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September 22nd, 2017

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Irrational fear of fellow countrymen is spreading

Glenn Reynolds

By Glenn Reynolds

Published Jan. 16, 2017

Irrational fear of fellow countrymen is spreading

How crazy has the reaction to Trump's impending presidency gotten? So crazy that Democratic operatives are scared of plumbers, and I don't mean the Watergate kind.

No, really. Ned Resnikoff, a "senior editor" at the liberal website ThinkProgress, wrote on Facebook that he'd called a plumber to fix a clogged drain. The plumber showed up, did the job and left, but Resnikoff was left shaken, though with a functioning drain. Wrote Resnikoff, "He was a perfectly nice guy and a consummate professional. But he was also a middle-aged white man with a Southern accent who seemed unperturbed by this week's news."

This created fear: "While I had him in the apartment, I couldn't stop thinking about whether he had voted for Trump, whether he knew my last name is Jewish, and how that knowledge might change the interaction we were having inside my own home."

When it was all over, Resnikoff reported that he was "rattled" at the thought that a Trump supporter might have been in his home. "I couldn't shake the sense of potential danger."

Well. When people have irrational, exaggerated fears we call them phobias. We heard a lot during this year's immigration debate about "xenophobia," an exaggerated or irrational fear of foreigners. But this plumber wasn't a foreigner. He was an American with an American regional accent who thought the American election had turned out okay. What do you call the irrational fear of an American, by an American?

Roger Scruton coined the term "oikophobia" (from the Greed oikos for "home") to describe the fear of one's fellow countrymen. And there seems to be rather a lot of it among the gentry liberals who make up America's ruling class.

In fact, another piece on reacting to the election, by Tim Kreider in The Week, is titled "I love America. It's Americans I hate." Writes Kreider, "The public is a swarm of hostile morons, I told her. You don't need to make them understand you; you just need to defeat them, or wait for them die. . . . A few of us are talking, after a couple drinks, about buying guns; if it comes to a fascist state or civil war, we figure, we don't want the red states to be the only ones armed."

"A vote for Trump," Kreider continues, "is kind of like a murder." Though his piece concludes on a (slightly) more hopeful note, the point is clear: Americans, at least Trump-voting Americans, are "pathetically dumb and gullible, uncritical consumers of any disinformation that confirms their biases."

It's gotten worse since Election Day, but there's nothing new about this. I've been reading Nancy Isenberg's White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America, and this categorization of lower and working-class whites as (to coin a word) "deplorables" goes way back. And we've certainly seen it before this election.

Angelo Codevilla wrote in 2010: "Its attitude is key to understanding our bipartisan ruling class. Its first tenet is that 'we' are the best and brightest while the rest of Americans are retrograde, racist, and dysfunctional unless properly constrained." Most ruling classes think that sort of thing about the ruled, of course, but as Codevilla notes, it sits poorly with American notions of equality.

And in a notorious Yale Law Journal article, feminist law professor Wendy Brown wrote about an experience in which, after a wilderness hike, she returned to her car to find it wouldn't start. A man in an NRA hat spent a couple of hours helping her get it going, but rather than display appreciation for this act of unselfishness, Brown wrote that she was lucky she had friends along, as a guy like that was probably a rapist.

Another law professor, Douglas Laycock, wrote an article in response entitled, appropriately enough, Vicious Stereotypes In Polite Society. In polite society, expressing fear of unknown blacks is unacceptable; expressing fear of working-class white men, on the other hand, is not. "It is useful to consider how the story would have been told if Professor Brown's car had broken down in Harlem instead of in the mountains. Suppose her benefactor had been a young black male with a radical political button. ... I am confident that her report of the encounter would have been very different."

As Isenberg's White Trash notes, the desire to feel superior to somebody is a powerful human drive, and it has often been aimed at poor and working-class whites. But it's not very attractive, and contempt is likely to be returned with contempt. Those who are still grappling with the reality that Donald J. Trump will be sworn in as president may want to take a look in the mirror.

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Glenn Harlan Reynolds, a University of Tennessee law professor, is the author of The New School: How the Information Age Will Save American Education from Itself and is a columnist at USA TODAY.

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