The smug style in American liberalism


The smug style in American liberalism
by Emmett Rensin

April 21, 2016

There is a smug style in American liberalism. It has been growing these past decades. It is a way of conducting politics, predicated on the belief that American life is not divided by moral difference or policy divergence — not really — but by the failure of half the country to know what’s good for them.

In 2016, the smug style has found expression in media and in policy, in the attitudes of liberals both visible and private, providing a foundational set of assumptions above which a great number of liberals comport their understanding of the world.

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.

The smug style is a psychological reaction to a profound shift in American political demography.

Beginning in the middle of the 20th century, the working class, once the core of the coalition, began abandoning the Democratic Party. In 1948, in the immediate wake of Franklin Roosevelt, 66 percent of manual laborers voted for Democrats, along with 60 percent of farmers. In 1964, it was 55 percent of working-class voters. By 1980, it was 35 percent.

The consequence was a shift in liberalism’s intellectual center of gravity. A movement once fleshed out in union halls and little magazines shifted into universities and major press, from the center of the country to its cities and elite enclaves. Minority voters remained, but bereft of the material and social capital required to dominate elite decision-making, they were largely excluded from an agenda driven by the new Democratic core: the educated, the coastal, and the professional.

If one can get past the anachronistic, self-congratulatory, tyranny-swallowing smugness (a tyranny need not be oppressive) of, “an American ideology hitherto responsible for a great share of the good accomplished over the past century of our political life,” there’s some interesting self-reflection in this. It’s interesting to see a Lib/Prog ponder - seriously rather than dismissively - the abandonment of the Lib/Prog ideology by its supposed beneficiaries.

This piece would have the denizens of DU or ThinkProgress or DK birthing spitting hissing devil-kittens!