “fair wages,” but we know what’s important in the US.) Still, like I said, fair causes needed to grow the tent, necessary to have more people feel included in a country whose name starts with the word “United.”
The immense irony is: the people closest to these causes — who are often privileged white “liberals” outraged after learning about historical abuses — become so militant that whoever is on the other side is, from their perspective, immediately worthy of antagonization. The “enlightened” “liberal” becomes so intoxicated with their self-righteousness that they feel like people who’ve been raised with a different mindset are a cancer that’s worthy of being treated like human trash. (Yet another symptom of the very toxic entitlement of privileged white Americans.) The thinking looks something like this: you’re so wrong that you have no right to be — your wrongness is actively violent against vulnerable people, so I have the right to be violent against you.
Needless to say, that’s very intolerant. People on the receiving end of that kind of hate have every right to feel alienated. When people feel estranged from what they might have perceived as “their” group — American society and culture, as represented and spread by mass media — it’s natural for them to seek out welcoming validation. When people are treated as an “enemy,” it’s natural for them to partner up with like-minded people and actually become an antagonist by, for example, actively taking up metaphorical and literal arms against the beliefs of the people who marginalized them. People crave belonging and validation, and if you don’t give it to them, they’ll find it elsewhere.
What the white “liberals” don’t realize is that, in their attempt to protect certain vulnerable groups of people, they’ve been relentlessly abusing another very vulnerable group: the under-educated poor. The ruthless individualism embedded at the core of American neoliberal society has good people getting crap education, crap opportunities, and now crap in their faces because the coastal elites don’t like their embedded cultural beliefs. These people are not necessarily responsible for those beliefs — they often come from generations of familial indoctrination, and often, what’s needed to remediate any xenophobia is simple education with (and through) empathy.
Instead, the sophisticated monkeys are still flinging poop at them. Some people tried to learn this lesson from 2016, but most didn’t, so here we are again. It could be argued that this particular lesson could have been learned from the Civil War experience, but the opposite might actually be true: the north definitely learned that they have enough firepower to force their beliefs onto anyone (anywhere in the world, as it turns out), and parts of the south might have just kept soaking in quiet resentment.
To sum it up: as long as the American “left” doesn’t learn from its intolerant and un-empathetic mistakes, people like Donald Trump will continue to harvest the resentment they themselves have planted (and continue to plant) on under-educated poor whites. These intolerant “social justice” “warriors”should have learned to get off their high horse many years ago, but they didn’t, and now the damage is done. Because of that, the American “left” needs to work much, much harder now to rebuild the bridges of goodwill they burned in the name of early-2010s “social justice.” Hopefully after that, they can start focusing on some more real problems, like systemic racial oppression and ensuring equal dignity for their entire population regardless of how much “value” they produce for the economy.
You may have noticed I didn’t bundle up race struggles with the above “liberal” “social justice” causes. That’s because white “liberals” have only very recently become more invested in racial issues, and even then, jury is still out on whether it was just a summer fling.