The Right-Wing Knows What Liberal Guilt Doesn't: Look Sincere or Lose
The whole discussion these days of the need to return to civility in political discourse is a nice idea. Civility is better than incivility – going high when they go low is a really, really, really nice thought.
And it’s a discussion tied to privilege. The meanness of the Trump cult and the Republican politicians who can’t quit the guy demeans, damages, and destroys those without the privilege of the “civil” talking people, and the open, disgusting talk and actions of those right-wingers who prefer to win economically and socially means nothing is off their table.
From the top down, racism, sexism, heterosexism, classism, able-bodyism are public. From tee shirts to TV, it’s all there in the open, displayed shamelessly as if proud of ones bigotry and meanness.
Certainly, I’d rather have nice. I’d pick nice people as friends any day.
But media and popular expectations, sadly, have changed. The right wing itself has seen to that.
The words “civility” and “nice” have to be redefined. They’re not the same as being fair, after all.
Well-known author M. Scott Peck, in A World Waiting to be Born: Civility Rediscovered wrote that he began to arrive at a better definition of civility when he discovered a profound quotation from America’s Oscar Wilde: Oliver Herford.
“Civility,” Peck suspected, has “much more to do with conscious intention – awareness - than with not hurting feelings. In fact, on occasion, it might actually be civil to hurt someone’s feelings as long as you know what you’re dong.”
Right wing people speak as the convinced. They argue as if they have no doubt at all. No hemming and hawing, no subtleties.
They get their talking-points from the gangs in Virginia Beach, Lynchburg, and D.C. They’re trained in soundbites – much right-wing religious talk really is jargon and soundbites. Notice how they always come back to the same, often coded, wording that the spin-doctors of their think tanks have carefully worked out for them.
Liberals, on the other hand, try to speak in nuance. They weigh the alternatives, knowing correctly that there are usually more than two sides to any issue.
Yet, in this day of seven-second soundbites, which do you think people remember most? The very valid points made by liberals who weigh the subtleties: “Well, there’s this to consider and then this, if not this?” Or a simplistic right-wing anti-LGBTQ soundbite: “It’s Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.”
What’s your favorite liberal soundbite that you hear repeated throughout the country by most liberals? Crickets….
Liberals are often ineffective because they’re plagued by a liberal guilt. They don’t want to repeat offenses from the past. They know offenses existed and don’t want to deny them.
They know there’s been discrimination and that often their own demographic has historically been a culprit in white racism, sexism, heterosexism, even classism.
Liberals don’t want to repeat the sins of their ancestors, nor do they want to be dogmatic and absolutist the way right-wingers are. They recognize that we’re all human beings struggling together.
Yet, there’s something else. It’s as if they need to atone for the oppressions of the past by avoiding anything that would be offensive to someone in the present, even if the offended is continuing the oppression.
Guilt-feeling liberals believe that the right-wing should be given equal time for their arguments. They’ll even provide and pay for it, as if the right wing doesn’t already dominate most of the media.
They believe that the inhuman views of the right-wing should actually be respected. They want to appear understanding about the personal circumstances that produce such bigotry in people.
They’re afraid that they might come across as too dogmatic, or as if they believe too strongly in absolute values, or that they’ll appear just as arrogant as the right-wing. And they don’t want to offend the people who are still offending them.
Guilt-feeling liberals cringe when another does state the truth. Presidential hopeful John Kerry was probably accurate when he was caught off the record back in March 11, 2004 saying the Republican attack machine is: “The most crooked, you know, lying group I’ve ever seen.”
Republican responses were predictably critical because, you know, they'd never ever say such things themselves.
Yet liberals themselves cringe when anyone says: “The Emperor has no clothes.” They’re some of the quickest critics of more radical left-wing activists.
So when ACT-UP staged its outrageous protests because people were dying and the Reagan government wasn’t paying any attention, many nice liberals stepped back in criticism of such tactics. These critics would have done the same, I suppose, during the Stonewall rebellion. Who needs right-wing critics when we do it ourselves?
Let’s face it - radical activists get attention. Just as Topeka’s Rev. Fred Phelps’ “God Hates Fags” tactics made Jerry Falwell more appealing to conservatives, so left-wing activists often prepare the way for more moderate liberals to be heard because, as they said when supporting the civil rights acts: “we’d better do something before they burn down our cities.”
The result of liberal guilt and its accompanying hesitancy is that liberals appear to believe in nothing sincerely. They act as if values such as equal opportunity and treatment for all human beings, ending the abuse of everyone, and trying to do no harm are negotiable. They act as if all values and ideas should be respected no matter how destructive and hurtful they are.
The unconvinced are looking for people they think aren’t just shifting to and fro in the political winds, worrying about what will work. They want to follow those who stand strongly enough to fight for something.
Liberal churches are dying because they publicly seem to stand up for very little and thus look wishy-washy and nicey-nice. Convincing public stands for something matter to those looking on.
Some progressives are learning how to be effective again. It’s being guilt-free enough to act as if we really believe in our values and to our death won’t compromise them, to talk and live as if equality, fairness and full acceptance of all human beings are values we will not ever negotiate -- even if our forcefully saying so hurts the feelings of those who disagree.