When cruelty is actually the point
There is no calculated plan behind the attacks on Senator Tim Scott. In a culture war, it’s pure lizard hatred.
Last month, Newsweekissued a statement entitled “Caitlyn Jenner’s Trans-Republican Campaign is the End of Identity Politics”. That was the title, although the actual content of the piece didn’t quite match. The author, the progressive journalist Skylar Baker-Jordan, used the term “as a gay man” three times, hardly a spectacular rejection of identity politics. And while he said he wouldn’t support Jenner’s bid for California governor just because he’s gay, Baker-Jordan decided he could reject Jenner because Jenner’s Rich and Baker-Jordan grew up in the working class.
So baby steps, I suppose. I thought of Baker-Jordan’s essay on identity politics last week after seeing Tim Scott’s response to Joe Biden’s address on the non-Union state. It was a warm and sunny speech, typical of Senator Scott, but it also committed the unforgivable sin of insisting that America is not a racist country. This is not much different from what Joe Biden and Kamala Harris apparently believe, as they later made clear. But because Scott spoke this out loud and dared to take in oxygen as a black Republican, he was emaciated by the left. #UncleTim started trending on Twitter. MSNBC’s Tiffany Cross alleged illiterate that Harriet Tubman left Scott behind.
Progressives have spent years carefully constructing identity-political hierarchies that prioritize black and transsexual experiences over those of mere cisgender whites. These hack jobs are intended to structure more than just your privilege. They are designed to give you a worldview based on your identity. However, now has an African American as conservative? And a trans woman is running for governor republican against the whitest liberal that even San Francisco could muster? Identity politics has just hit a blue screen of death. What to do? In Jenner’s case, this meant resorting to class ideas to write off the candidate; in Scott’s case, like the bigots the left claims to oppose, it meant spitting and smoking.
These reactions are noticeable, but I don’t think they’re particularly educational either. The left is not becoming a labor movement again – too many Appalachians support gun rights, after all, and some of them even smoke menthol cigarettes. Nor do I think it’s fair to act like a Fox News host and claim that the attacks on Scott prove that the Democrats are the real racists and that their party has somehow returned to its solid southern roots . A better explanation is simply that identity politics is not important here. What drives the attacks on Jenner and Scott is something more familiar: pure, instinctive, unadulterated hatred.
As a grossly overrated Trump-era essay once said, cruelty is the point.
Jenner or Scott are not politically mysterious. Jenner may be trans, but before that he was a conservative. Once a professional athlete, Jenner is now concerned about former men competing in women’s sports. After Jenner was successful (though questionably), he endorsed small governments and low taxes. Scott is now a real story, born into poverty and elected to the Senate. This has inspired in him a deep patriotism, belief in American opportunity, mobility, and self-correction. You may not agree with these positions, but they are not difficult to understand. In fact, once contextualized, they make a lot of sense.
The problem is that we are in a culture war and in culture wars the context does not matter. What is important is to drive the holy hell out of the other side, be it by beating Nazis (read: conservatives) or by owning the libraries. Underlying critical racial theory and neo-Keynesianism and so much else is the ancient and fundamental instinct to inflict cruelty on the other tribe. The democratic worldview is that black and transgender Americans are in their camp, which makes Scott and Jenner not only enemies but traitors as well. And in a war, or at least in a war mentality, traitors should be torn down with particular malice.
For this reason, although partisan and overwhelmed, I can recommend the piece “Cruelty is the Point”, which was published in 2018 by the AtlanticAdam Serwer. Because our side does too. Donald Trump loved verbally shocking his perceived enemies, and his followers drank it up precisely because it caused pain. This is how it works in a culture war. War is not “the great clearer”, as is sometimes said; It’s the great simplifier. It takes a complex world and distills it into at most a handful of competing pages that necessarily require absolute conformity. Because of this, it is enjoyed by the weak, while the sensible do everything possible to avoid it.
Thinking independently during a war, venturing outside the prejudice of its zero-sum imperatives to harm the other side is forbidden. As a certain President once said, you are either with us or against us. And Jenner and Scott are against Team Blue, despite the identity verification marks that are supposed to determine their loyalty. Hence the cruelty. I’m not trying to act with mushy bilateralism here: I’m on the right side of this fight against the progressives and wokesters. I just don’t think this is sustainable in the long run. A country of 330 million people cannot be broken down into two manic, zealous, dopamine-enriched, belligerent conglomerates. Eventually people start to disagree and leave.
The purpose of American politics should be to work towards consensus in the name of freedom and the common good. The purpose of American politics now is to reward allies and punish enemies. Hopefully at some point we will be able to correct this warlike distortion and return to something like normality. Meanwhile, Jenner and Scott have run counter to one of our most innate and lizard-brained impulses. And they have to pay for it.
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