Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Frank Rich: Stay Angry, Liberal

Frank Rich no longer occupies the central outpost at the NY Times that was his during the Bush years — so, for example, Mel Gibson is no longer liable to threaten, "I want his intestines on a stick . . . I want to kill his dog" – but the pieces he writes for nymag are no less pointed. I, for one, look forward to them.

In his latest, he challenges what he sees as a disabling conceit among liberals as they contend with Trump's victory. If only, they winge, they had managed to cross the "empathy gap" and make nice to the white working class and rural poor, we would have avoided the calamity of Trump. But Rich thinks there's little reason to believe anything would have gotten through to the "Trumpentariat". 

For his choicest repudiation of the Trumpentariat, and, in effect, liberals who think self-flagellation is the answer to most any political defeat, he quotes a conservative columnist, yet, who writes of those on the other side of the empathy gap that “Donald Trump’s speeches make them feel good. So does OxyContin.”

Or: "While the right is expert at channeling darker emotions like anger into ruthless political action, the Democrats’ default inclination is still to feel everyone’s pain, hang their hats on hope, and enter the fray in a softened state of unilateral disarmament."

I think it's a brilliant piece to which I would append this personal note: I came of political age in the late sixties when to be a liberal was to miss the point, to base politics only on behalf of others leaving one's own stake out. How altruistic. So, as Phil Ochs put it: "Love me, love me, love me, I'm a liberal."

A liberal is the last thing I wanted to be back then. Liberalism was bankrupt.  Radical and revolutionary were the better alternatives. But radical is no longer common parlance, and I won't try to resurrect it, except to say it described a liberal who knew it wasn't about others only but about him/herself too. Liberals who got inflamed for their own sakes. Liberals who had selfhood were radical. As for revolutionary, let's not go there.

But now, if I need a rubric, I'm a liberal, and nothing but, though I'm one who would like to squeeze a bit of the "love me, love me, love love me" stuff — the submissive, please don't hit me, aren't I self-flagellating nicely? — stuff out of the handle.

Back to Rich:

There’s no way liberals can counter these voters’ blind faith in a huckster who’s sold them this snake oil. The notion that they can be won over by some sort of New Deal — “domestic programs that would benefit everyone (like national health insurance),” as Mark Lilla puts it — is wishful thinking. These voters are so adamantly opposed to government programs that in some cases they refuse to accept the fact that aid they already receive comes from Washington — witness the “Keep Government Out of My Medicare!” placards at the early tea-party protests.

The conclusion Rich comes to works for me:

Hold the empathy and hold on to the anger.

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