Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Desolation of Smug

I learned a new word today!

Correction -- I almost learned a new word today!


Since I was a wee driftglass I had thought I knew what that word meant, but like so many words that I have sorta half sussed-out by their context in whatever novel by Ann Coulter or Bill O'Reilly I happen to be reading this week, I apparently got it wrong.  At least that is my initial takeaway from glancing at the headline of Exciting!New!Article from a Young Human named Emmett Rensin who, at the age of 26 and having established himself as a Person of the Theater in Chicago and the writer of a book about Twitter, has some Very!Definite!Opinions! about Liberals like me.

And so based skimming the headline of his Very Long Article --
The smug style in American liberalism
-- it seemed to me that "smug" must some sort of adjective which describes the condition of being willing to be mocked and ignored by the Beltway media and called "Traitor!" by the Conservative media for the last 30 years for crime of insisting that 2 + 2 = 4.

But sadly, it turns out that this was not Mr. Rensin's thesis.

Instead, Mr. Resnin has appointed himself the High Sheriff of Tone Policing and has written his Very Long Article for Vox on the subject of what a condescending asshole I am:
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...
Finding comfort in the notion that their former allies were disdainful, hapless rubes, smug liberals created a culture animated by that contempt. The rubes noticed and replied in kind. The result is a self-fulfilling prophecy...
Since he was literally only four years only at the time, I guess Mr. Resnin is unfamiliar with that period in American history when we on the Left tried sweet reason and compromise to achieve our goals.  That era is known as "the 90s" and for our trouble we got six years of Republican Congressional witch-hunts fueled by slander and lies underwritten by crackpot Conservative billionaires and troweled out out as "news" by the Conservative media.  For our trouble we got a government shutdown, impeachment, the rise of Newt Gingrich-style, slash-and-burn Conservative politics and Rush Limbaugh-style slash Conservative propaganda on 1000 radio stations coast-to-coast.

In fact, I wrote a Very Long Essay of my own about this very subject.  It was very well received by the Dirty Hippie community, but was never published in Mother Jones.  Or Slate.  Or Salon.  Or Esquire.  Or The Atlantic.  Or The New Yorker.  Or the Chicago Tribune magazine.  Or the Huffington Post.  Or the Daily Beast.  Or anywhere.

I have been told that I  my tone is too strident and/or eclectic to find a home in any of these kinds of publications, which may very well be true.  Anyway, I wrote it back in 2009 when I believe Mr. Resnin was a college freshman.  Now, just three years after graduating, according to his bio Mr. Resnin is a contributor to the  Los Angeles Times Opinion Blog, USA Today, Salon, the New Republic, and the Los Angeles Review of Books.  Which is quite an accomplishment!

And a valuable lesson for someone like me.  

More highlights:
The smug style has always existed in American liberalism, but it wasn't always so totalizing...
Financial incentive compounded this tendency — there is money, after all, in reassuring the bitter. Over 20 years, an industry arose to cater to the smug style. It began in humor, and culminated for a time in The Daily Show, a program that more than any other thing advanced the idea that liberal orthodoxy was a kind of educated savvy and that its opponents were, before anything else, stupid. The smug liberal found relief in ridiculing them...
I had not realized that I one could get Rich!Rich!Rich being a smartass Liberal.  Clearly I have been doing it wrong all these years.

Yet more lessons for someone like me.  

More highlights...
It was popularly assumed, for a time, that George W. Bush was too stupid to be elected president.
I know Mr. Resnin was literally only ten years old at the time, but I feel compelled to note that George W. Bush was not, in fact, elected president.  George W. Bush was appointed president by by five "activist" Conservative judges" in violation of every concept of federalism which Conservatives pretend to believe.

Which brings me around to my final point about Mr. Resnin's Very Long Article about what a condescending asshole I am.  Somehow, in this Very Long Article about American Liberalism, Mr. Resnin has mislaid the entire history of modern American Conservatism.  And that is a shame because it bears directly of the Liberal state of mind.

Fox New, for example. is mentioned by Mr. Resnin only three times, and only in relation to how those smug Liberals mock it and its viewers.

Roger Ailes and Rush Limbaugh?

