The media and patriotism
Bitter debate over America’s legacy
The ideological warfare in this country has become such a scarred and smoke-filled landscape that sometimes it’s hard to see things clearly.
Left-wing and right-wing warriors paint our society as hurtling toward hell, each blaming the other side as an existential threat to America.
Since liberals now control the White House and Congress, you might expect them to be talking up happier days and warning of a return to Trumpian chaos, even as the former president, as he just did at CPAC, continues crusading for his unproven election fraud allegations.
But the most powerful force on the left at the moment—and this has had a huge impact on the media—is a rhetorical assault on American culture as racist. This is at the heart of the debate over critical race theory, and burst into the open during the July 4 celebrations, when, for instance, Democratic Rep. Cori Bush tweeted that “this land is stolen land and Black people still aren’t free.”
There’s no denying the legacy of slavery or the fact that we still struggle with discrimination. And yet in this very same country, Kamala Harris is vice president, Barack Obama was elected twice and Congress just approved a Juneteenth holiday with little debate.
Andrew Sullivan has just written a very important column about all this. I’ve known him since he was the twentysomething British gay Catholic conservative editor of the New Republic. He evolved into someone largely supportive of Obama, and after writing for such media giants as Time and the New York Times, was booted from New York Magazine a year ago for being insufficiently woke. He’s now on his own at Substack (you may hit a paywall).
He’s tired of answering these questions: “What happened to you?” “When did you become so far right?” “Why have you become a white supremacist, transphobic, misogynistic eugenicist?” Instead, he asks his critics, what happened to you?
Sullivan argues that Republicans (and he’s a fierce Trump critic) are rebelling against “the sudden, rapid, stunning shift in the belief system of the American elites. It has sent the whole society into a profound cultural dislocation. It is, in essence, an ongoing moral panic against the specter of ‘white supremacy,’ which is now bizarrely regarded as an accurate description of the largest, freest, most successful multiracial democracy in human history.”
He says this: “The elites, increasingly sequestered within one political party and one media monoculture, educated by colleges and private schools that have become hermetically sealed against any non-left dissent, have had a ‘social justice reckoning’ these past few years. And they have been ideologically transformed, with countless cascading consequences.”
Now I’ve encountered this time and again, most prominently at the Times, which Sullivan describes as the epicenter of social justice journalism. That’s why the editorial page editor got fired for daring to run a Republican senator’s op-ed. That’s why editor Bari Weiss quit after what she says was constant bullying by her colleagues; she’s also at Substack and has just launched a podcast.
That’s why many journalists worry that liberal reporters and web types have seized effective control of many newsrooms and essentially have veto power over what is deemed fit to print. That’s why the Washington Post posted a video in which guests said white people should undergo a period of shame for being white, and form white accountability groups, with no pushback from the host. And it’s why liberal students have had such success barring conservative guests from campus, unperturbed by the squelching of free speech.
Andrew’s essential point “is that liberalism is no longer enough. Not just not enough, but itself a means to perpetuate ‘white supremacy,’ designed to oppress, harm and terrorize minorities and women, and in dire need of dismantling. That’s a huge deal. And it explains a lot.
“In the successor ideology, there is no escape, no refuge, from the ongoing nightmare of oppression and violence — and you are either fighting this and ‘on the right side of history,’ or you are against it and abetting evil. There is no neutrality. No space for skepticism. No room for debate. No space even for staying silent.”
Oh, and one more Sully quote: “Liberalism leaves you alone. The successor ideology will never let go of you. Liberalism is only concerned with your actions. The successor ideology is concerned with your mind, your psyche, and the deepest recesses of your soul.”
Now there’s plenty to argue with here. In his indictment of the left, Sullivan doesn’t address the excesses and intolerance on the right, at least in this piece.
But it’s the evolution of the elites that most interests me. Newspapering once pitched itself as being on the side of the working classes, the average guy; now the media business is increasingly practiced by the privileged with the goal of indoctrination. Journalists were once the leading champions of free speech; now they increasingly want to drown out contrary arguments and are stunningly comfortable with Big Tech companies that do the same.
In the end, it all seems self-defeating to me. The woke ideologues who are leading this movement are driving away plenty of people who might be their allies but don’t want to be scolded and denigrated or have their kids subjected to propaganda. As for the media, having alienated conservatives for decades, they are now distrusted by many on the left for insufficient purity. That feels like a formula for failure.
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