Liberals facing left-wing extremism

Matt Yglesias writes (WaPo, paywalled),

By all means, let’s dispense with the frustrating and at times hypocritical meta-debate about “free speech” (in the context of racism) and “cancel culture.” But the newly fashionable anti-racist thinking contains a mix of good ideas and bad ones — including some that are dangerously counterproductive for the people they are intended to help. Bland agreement that “racism is bad” does not suffice when racism is reconceptualized as an abstract attribute of policies and systems, as opposed to bigoted individual behaviors. Understanding complicated social phenomena is difficult. Solving social problems, almost all of which involve race, is contentious. Liberals can’t respond by ceding huge swaths of the political landscape to the hardcore right — or to whichever activist happens to have most loudly proclaimed their own anti-racism.

My thoughts.

1. He doesn’t come out against Critical Race Theory and such with both guns blazing. He is trying to coax his fellow liberals toward a more skeptical point of view. But that means he spends most of the piece gesturing toward liberals, and comparatively little time exposing CRT dogma and emotional blackmail. I cannot help but see this as a sign of weakness.

2. As an analogy with how CRT affects liberals, consider the position in which Mr. Trump puts conservatives. I encourage fellow conservatives to be critical of Mr. Trump’s management capabilities and to reject his “stolen election” stance. On the latter point, I am all for a bipartisan commission to suggest best practices for the conduct of elections, but the 2020 election was over when the states declared it was over.

Still, I did not come out with both guns blazing against Mr. Trump’s abusive behavior toward various people and institutions. And most professional Republican politicians are afraid to go even as far as I have.

I watched on YouTube part of Mr. Trump’s speech at CPAC the other day, in which he displayed his extreme narcissism (every other sentence was “the greatest ever”), bullying (“little Ben Sasse”), and truth-bending. I found the crowd’s response, shouting “We love you!” and the like, to be much more frightening than the Capitol Hill Riot. Sycophants in suits are scarier than crashers in costumes.

All this is something that we should bear in mind when judging Yglesias.

3. Still, I think there is something different about the inability of liberals to deal with CRT. In the case of Republicans and Trump, politicians see a need to avoid appearing to criticize Mr. Trump’s supporters. Not being a politician, I can speak more freely. While I mostly respect Mr. Trump’s supporters, I am not going to pretend to like everything that they do.

I don’t think that is going on with liberals and CRT. It isn’t that liberals are catering to radicals merely in order to hang on to a constituency. I think liberals have a genuine emotional need to affiliate with the radicals. In that regard, Shelby Steele’s White Guilt gets closer to explaining the dynamic. Liberals want to support any cause that marches under the banner of Civil Rights. Like allowing men who identify as female to compete with women in athletic events.

4. Another factor is that conservatives stand with existing institutions. Liberals believe that if rational analysis shows that existing institutions are not perfect, then at the very least they must be reformed and at most they should be torn down altogether and replaced. Hence, conservatism by its nature is against radicalism, while liberalism by its nature treats radicalism with some sympathy. The net result is that conservatives recoiled from the January 6 riot, while liberals did not recoil against the BLM riots. Even though one could make a case that the latter did more lasting and significant damage.

5. I think that liberals’ fear of Mr. Trump and his supporters becomes exaggerated. Building up this fear became the business model of the liberal press. I thought that this fear was hysterical from the very beginning.

6. I do not think that my concerns with the social justice movement are a comparable over-reaction. I think that those concerns are justified. If my perspective is correct, then the Yglesias piece falls short of spelling out to liberals the seriousness of the fire they are playing with.

Bret Stephens (NYT, paywall) writes,

All of this has left many of the traditional gatekeepers of liberal institutions uncertain, timid and, in many cases, quietly outraged. This is not the deal they thought they struck. But it’s the deal they’re going to get until they recover the courage of their liberal convictions.

That comes closer to what I would have liked to see from Yglesias.