Who are they?

Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, Michele Malkin?

Never mentioned.

Rupert Murdoch?

Nope. As if he did not exist.

The Wall Street Journal?  Regnery Press?


Jerry Falwell?  Lee Atwater?  Karl Rove?

Nope, nope and nope.

The Southern Strategy?

The hundreds and hundreds of conservative radio stations that have dedicated themselves to calling Liberals like me liars and traitors and terrorist-lovers for the last quarter century?

Absent without leave.

The Clinton years of Republican witch-hunts, slander and impeachment?  The entire fucking Iraq War?   Pissing away the Clinton surplus and the return of crippling Republican deficits under Bush?Katrina?

Might as well never have happened.

The Big Lie that was the Tea Party?


The Caucus Room Conspiracy?


I could go on like this for several thousands more words, but my point is really very simple.  We Liberals are not smug and condescending so much as were are...resigned. We have passed through first three stages of grief for our democracy and now hover between Depression (over) and Acceptance (of) the fact that millions and million of our fellow citizens have voluntarily lobotomized themselves to the point where they are beyond the reach of reason or the possibility of redemption.

We have spent the last 30 years watching our Conservative friends and relatives and colleagues gobble up one ludicrous, monstrous lie after another, after another,  after another,  after another,  after another,  after another,  after another,  after another,  after another,  after another,  after another,  after another,  after another,  after another,  after another,  after another,  after another,  after another,  after another.

And when the Lie of the Day falls apart or blows up in their face or wrecks some considerable portion of the country they claim to love, at no point in the past 30 years have our Conservative friends and relatives and colleagues ever considered for a single fucking instant that maybe -- just maybe -- continuing to listen to the lunatics and liars and bigots who feed them this poison might be, y'know, a bad thing.

Instead, every day millions and million of our our Conservative friends and relatives and colleagues belly-crawl right back to the same liars who have been shitting on them and scamming them for their money and voted for the last 30 years and beg for more, because the liars and the demagogues tell them what they want to hear -- that none of it was their fault, that their bigotry and rage and paranoia are actually Patriotism, and that behind their every itch and bedsore there are a horde fiendish, America-hating Liberal to blame.

We have watched in horror as the Right has poured its vast resources into turning the Party of Lincoln into a full-blown American fascist movement, proudly contemptuous of fact and reason while the Mainstream Media has devoted its vast resources to pretending that none of this is happening and that America's problems could be solved if only Both Sides would stop being so unreasonable!

Because despite overwhelming evidence that America's most pressing problem is that one of its two major political parties has gone mad, no matter how openly berserk the Right becomes, we still have a media in which no one ever goes broke punching hippies.

Or reflexively blaming Both Sides.

Or bitching about the smugness of Liberals.

Update:  One more thought


dinthebeast said...

Poor little Emkmit. There, was that smug enough?

-Doug in Oakland

banker puppy said...

Rensin is a playwright. Playwrights create a world in which they define the characters, plot, dialogue, interactions, and message. That world may be based in reality or completely fictional, whatever the playwright wishes. This makes him well qualified to join the ranks of the conservative infotainment complex.

Playwrights are also used to engaging their audiences for long stretches of time, usually 30 to 120 minutes, which might explain the length of the very long article.

Last year the theater company he cofounded produced one of his plays, “The Paranoid Style in American Politics.” So he has experience writing American political fiction. Perhaps his very long article represents the backdrop for the sequel.

Montana Wildhack said...

Ah, thank you. Someone I usually find sensible posted a link to the piece on Facebook saying that it was "spot on" and I was left wondering which one of us had lost our mind. I had to quit reading it because I just wanted to slap the brat.

Lit3Bolt said...

LOL, Meet the new Andrew Sullivan, same as the old Andrew Sullivan.

Remember the giant Strawman arguments and opinions Sullivan brought up, then never mentioned again? This guy thinks he can follow in the footsteps of the master and his acolyte, Freddie deBoer, and get a cushy gig writing Slatepitch articles such as "Hippies Actually WERE Dirty!" and "Sometimes, Black Lives SHOULDN'T Matter," and "Everything You Like Is BAD. Here's Why."

