Progressives have chastised Trump voters as undereducated, overly emotional, and not equipped to deal with complex issues. But too many of their laments read like an indulgence in vanity. As Claire Lehmann said:
These words — for anyone who voted for Clinton or *Remain* — are like a caramel sundae for the brain. They reassure people that their prejudices are not only correct, they are smart. And that those who don’t share their interests, their voting preferences, or their values, are not just different in the way that apples and oranges are different, they are *inferior*.
Blaming “low-information voters” does less to explain progressive’s defeats than shift responsibility for them. A less flattering view of Trump’s victory is that progressives were rebuked for their own failings.
With each passing month, beliefs that were once common and openly debated have been added to the ever-expanding list of “racist” or “sexist” heresies. As a result, Lehmann said, “public discourse is driven by a false economy of virtue-signalling,” which has crippled our ability to “deal with tough issues in a frank and open manner.”
Consider the example which occurred in Australian parliament just last week. When Australia’s Immigration Minister Peter Dutton told politicians in Question Time that 22 out of the last 33 people charged with terrorist-related offences in Australia were from a second and third generational Lebanese-Muslim background, Senator McKim from the Greens party called him a “racist”. Later, on Sky News, Senator McKim said: “Undoubtedly the advice [Dutton’s] got is accurate but just because something is fact doesn’t mean that it’s reasonable or productive to talk about it.”
From the cover-ups of sexual assaults in Cologne, Germany and the cover-ups of sexual assaults in Rothertham UK, to the partial release of 911 transcript of the Orlando Nightclub shooting in the US, to an Australian senator saying that is not reasonable or productive for an Immigration Minister to talk about *facts* — the public feels that on this topic, the powers-that-be are spineless at best, deceitful at worst.
And when policy is not up for debate and when conversation is taken off the table, the natural consequence will be growing suspicion and disillusionment in the populace. This is a bad outcome for liberal democracies.
While it is absolutely true that there is a robust body of literature which shows that immigration is beneficial for economic growth, there is another body of research which shows that increased diversity undermines social cohesion and social trust. “Low-information” people may intuitively sense this. But they know which body of research their politicians will refer to on television talk shows and in Parliament. And it’s not the research on social trust.
This is one reason why charges of wholesale ignorance are so obtuse. “High information” people ignore evidence if it conflicts with their preferred narrative *all the time*.
Lehmann adds that “high information” voters are “just as likely to be ideologues who are resistant to updating their beliefs when faced with new evidence. This includes social scientists.” They may even be better “at coming up with rationalisations as to why their preferred ideology is not only best, but in the national interest.” Too many progressive “explainers” are rationalisations of this very kind.
To be clear, the proper role of expertise in democracy is a perennial concern. But it cannot be honestly addressed by insulting voters. I am not even convinced it should be a greater concern, at this moment, than the sorry state of the left.
Lehmann’s essay is exactly the sort of self-scrutiny that the center left needs right now. And yet, it may only be possible outside of the progressive movement. In fact, I doubt many of us who make such criticisms will even be accepted as liberals. We are more likely to be denounced as neoconservatives, if not worse. Well, so be it. America deserves a better liberalism.
A reformed liberalism would not arrogantly claim that the “arc of history” bends toward its ideals. It would not glibly conflate enforcing the nation’s borders with white supremacy. It would do more to quell, and less to foment, ethno-racial Balkanization. It would treat rising homicides as injustices, not as cues to change the subject. And instead of trying to explain away Islamist violence, it would acknowledge that most Islamists mean what they scream when they massacre civilians.
Again, anyone who seeks to reform liberalism in this manner will be reviled by the hard left. But the more vehemently radicals denounce us as traitors, the more reformers should ask: How much common ground do we actually share with them?