July 4th, 2022


Advice for the Loyal Opposition

Mark Steyn

By Mark Steyn

Published Nov. 21, 2016

 Advice for the Loyal Opposition

"The object of Parliament," observed Winston Churchill at election time in 1951, "is to substitute argument for fisticuffs."

How's that holding up after November 8th? The object of at least a proportion of those on the streets is to substitute fisticuffs for argument, and indeed for Parliament: The less self-aware even chant "This is what democracy looks like!" - by which they mean not the election but the post-election riots and looting and assaults. Some among these self-proclaimed champions of women and immigrants wish to substitute rape for argument, a cause of such broad appeal that the ideological enforcers at the monopoly social-media cartels breezily permitted the hashtag "Rape Melania" to "trend" on Twitter.

The object of the food-delivery company Grubhub, meanwhile, is to substitute unemployment for argument. The CEO, Matt Maloney, wrote to all his employees advising any Trump voters among them to take a hike:

Please reply to this email with your resignation because you have no place here.

Ha! What a wimp. Why fire your political opponents when you can fire at them? Substituting assassination for argument, Matt Hartigan:

Getting a sniper rife and perching myself where it counts. Find a bedroom in the whitehouse that suits you motherf**ker. I'll find you.

Who's Matt Hartigan? Some unemployable lippy slacktivist with a master's in transgender and colonialism studies? No, he's President and CEO of a cool high-tech cyber-security company called PacketSled. The sled has now decided to move on without its lead dog.

These are not perhaps the most psychologically healthy reactions to the inevitable pendulum swings of free elections in multi-party societies. Not for nothing did Andrew Sullivan warn a few months back of "the passions of the mob". Oh, no, wait - he was worried about Trump supporters:

And so, as I chitchatted over cocktails at a Washington office Christmas party in December, and saw, looming above our heads, the pulsating, angry televised face of Donald Trump on Fox News, I couldn't help but feel a little nausea permeate my stomach. And as I watched frenzied Trump rallies on C-SPAN in the spring, and saw him lay waste to far more qualified political peers in the debates by simply calling them names, the nausea turned to dread. And when he seemed to condone physical violence as a response to political disagreement, alarm bells started to ring in my head.

Obviously, I'd rather be "chitchatting over cocktails at a Washington office Christmas Party" with Andrew Sullivan, but my invite got misplaced. So I wound up viewing Trump's rallies not through the woozy filter of my martini glass but from the fifth row of the stalls, and they were a lot less "angry" and "frenzied" than, say, Matt Hartigan or Matt Maloney. Sometimes it helps to take the pulse of America from outside the cocktail party. Speaking of pulses and pulsating, I couldn't honestly say Donald Trump's face "pulsates" on TV more than Andrew Sullivan's. Perhaps it was the gin and vermouth, or a problem with the vertical hold. To his credit, Mr Sullivan was at least getting it back-to-front six months ago. CNN's Sally Kohn was getting it back-to-front at 9pm on election night:

My sense is that if Trump wins, Hillary supporters will be sad. If Hillary wins, Trump supporters will be angry. Important difference.

Hmm. Sally Kohn and Andrew Sullivan appear to be substituting Psychoanalysis for Dummies for argument - and everywhere except where it's needed. When a major political party suffers the scale of defeat the Democrats have (losing the presidency, the Senate, the House, and governor's mansions and state legislatures across the map), a period of private introspection and public circumspection is often helpful - as Churchill recognized after losing the 1945 election, telling his colleagues that the public didn't want to hear a word from the Conservative Party for a long time and he proposed to go somewhere and paint. Instead, if Tuesday night was a rude awakening, by Wednesday morning the smart set had all gone back to sleep, retreating to the soothing, self-flattering bromide "Love Trumps Hate" - even though evidently in swing states it doesn't. Thus telly star John Oliver, after the election:

While Oliver agreed "in the broadest sense" that it would typically be good to hope for the president's success, this is not a normal situation.

"Optimism is nice if you can swing it, but you've got to be careful, because it can feed into the normalization of Donald Trump — and he's not normal," Oliver said. "He's abnormal. He's a human 'What Is Wrong with This Picture?' He sticks out like a sore thumb, and frankly he even looks like a sore thumb. So giving him a chance, in the sense of not speaking out immediately against policies that he's proposed, is dangerous. Because some of them are alarming..." It's "the to-do list on Satan's refrigerator, which of course Satan no longer needs now that hell has frozen over," Oliver said.

John Oliver & Co spent the last 18 months "de-normalizing" Trump, and the upshot was that half the country voted for the to-do list on Satan's refrigerator. But not the half of the country that Oliver et al care about, so why not de-normalize all those Satanist rubes too? Early on election night, tweeter Freddie de Boer anticipated how this was likely to go:

I am honest to god begging you guys, John Oliver and Lena Dunham are f**king killing you and you have no goddamn idea, please stop it

To which his chum Pete replied:

Really? You think we should have broadened our appeal to racists and misogynists?