Reading his website and Twitter feed, it appears that Mr. Rensin is quite the Leftist. In fact, he's even MORE Left than you, driftglass, and he has his leftier-than-thou Workers Families Party Card to prove it. He's so left he advocates Right-Wing Media Myths for a small fee, because he despises those Democratic elitists for giving him hope, but in reality being a bunch of corporate SELLOUTS. "Hmph!" a young Emmett Rensin pouted. "At least Republicans are HONEST in their loathing for all workers, their unholy lust for money, and their belief that dead goat herders from 8000 years ago should make our laws today! They have CONVICTION, which we should never make light of, lest fee-fees be wounded."

Poor Emmett. He's another disillusioned Christopher Hitchens, and found out being a member of the Leftier-than-Left simply didn't get you respect these days. But wait! What if he advocated an "edgy" opinion that reinforced the political status quo? Then he'd get tons of respect from David Brooks and Ross Douthat! What a great idea! Suddenly he's the talk of the town, and people can't help but talk about him and his extremely controversial opinion that liberals are smug, out of touch elitists who live in ivory towers and huff lattes in alleyways and are so mean and scornful of earnest, hard working salt of the earth workers such as Kim Davis.

Also, did you know that George W. Bush was such a visionary, he deliberately blurted malapropisms to invite the tidal wave of coastal elite liberal scorn, while Al Gore mixed earth tones and was inauthentic and unlikable and all of these media crafted narratives from the 2000 election are treated as unquestioned fact by young Emmett Rensin, which is absolutely terrifying?

What a DEEP and EDGY writer! No one has EVER thought of these narratives before. I can hear the comments on Facebook now..."He reinforces my prejudices!" "What he says is comfortingly familiar!" "He claims to be a liberal that bashes other liberals...that's authentic enough for ME!" "He advocates taking no action in politics!" "My White Guilt is totally GONE! What a writer!" "What a GREAT 7000 word essay that did not mention racism as a cause for white workers fleeing the Democratic Party in droves after the Civil Rights Act in 1965! Instead, it was all due to liberal smugness! Game, set and match, libtards!"

Thus the tiresome media myths and lies are recycled for a new generation, and so ingrained in millennials such as Emmett Rensin, they are regurgitated again on and new and unwitting audience. And since he's a Leftist who's so Left he reads Marx and Trotsky, he must be right and liberal attempts to prove him wrong are simply proof of how smug and mean liberal elites can be!

Emmett Rensin is Going Places, because somehow, he figured out how to say the Right Things. It seems so easy it makes me wonder why I don't do it myself...

Kevin Holsinger said...

Good morning, Mr. Glass.

Like I wrote on your "pro left podcast" column, I was genuinely curious to see the evidence Mr. Rensin had on his "Republicans are better informed/smarter" claim. Besides the article that talked about how conservatives and liberals are equally simple-minded (except for one quote condemning liberals more, which was the one the headline-writer focused on), there was Mr. Rensin's link to the "Republicans are better informed" article...

Here's the thing...

"However, Pew’s data suggests that the Democrats’ low average rating likely is a consequence of its bipolar political coalition, which combines well-credentialed post-graduate progressives who score well in quizzes with a much larger number of poorly educated supporters, who score badly.


In contrast, the Republican party coalition is more consistent, and has few poorly educated people and fewer post-graduates."

I have to wonder whether "poorly educated" has anything to do with "unable to afford to be better educated."

Maybe it it does, and maybe it doesn't. If it doesn't, hooray for Republicans. You haz teh smartz. However, if the two truly are connected, it's not so much "Republicans = better informed" as "Republicans can AFFORD to be better informed."

Be seeing you.

Cirze said...

Or appointing the ignorant (purposely so in the case of DFB, etc.) and/or children to important, well-paid positions to journalise about subjects of which they have no more than a passing, superficial acquaintance (other than receiving a hefty paycheck to produce them).

You, Dg, are the national treasure here.

And no one sensible reads that douchey pub anymore.

Or bitching about the smugness of Liberals.

Benedict@Large said...

