The Suicide of Liberalism
Washingtonian has an amazing piece from a mother whose teenage son descended into the alt-right.
The story is what you’d expect: Nice, progressive family has a nice progressive boy. But then something goes wrong and he strays from the path and starts hanging out with racists.
But the something in this story is pretty forking important. Here’s the precipitating event:
Sam was 13, barely a month into eighth grade. In the taxonomy of our local public school, his close group of friends was tagged edgy and liberal: One of them came out as gay during a class presentation; another identified as trans for a while. Their group-text chain pulsed 24-7 with observations about alternative music and the robotic conformity of other classmates. Standard stuff for sensitive middle-schoolers.One morning during first period, a male friend of Sam’s mentioned a meme whose suggestive name was an inside joke between the two of them. Sam laughed. A girl at the table overheard their private conversation, misconstrued it as a sexual reference, and reported it as sexual harassment. Sam’s guidance counselor pulled him out of his next class and accused him of “breaking the law.” Before long, he was in the office of a male administrator who informed him that the exchange was “illegal,” hinted that the police were coming, and delivered him into the custody of the school’s resource officer. At the administrator’s instruction, that man ushered Sam into an empty room, handed him a blank sheet of paper, and instructed him to write a “statement of guilt.”
No one called me as this unfolded, even though Sam cried for about six hours straight as staff members parked him in vacant offices to keep him away from other students. When he stepped off the bus that afternoon and I asked why his eyes were so swollen, he informed me that he would probably be suspended, but possibly also expelled and arrested.
It gets worse. By which I mean, the school doubles-down on its insanity and the boy, Sam, gets pulled out and sent to a private school mid-year.
At which point the mom finds that Sam has started hanging out online:
He felt totally alone. I counseled patience, naively unprepared for what came next: when he found people to talk to on Reddit and 4chan.Those online pals were happy to explain that all girls lie—especially about rape. And they had lots more knowledge to impart. They told Sam that Islam is an inherently violent religion and that Jews run global financial networks. (We’re Jewish and don’t know anyone who runs anything, but I guess the evidence was convincing.) They insisted that the wage gap is a fallacy, that feminazis are destroying families, that people need guns to protect themselves from government incursions onto private property. They declared that women who abort their babies should be jailed.
In a classic David Frum essay on immigration, Frum notes (I paraphrase) that if liberals insist that only fascists enforce borders, then eventually voters will say, Who are these fascists, and what is their phone number?
Which seems to be pretty much what went on in the case of Sam and his mother. They were confronted with what was either a titanic failing, or wild excess, of liberalism, depending on how charitable you’d like to be.
The mother seems to have clung to her political worldview in its entirety and learned nothing. Sam went looking for something to make sense of what had happened to him. And because his mother didn’t, or couldn’t, explain this specific failing of liberalism to his satisfaction, he went to 4chan.
Liberals often get very upset at the suggestion that the excesses of liberalism are to blame—even in part—for the rise of the reactionary nationalist subculture.
But this isn’t a serious objection. It’s moral vanity.
Because everything in a complex, functional society is a reaction to everything else. The civil rights movement was a reaction to Jim Crow. The Silent Majority was a reaction to runaway crime in the ’70s. Today it’s the excesses of capitalism that have given rise to the new economic progressivism.
It’s. All. Connected.
One of the pernicious things about Trumpism is its requirement that adherents sign on for the entire program, in full. You can’t just want The Wall. Or The Wall + judges. Or The Wall + judges + deregulation.
You have to say that you want the North Korea summit nonsense and the illiterate tweets and the tariffs and the trade-war welfare, too. You have to be for EXONERATION and you can’t care about abuse of power. You have be all the way on the bus.
It would be bad for everyone if progressivism tends in the same direction.
A liberalism which cannot look at what happened to Sam and pass judgment honestly on its own failings will not be any healthier in the long run than conservatism is today.