Got it. There are two Americas: John Oliver's America and Satan's America, with one almighty River Styx between them - literally: River Styx is a township in Medina County, Ohio, which went for Trump over Hillary 60/35. Coincidence?

Just a thought, but, if you keep insisting that half your fellow citizens are haters, maybe you're the hater.

Speaking of counties, there are precisely 676 of them across this great republic that voted twice for Obama. Last Tuesday, one-third of them flipped and went for Trump. The condescendicrats' view of America is tribal: These ghastly Trump types are not our kind of people, darling, and they never will be. But they were your kind of people in 2008 and 2012. So, by "broadening our appeal to racists", Pete in fact means "reducing our appeal to hitherto non-racists". Two-time Obama voters, offered a choice between the Devil and the deep-blue sea of celeb-led boutique liberalism, opted for Satan's to-do list.

It's one thing to substitute fisticuffs for argument (in some countries, that works), and even to substitute insults for argument (with certain kinds of doormat Republicans, that also works). But I'd be less confident about substituting condescension for argument. Here's Harry Potter star Emma Watson picking herself up and dusting herself off on a grey morning after:

Today I am going to deliver Maya Angelou books to the New York subway. Then I am going to fight even harder for all the things I believe in.

But, if you're just passing out third-rate doggerel to bored strap-hangers and platform derelicts slumped in their own urine, are you really "fighting" that "hard" for what you believe in? The lesson of Tuesday night for Democrats should have been the thought Rush Limbaugh left his listeners with just before he signed off on Election Day back in 2000: "Maybe there are fewer of us than I thought..." The people who think like Andrew Sullivan and Sally Kohn and Emma Watson and John Oliver and Lena Dunham are, if not few in number, concentrated in relatively few corners of a sprawling country: one third of the Democrats' representation in the House now comes from just three states - New York, Massachusetts and California. That's one reason why they're calling for the abolition of the Electoral College.

But, absent the upending of the constitution, they have a problem.

John Oliver and Stephen Colbert and Trevor Noah have sportingly decided, to judge from their ratings, to prioritize their politics over their comedy. But, whether or not "Love Trumps Hate", condescension doesn't trump anything. For a year-and-a-half they shoveled industrial-strength coastal sneering into the path of the Trump train on a scale that would have derailed any other candidate before he got to Iowa. Instead, Trump just bulldozed through it - and so easily that he won the White House for a fifth of what Hillary spent. If elite condescension failed to deny him the presidency, is it likely to be any more effective now that he is the president?

It was left to the film-maker Michael Moore to explain it to his fellow lefties. He predicted that Trump's victory would be "the biggest f**k-you ever recorded in human history". And it wasn't just a f**k-you to Washington, but also to boutique liberalism's ersatz-aristocracy - Katy Perry and Amy Schumer, and Miley Cyrus weeping her election analysis all over YouTube, and Lena Dunham threatening to move to Canada. The very threat underlines the difference: They can afford identity-group leftism, and they can afford to escape it when everything goes south. How bad is it in those 209 two-time Obama-voting counties that plumped for Trump? Those losers can't even afford to flee to Canada, or Australia, or John Oliver and Andrew Sullivan and Emma Watson's Britain.

Strangely enough, all these people swaggering about insouciantly demonizing millions of their fellow citizens as haters and Satanists profess to feeling "scared" and "unsafe" from the terror all around. Fortunately, in the midst of their fears they've found a marketing opportunity:

Days after Donald Trump was named president-elect, Americans are spreading a message of unity with a simple symbol: a silver safety pin.

And what "message of unity" could be simpler than that one in every two Americans is a violent hater-racist-misogynist-homophobe-Islamophobe-transphobe Satan fridge-magnet?

On Friday, the hashtag #safetypin trended on Twitter, as dozens of people shared selfies with safety pins attached to their clothing.

"Standing together we will be safe," one user tweeted.

"My #SafetyPin shows I will protect those who feel in danger bc of gender, sexuality, race, disability, religion, etc.," another said. "You are safe with me."

That's true in the sense that, if Matt Hartigan is around and they've confiscated his sniper rifle, he'll be able to borrow your safety pin and stab Trump with it.

Can you really substitute virtue-signaling for argument? Especially when it's this lame? And, indeed, are there enough safety-pins in America for all those who feel unsafe? Or will Trump's trade war be dealt a massive crushing defeat as cheap knock-offs from Chinese safety-pin factories flood the US market?