Actually, I didn't get hardly 5 minutes into Rensin's article before I thought, "OMG, this is total horse crap! This guy wasn't even there for any of this." I read no further. I'm way too busy for morons.

I was guessing about second part (about him not being there), of course. Thanks for confirming my suspicion.

Anonymous said...

Oh, thank you! I must say that the meaning of certain words, like "Liberal" and "Progressive" are gooshed and morphed into strange forms these days. Having grown up in the 50s and 60s, I am quite lost in the translation.

Dave McCarthy said...

Is "The asshole calling the kettle smug" a thing?

SamB said...

Is David Rensin his Dad?
If so, being the son of a well-published author means connections in the publishing biz.

Diptherio said...

Here's the thing, you are right about Conservatives, but have you not noticed that the Democrats have been busting their ass to be as much like Republicans as possible? Who shoved Romney-care down our throats instead of providing the universal health care that 60% of the populace favored when the Dems controlled both the congress and the Whitehouse? Newsflash--it wasn't conservatives. It was a bunch of smug fucking liberals (yes, they do exist) who kept telling us what a great thing this Heritage Foundation-designed program is -- you know, 'cause the Dems were pushing it.

And your apparent high-regard for Clinton's budget-surplus is extremely mis-placed. Not that I blame you, since it's common propaganda, but the idea that the government should run a surplus (i.e. take more money out of the economy than it puts in) is bat-shit crazy, despite being widely bandied about by asshole politicians on both sides of the aisle (yes, in this case they really both do it). Decreasing public debt (which is an asset to those people who hold it) had to be offset by increasing private debt. The result of a government budget surplus is indebted businesses and households...sound familiar? The percentage of income going to personal debt service sky-rocketed, thanks to Clinton's anti-Keynsian, neo-conservative economic policies. Just because a democrat does it, doesn't make it right. Bernie's econ adviser, Stephanie Kelton from UMKC has some really good talks about this issue which I suggest all Liberals, smug or not, watch. It would help us from the kind of own-goals that Clinton's budget-surplus was.

I despise Vox, so excuse me if I skip the article, but it is actually true that plenty of liberals are smug as shit and it doesn't do anyone any good. It also doesn't help when Democrats refuse to admit that their own leadership has been responsible for some of the most regressive, reactionary policies we've got. Just'd be nice if we stopped treating politics like a sport, where you root for your team no matter what they do and instead focused on policies. Sadly, I don't see that Liberals are any more interested in that than Conservatives are (which is to say, not at all).

proverbialleadballoon said...

"these media crafted narratives from the 2000 election are treated as unquestioned fact by young Emmett Rensin, which is absolutely terrifying?"

It's as though he grew up on false information and is using all of it to make his point, and it's good Lord no, that's not what happened at all wrong. W Bush wasn't known to be a doofus, until he was already president. The Daily show was equal-opportunity satire, Stewart took over for Kilborn, and got his journalist street cred scoring Bob Dole for interview.

Liberals are smug, something something, both sides. But what he elides over is 'because they were right.' And what we were right about was everything in general the last 20 years, but especially W Bush. And since we all have to pretend that there is a mysterious gap between the years 2000 and 2009, liberals are smug about [redacted], which gets rounded down to liberals are smug for no cause, and are just jerks. And this guy grew up with the memory hole-redacted version, and is barfing it back up, and it really is gross and terrifying to think, that that really is how to brainwash a population; the next generation won't know it's false and from there, anything is possible.

Ixion said...

A great response to a dreadful "analysis." One quibble: the original post as well as some of the comments seem to disparage the author for his youth. No offense, but this is total bullshit. Should the author have done his homework? Obviously. Is the fact that he didn't do his homework necessarily a product of his youth? Absolutely not. Long story short: it's very possible to write authoritatively about events that one didn't live through. Indeed, the entire field of history is basically premised on this idea. Not trying to harp on a seemingly minor point, but this is not the first time I've heard you casually disparage a young person commenting on politics because of his or her age.

Jim Dandy said...

Why shouldn't liberals be smug? After all, when it comes to arrogant sneering, fauxgressives have had just as much practice as their republican cousins. Plus they've been celebrating their oh-so-historic election of a neoliberal black guy for eight years now.

