The Smug Style of Liberalism
Some choice quotes:
There is a smug style in American liberalism. It has been growing these past decades. It is a way of conducting politics, predicated on the belief that American life is not divided by moral difference or policy divergence — not really — but by the failure of half the country to know what’s good for them.And later:
In 2016, the smug style has found expression in media and in policy, in the attitudes of liberals both visible and private, providing a foundational set of assumptions above which a great number of liberals comport their understanding of the world.
It has led an American ideology hitherto responsible for a great share of the good accomplished over the past century of our political life to a posture of reaction and disrespect: a condescending, defensive sneer toward any person or movement outside of its consensus, dressed up as a monopoly on reason.
The smug style is a psychological reaction to a profound shift in American political demography.
Beginning in the middle of the 20th century, the working class, once the core of the coalition, began abandoning the Democratic Party. In 1948, in the immediate wake of Franklin Roosevelt, 66 percent of manual laborers voted for Democrats, along with 60 percent of farmers. In 1964, it was 55 percent of working-class voters. By 1980, it was 35 percent.
The white working class in particular saw even sharper declines. Despite historic advantages with both poor and middle-class white voters, by 2012 Democrats possessed only a 2-point advantage among poor white voters. Among white voters making between $30,000 and $75,000 per year, the GOP has taken a 17-point lead.
Finding comfort in the notion that their former allies were disdainful, hapless rubes, smug liberals created a culture animated by that contempt The consequence was a shift in liberalism’s intellectual center of gravity. A movement once fleshed out in union halls and little magazines shifted into universities and major press, from the center of the country to its cities and elite enclaves. Minority voters remained, but bereft of the material and social capital required to dominate elite decision-making, they were largely excluded from an agenda driven by the new Democratic core: the educated, the coastal, and the professional.
It is not that these forces captured the party so much as it fell to them. When the laborer left, they remained.
Nothing is more confounding to the smug style than the fact that the average Republican is better educated and has a higher IQ than the average Democrat. That for every overpowered study finding superior liberal open-mindedness and intellect and knowledge, there is one to suggest that Republicans have the better of these qualities.Why does smugness to dominate the liberal culture?
Most damning, perhaps, to the fancy liberal self-conception: Republicans score higher in susceptibility to persuasion. They are willing to change their minds more often.
The Republican coalition tends toward the center: educated enough, smart enough, informed enough.
The Democratic coalition in the 21st century is bifurcated: It has the postgraduates, but it has the disenfranchised urban poor as well, a group better defined by race and immigration status than by class. There are more Americans without high school diplomas than in possession of doctoral degrees. The math proceeds from there.
As we have suggested, liberals are better able to cocoon themselves among like-minded people. They likely had liberal high school teachers, but most certainly had overwhelmingly liberal college professors. They self-select into professions defined by strongly (often monolithically) liberal or left politics (academia, journalism, the government regulatory and welfare state). They segregate themselves into ghettos (like Milwaukee’s East Side) and mostly interact with people like themselves. They get their news from liberal outlets.
While conservatives can isolate themselves to a degree, they cannot avoid the liberal indoctrination in college, nor exposure to the liberal media (whether it be the New York Times or the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel). They are more likely to work in settings where politics is a bit peripheral and there is some diversity of opinion.
Thus liberal smugness is not justified by superior knowledge, or superior reasoning ability, or superior open-mindedness. It is simply the result of an intense tribal mentality.
Thus liberals richly deserve to have lost the support of the white working class. But this working class populism can play out in different ways: voting for Reagan or voting for Trump, for example. Not all ways of opposing liberal smugness are equal.