Like almost every other schoolhouse in America, my own kids' principal sent out a morning-after email blast bemoaning the way elections are determined "not by reasoning but by emotions". ,Somewhat oddly for a chap draping himself in the banner of reason, he then blathered on about hope and love and the power of love to triumph over hate with more hope so that love wins, etc. And he seemed not to notice that, having bemoaned the way elections are decided by emotion, he'd discussed this one entirely in terms of his feelings. To return to Churchill, the schoolmaster's object was to substitute emotional exhibitionism for argument.

And what of the "reasoning" behind the exhibitionism? There is something grim and trivializing about snowflakes with safety-pins. Are they truly feeling "unsafe" in their safe space? If so, the safety-pin will come in handy for holding their recyclable diapers on. As I said to Howie Carr last week, these delicate blooms are professing to be traumatized because, after years of civics class, they had no idea America wasn't a one-party state and that once every few years a fellow with a different opinion gets to win. If we indulge this, what silver-pin decorative brooches are left for the 60 per cent of the planet without free elections?

My kids' school principal seems a pleasant enough fellow and perhaps even sincere in his effusions about love and hope. But the reaction to the normal pendulum swings of contested elections is profoundly unhealthy, and totalitarian in its implications. Pace Andrew Sullivan, Trump didn't win because he substituted "name-calling" for "political disagreement". The exit-polling revealed that large numbers of people who didn't "approve" of Trump personally nevertheless voted for him ...because they agreed with him on policy, on trade and immigration and unwon wars, and his willingness to stick to his positions through a barrage of elite scorn. The derision didn't work, and it will continue not to work. I made the point to Howie that, because of political correctness and their hammerlock on the culture, the left hasn't needed to argue - and so gradually they've lost the ability to argue. Thus: "Hater!" "Racist!" "Misogynist!" These are safety-pins with the point drawn, but in the end they're mere fashion accessories, too.

Hence some advice for the Loyal Opposition: Your virtue is not dispositive, nor is your condescension. Reader Steve Messer recently reminded me of a C S Lewis response that seems apposite:

I complained that the tone of undergraduate criticism was too often 'that of passionate resentment'. You illustrate this admirably by accusing me of 'Pecksniffian disingenuousness', 'shabby bluff' and 'self-righteousness'. Do not misunderstand. I am not in the least deprecating your insults; I have enjoyed these twenty years l'honneur d'ĂȘtre une cible and am now pachydermatous. I am not even rebuking your bad manners; I am not Mr Turveydrop and 'gentlemanly deportment' is not a subject I am paid to teach. What shocks me is that students, academics, men of letters, should display what I had thought was an essentially uneducated inability to differentiate between a disputation and a quarrel. The real objection to this sort of thing is that it is all a distraction from the issue. You waste on calling me a liar and hypocrite time you ought to have spent on refuting my position. Even if your main purpose was to gratify resentment, you have gone about it in the wrong way. Any man would much rather be called names than proved wrong.

To be honest, I'd be mildly impressed were any of the #NotMyPresident types to hold up a sign accusing Trump of "Pecksniffian disingenuousness" and "shabby bluff", but it doesn't seem to be Miley or Katy's bag, and Pecksniffian uses up too many Twitter characters for a viable hashtag. That said, Donald Trump is pachydermatous on a nuclear scale and clearly relishes l'honneur d'ĂȘtre une cible (look it up, snowflakes). So you're gonna need something new. Like maybe try refuting Trump's positions rather than labeling the millions of voters who support them. Oh, and while we're at at it, you might politely suggest to Messrs Oliver, Colbert and Noah that there's never been a better time to embark on a mid-life career change and move into comedy. If the object is to win the next election, sneering is not a substitute for argument, or entertainment.

But maybe, as the schoolhouse trauma-counseling suggests, they're moving beyond all that. Reader D C Alan writes from Washington:

The Play-Doh generation might not have the mettle to slog it out on the Western Front , but that doesn't mean that they are not ready and willing to fight. These are exactly the types who get motivated to savage mob violence very quickly and easily, which is the ultimate goal of the Left's infantilization of the culture. (Steyn: "The scale of solipsistic compliant ignorance is totalitarian -- and terrifying, in that it will inevitably be exploited for catastrophic and evil ends<." July 31, 2015)

If Trump is a hater, then voting for him is a hate crime. So, if you de-normalize Trump, you de-normalize the millions of your fellow citizens who voted for him. And, if you de-normalize his voters, you de-legitimize their votes. And, if you de-legitimize their votes, you de-legitimize the very idea of representative government.

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Mark Steyn is an international bestselling author, a Top 41 recording artist, and a leading Canadian human rights activist. His latest book is "The Undocumented Mark Steyn: Don't Say You Weren't Warned". (Buy it at a 32% discount by clicking here or order in KINDLE edition at a 50% discount by clicking here. Sales help fund JWR)