Lit3Bolt said...

@ Diptherio

No, I think Emmett had a good premise, he just completely botched the execution, and the reason we're having such fun with him is he completely exposes himself as equally smug and condescending as the "coastal liberal elites" he's railing against.

It's a completely true and banal point that having smug attitude and being a Brainy Smurf know-it-all is a terrible political tactic and strategy. As evidence for this, Emmett points to...the Daily Show and Gawker, which is somehow shorthand for Democratic Party Headquarters. He's conflating liberal smugness as a mass media market signaling strategy by media corporations as evidence of what Democratic strategists think. We do this with Fox News as well...I think the Rise of Trump pretty much confirms that the media doesn't control every lever of the party apparatus.

Second, Emmett claims his strawman liberal is smug, elite, and out of touch with the common man, but Emmett has deep insights into the common man that only Emmett has that must be true because Emmett wished it to be so and so it was. I eagerly await the story of how nice Emmett was to a conservative farmer from Polk County and convinced him to become a card carrying Communist simply by being nice and folksy. Or the tale of how Emmett solved racism in American politics for all time by ignoring it completely.

The smug style in liberal politics is certainly a thing! It does exist! But since Emmett has trouble distinguishing media fantasy from political reality, I think it's safe to dismiss his claim that there's a large swath of working class whites waiting to be converted to liberalism, but only from a "true liberal" who can sweet-talk them the right way.

How's that for smug?

Frank Shannon said...

"I think the Rise of Trump pretty much confirms that the media doesn't control every lever of the party apparatus."

Weird, I view the rise of Trump the opposite way. You think they gave him over a billion dollars in free media cuz they hate him?

Lit3Bolt said...

@ Ixion

It might have to do with something him being a self proclaimed "Leftist" and "communist" while being a University of Chicago humanities graduate who's already had a book published and his own play produced thanks to his family connections, who rails against the corrupt liberal meritocratic system while taking full advantage of it.

Also, it's that he's recycled a tired Right Wing Media narrative into His Very Own Essay with his Very Own Definitions of "Smug" and "Liberal" and "Elite" so if you used the Oxford English Dictionary definitions for those words, you Clearly Didn't Read His Essay that invented new definitions for those words and as such he can dismiss you.

Another thing is he's lecturing the Democratic Party for being insufficiently considerate of White Working People's feelings, while deliberately misrepresenting the history of the Democrats' and Republicans' geopolitical realignment. As he's doing this, he claims he's better than any dirty Democrat or Republican because he's a Communist and wants to Burn It All Down, while having his essays and theater reviews published in Vox, the LA Times, and USA Today.

It's not so much that he's young. He's young and completely full of shit, and American politics is all a debate club game to him. He's so utterly self-absorbed in his own ideological purity that he's immune to criticism or engagement. Yet this self-exile from American politics has the gall to lecture Democrats on tone, attitude, civility, strategy, and tactics?

This "friend of the working man" has never worked, will never meet a working man, and is not anyone's friend.

Unknown said...

As a Canadian to whom U.S. Democrats are of the extreme right, denunciations of Republicans as even more right wing is pretty much irrelevant. Your defence of liberals is all about Republicans. Better than Pinochet is not much of a pitch. The main thing it accomplishes is to equate liberals and Democrats.

The Democrats, that party of sell-outs and Quislings, is an easy target that has been hit many times by critics better than me. They are an American phenomenon. Liberalism, however, is not: it dominates much of the world. Where I studied social science, liberal was an insult. It described the centre right, not the left, and it meant what it has meant for centuries (long before Rensin was four) and still means in most of the world today: a political philosophy of individual rights (especially property rights) and freedoms from overbearing government, characterized by tolerance and underpinned by a free market economy.

Liberalism is a far bigger and far older than the sectarian squabbles between U.S. Democrats and Republicans; among Canadian Liberals, Conservatives and NDP (all liberal when it counts). The Enlightenment heritage of liberalism is faith in human rationality. But that faith was reserved for those of independent mind - those of property, as C. B. Macpherson explains. Democrats are liberals, but when it comes down to it, liberals are not democrats. They are technocrats.

