This is a pretty intense crystallization of an issue that American and European leftists have been troubled by for a long time, that some of the constituencies most afflicted by or excluded from capitalist economies are also the most reactionary and in some cases, the most inclined to have strongly felt racial biases.
It’s schadenfreudey fun to read the ongoing psychotic meltdowns at various far-right sites like the Corner, I agree. But there’s little need to take the really bad-faith conservatives seriously now. For the last eight years, we’ve had to take them somewhat seriously because they had access to political power. You had to listen to the hack complaints about academia from endlessly manipulative writers because it was perfectly plausible that whatever axe they were grinding was going to end up as a priority agenda item coming out of Margaret Spelling’s office or get incorporated into legislation by right-wing state legislators. You had to listen to and reply to even the most laughably incoherent, goalpost-moving, anti-reality-based neoconservative writer talking about Iraq or terrorism because there was an even-money chance that you were hearing actual sentiments going back and forth between Dick Cheney’s office and the Pentagon. You had to answer back to Jonah Goldberg not just because making that answer was arguably our responsibility as academics, but also because left alone, some of the aggressively bad-faith caricatures he and others served up had a reasonable chance to gain even further strength through incorporation into federal policy.
There are plenty of thoughtful, good-faith conservatives who need to be taken seriously. And the actual conservatism of many communities and constituencies (in Appalachia and elsewhere) remains, as always, a social fact that it would be perilous to ignore or dismiss.
But I think we can all make things just ever so slightly better, make the air less poisonous, by pushing to the margins of our consciousness the crazy, bad, gutter-dwelling, two-faced, tendentious high-school debator kinds of voices out there in the public sphere, including and especially in blogs. Let them stew in their own juices, without the dignity of a reply, now that their pipelines to people with real political power have been significantly cut.
Until last Tuesday, I felt I had to take arguments made at, say, The Corner somewhat seriously. They were, after all, arguments that were likely to be taken seriously by people in charge of our government, and by some voters. Starting now, though, that changes. I will write about those arguments if they seem to be gaining broader currency, and I can imagine writing a thoughtful post on, say, what's gone wrong with the conservative movement in which I might quote them. I will also keep reading them, just because I think it's a good idea to know what other people are saying. But I will not feel any general need to point out when they are wrong. They have no more power. Some of them have gone so far over the edge that they have lost any credibility they might ever have had. I wish them well, but I will not comment on them unless I see some particular reason to do so. I now have the luxury of debating only thoughtful, sane conservatives who argue in good faith, and I intend to enjoy it.
This is something I must keep in mind. I don't know how well I'll do, but now that certain views are not directing public policy to the same degree they used to, attempting to fight them is not the same crusade against institutionalized irrationality and anti-intellectualism.
The danger in this is obviously that progressives might become complacent. This election has taught us that there is nothing so absurd that you can write it off as too small to be a threat (flag pins what-now?).
I guess the compromise would be to merely drop in on the irrational doomsayers, conspiracy theorists, and wannabe-prognosticators crying out against the godless liberal Illuminati out to destroy families with tyrannical European ideas. Drop in on them. Remind myself they exist outside of The Onion. Then go back to the land of reason. Progressives can't take too much of a break, but it's important to remember that there are other tasks to complete and battles to fight.
We can't waste time arguing reason with the irrational, presenting evidence to anti-academics, or preaching civil rights to values voters who only value people "like them." They're not going to be convinced. We speak different languages. Reason can't fight faith, evidence can't fight anti-intellectualism, and civil rights don't always matter to those who've got them. Accept it.
So let's spend our time where it'll do some good. We've got a new President-Elect who needs to be held accountable to his stated intentions. We've got a Democratic majority in the legislature that needs to grow a pair and hopefully will, now that the balance of power has changed. And we've got more and more people who are realizing that "us" and "them" were not who they seemed at first blush.
So let's do something. Let the wingnuts throw temper tantrums because the grownups are talking to each other instead of giving them attention. Consider this their time-out.