It is easy to dismiss claims by the far-right or fringes of society that the Left is intolerant. To the average politically-minded individual, the word “intolerance” conjures up a host of imagery indelibly associated with rightist movements. Intolerance is the European or white American who despises immigrants due to their own irrational prejudices; intolerance is the questioning of human rights as inherent and inviolable; but intolerance is never seen as the ostracization of other persons solely because of their views rather than their character. For some reason a liberal homosexual is entitled to spew hate against a conservative Christian for disagreeing with the concept of gay marriage, but a conservative Christian is intolerant if he lays out religious dogma repudiating the union of two persons of the same gender. And what occurs when love itself is rent like some gossamer veil, when politics so incenses one person that they dissociate from someone they once considered warmly. That is the cruelest trick the universe plays on us – setting up persons who could otherwise be virtuous friends for doom based on the conflict between their differing moral and intellectual convictions. The 2016 US Presidential Election, recently concluded, was and is the best example of politics’ casualties.
After Donald Trump was declared president-elect, social media exploded with declarations of disbelief at the outcome and attacks on those who cast their ballot for the billionaire, unlike the man, his opponent, and President Obama. Even before the election came to its surprising termination, social media was sick with the vitriolic virus of intolerance. Liberal publications such as The Huffington Post had little qualms printing expletive-laced tirades against Trump supporters. Pew found that Hillary supporters had a far more difficult time respecting their political opponents than the other way around. This is not surprising considering Hillary Clinton made “Friends don’t let friends vote for Trump” one of her trite campaign slogans.
The modus operandi of liberal-leaning Americans is to call someone a series of appellations, usually found within the acronym SIX HIRB (Sexist, Intolerant, Xenophobic, Homophobic, Islamaphobic, Racist, Bigoted), coined Dennis Prager. Once branded with one or several of these scarlet letters, you are exiled from “respectable” society and all of your arguments, no matter their quality or nuance, are deemed worthless.
The most common response – especially for those residing in majority-Democrat areas – is to self-censor yourself. What reward is there to setting forth your conservative viewpoints when you shall be censored and censured in the end? Moreover, you are more likely to win yourself nothing but a loss in friends. We might find reassurance in Churchill’s stoic quote, “You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood for something, sometime in your life,” but as Aristotle recognized, man is a social animal. Politics, by its nature a very tribal practice, is more often a social irritant than a social lubricant.
Of the more rebellious species of action is what we might call “trolling”, whereby a brave soul loudly and obnoxiously states his beliefs in such a way that he intentionally goads an emotional response from his opponent. This tactic is meant to reveal the irrationality of one’s enemy, and no one has managed to outrage so many liberals – especially Millennials – than Breitbart Tech editor Milo Yiannopoulos. By blending a mixture of gay stereotypes and far-right positions, he short-circuits students and university administrators alike on his college tours. Yiannopoulos succeeds so spectacularly precisely because he endorses a kind of “cultural libertarianism,” where all views are tolerated, no matter how repulsive. The ultimate goal of cultural libertarians is to widen society’s range of acceptable ideas – the “Overton Window” – for both the Left and Right.
But conservatives or those with a general sense of propriety need not adopt the no-holds-bar “cultural libertarianism” of Yiannapoulos. As the saying goes, “Lover the sinner, hate the sin.” In terms of political discourse of a suspect moral status, we must tolerate the idea, hate the practice.
For example, we should permit discussion of such foolhardy ideas as ethnonationalism, but forbid the actual establishment of an ethnostate. It is easier to find fault with things given light rather than those hidden in the shadows. White or black nationalism will appeal to white or black people so long as they feel unduly persecuted and silenced; it is much more likely that, if given the chance to lay out their reasons for their support of this idea, they will be defeated in debate, come to their senses, and reject this erroneous line of argumentation. Giving people a chance to learn the truth via dialogue respects what the philosopher Kant believed is the most essential aspect of humanity – its rationality. Even Plato considered dialogue the only means by which truth can be reached. In this way we are more easily able to distinguish racist or unsavory motivations for a policy from policy implemented on the basis of reason.
What Social Justice Warriors and other censorious liberals get wrong is their methodology for eradicating dangerous policy. Deeming a certain train of argument taboo does not always delegitimize it – in fact, it might make it more attractive than it otherwise might have been if permitted to be discussed. Humanity has a perverse inclination to adopt the verbotenmerely because it is verboten.
Let us consider a more prescient example – support of Donald Trump. Millions of Americans voted for Mr. Trump because their reason told them he would make a better president than Hillary Clinton. Weighing the individual policies of each candidate, they came to the determination that stricter controls of immigration would make the US safer and more prosperous than a less heavy-handed approach to the border. It is often difficult to make out whether a policy in itself is prejudiced or bigoted because these adjectives often require more than just the fact of the policy’s existence: they require the conscience of the proponent to intend racism. “The wall,” as it is known, could well be motivated by a desire to protect the States and the rule of law, not to ensure immigrants of color do not reach the United States. There is an undeniable difference between the Chinese Exclusion Act and Trump’s immigration policy: one is undeniably racist, one is not. By failing to go about our analyses with this kind of rigor, sympathy, and benefit of the doubt as to the other party’s intentions, we end up hating the opposing side without proper justification for moral outrage. Politics ought to be more of an intellectual game than a blood sport. Otherwise perfectly reasonable men and women will constitute a silent majority, isolated from their fellow citizens by the prospect of being shouted down.
And who really suffers as a result? The side making its voice hoarse with instant denunciations. Because they hear evil where there usually is none, they will hear the opinions of those who disagree with them less and less. They so fear the reason of the Other that like Ulysses they stuff their ears with wax. And then, when a fateful election rolls around the results appear shocking to them – they cannot comprehend how Hillary Clinton lost, nor the size and scope of racism and sexism raging like wildfire across the States. “Experts” lose their right to claim expertise because they have been shown to have never had it in the first place; their blind spot was the silent majority, and that is precisely why they were taken unawares. We see that the attacks on so-called experts after the Brexit and Trump votes is not engendered by an anti-intellectual, post-factual urge, but by an earnest desire for truth. Leavers and Trump supporters are anti-intellectual because the intellectuals are wrong, not because they are right.
We can only reach the conclusion that many Americans, especially the younger, college-educated, and liberal, are unprepared to divorce their rational faculties from their emotions, their intellectual convictions from their morals. The Western world’s greatest minds and most promising talent have become insular in their pursuit of “tolerance.” The real bogeyman of bigotry is to found in the mirror. By no means do we make this claim in ignorance of the same fault in conservative voters – much of Trump’s rhetoric appeals to the baser instincts of human nature – but statistically and anecdotally intolerance has prevailed most strongly on the Left. It remains to be seen whether or not the inexorability of a Trump presidency will calm or stoke this antirational tendency. Judging from the contentious nature of the Bush years, this seems unlikely.