Liberals believe there are right policies and wrong policies. The correct political procedures, properly followed, will produce the right policies. They assume that people are rational, that they are individuals, that they have interests, and that a good policy is one that rationally addresses these individual interests. So when individuals properly come together and deliberate their interests, they will produce the right policies.

It all sounds very reasonable. Unfortunately every one of those assumptions is flawed. Notice what is missing: politics, the genuine conflict over incompatible values that cannot be reconciled. Consider the pro-life and pro-choice factions in the abortion debate. Each begins with fundamentally different assumptions about what is important. How do they fit the liberal pattern? They don't. One side is right, the other is wrong: there is no room to even recognize that the wrong side has a legitimate point of view. This is particularly manifest with economics, where some particular outcome is assumed to be ideal (Pareto optimality, for instance), and any dissent is put down to irrationality or lack of education.

"If democracy entails the right to govern ourselves rather than to be governed in accordance with our interests, then liberal democratic institutions fall short of being democratic." -- Benjamin Barber

Chantal Mouffe describes the tension between liberalism and democracy: "On one side we have the liberal tradition constituted by the rule of law, the defence of human rights and the respect of individual liberty; on the other the democratic tradition whose main ideas are those of equality, identity between governing and governed and popular sovereignty." "It is the liberal conception of justice which posits the priority of the right over the good, but this is already the expression of a specific good."

The other thing that is missing is perhaps the most important thing of all: more important than wealth, more important than power. Hannah Arendt argues that once we secure the things that keep us alive and created a world to live in, the thing that we crave is recognition. Politics, for her, is the realm in which we are recognized and remembered as unique human beings. The rational individualistic calculus of liberalism leaves no space for this. On the contrary, its critics are called stupid.

So yes, liberals are smug. Their smugness has torn our society and our communities apart. They dismantled the commons and consigned a generation to toil in Dickensian factors. They seem to be trying to repeat the performance.

Jimbo said...

Kevin, The Daily Caller is a completely ridiculous right-wing rag. If you think about the kinds of people who vote Republican, yes, maybe 10-20% are well-off, well-educated people, which doesn't, by the way, mean that they aren't also ignoramuses since learned ignorance is a real thing. But the overwhelming majority of Republican voters are low-information, poorly educated people who are strongly motivated by the hate and envy messaging that the right wing media have long perfected. They make up the core of the party's base, which re-branded itself as the Tea Party in 2009.

Lit3Bolt said...

Dear Unknown,

Thank you for proving that all writing is masturbation. And that you are very, very good at it.

Still looking for a Communist who can string a coherent thought between two paragraphs...

Unknown said...

Lit3Bolt, I don't know what communists have to do with anything, but it seems to me you're proving the point about smug liberals.

Chan Kobun said...

Oh look, the True Real Pure True Truthy Truth Brigade of Real Progressive Truths and Purity is here to defend their own.

And, as usual, the right-wing horseshit peddled by a holier-than-thou member of The Club is allowed to go unchecked, because Yes This Is All Well And Good But What About Our Precious Purity?

These people are welcoming the impending reign of Herr Drumpf, because at least it's not someone impure.

RUKidding said...

It's hip to be smug.

Bernard Eckholdt said...

When the Koch's think Hillary is a "better" choice of all the R's going, you don't need smug. Smug is a by product of the scam. The R's fear their base, D's hate their base. Pajama clad Freetos and so on. DFH are never welcome nor will they ever be. By any means the R's and D's have ruled roughshod over everyone.

and now they rule, like the Morlocks over the Eloi. a little climate change to get rid of the pesky proles.
the killing of the Truth requires constant vigilance. lest something slip out and upset the whole ball of wax.

i find the D's worse at evil, better at screwing Americans, than most if not all R's. Though what the R's created (St. Reagan) could never been sustained without the D's assistance. Impeachment off the table. No ownership or jail time for anyone, ever. D's are in your face about how they are going take you for a ride, and you are going to pay for it. The R's will never admit what they are doing. Constancy requires such.

wonder where the next Jon Stewart or Colbert will come at us from. i hope it's soon. Laughter is probably the able to deal with the crimes we live in.