COMPASSION AND POLITICS
Nathan J. Robinson, a leftist writer with an apparently substantial educational background (He quotes Schopenhauer) has a recent article under the heading above. I offer below some excerpts from it. He comes across as someone who is genuinely concerned about the poor. He also writes that many prominent Democrats don't give a fig for the poor and in fact look down on the poor. And he is right to say that this is the opposite of the historic Leftist claim.
It is a article worth reading in full but, like most Leftist writing, leaves out half the story. So maybe I should briefly allude to some of that other half.
He appears to think that Leftist elitism is a new thing. He seems to see it as something that came into the light only with the advent of Trump. That is hilariously wrong. Leftism has always been elitist. Karl Marx, for instance, was born into a middle class German Jewish family and was homeschooled by his father, the gentlemanly and rather admirable Heinrich Marx. He later studied at the universities of Bonn, Berlin, and Jena. He was fascinated by the ponderous writings of the near-incomprehensible German philosopher G.W.F. Hegel, regarded by many as the founder of modern Leftism. Marx was also a parasite, living off the generosity of his rich businessman admirer, Friedrich Engels. So Marx was not a man of the people in any sense.
The Bolsheviks too were overwhelmingly middle class. And the prominent Leftists in prewar Britain were almost entirely prominent literary and intellectual figures, such as the Bloomsberries, the Webbs, J.M. Keynes, H.G. Wells, G.B. Shaw, Bertrand Russell etc. They were also -- most amusingly but also most revealingly -- great believers in eugenics. And that's as elitist as you can get: Wipe out the dummies!
And elitism on the American Left is not new to the era of Trump. Expressions of disdain for the masses were equally prominent at the onset of the G.W. Bush presidency in 2004. I in fact set up a blog to preserve such expressions for posterity. Google has however taken most of that blog down for reasons unknown to me. Never fear, however! I have kept exact copies of all the posts Google has censored and have now uploaded them to a new site here. So the whole gruesome episode is once again online for all to see.
Something else that comrade Robinson fails to remember is that G.W. Bush ran on a platform of "compassionate conservatism". It may have been no more sincere than similar protestations from Leftists but it is the platform he ran on and which got him elected. And if it is deeds not words that count, who was it who sent in the troops to break the racial segregation maintained by the Southern Democrats? It was Ike, a Republican President. And who was it that enlisted Chappaquiddick Ted to help set up the "No child left behind" attempt to improve black educational outcomes? It was G.W. Bush. The Republican record on helping the underdog is at least as good as the Democrat record. I won't mention Woodrow Wilson's segregationist policies or FDR's antisemitism.
So comrade Robinson is pissing into the wind if he thinks it is possible for the Left to become genuinely egalitarian and compassionate. Elitism is an integral part of what they are. See here for more details of that. Leftists are as compassionate as their most famous exponents: Robespierre, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot
Instead of heeding suggestions that greater amounts of empathy for working-class Trump constituencies might make Democrats less likely to lose these people’s votes, lately some liberals have doubled down. As Clio Chang pointed out recently in Jacobin, figures including Paul Krugman (“I try to be charitable, but when you read about Trump voters now worried about losing Obamacare it’s kind of hard”) and Markos Moulitsas (“Be happy for coal miners losing their health insurance; they’re getting exactly what they voted for”) have reacted to stories about hardships and deprivation in Trump-leaning communities with unqualified disdain. Ex-New York Times theater critic Frank Rich recently declared he had “no sympathy for the hillbilly,” and suggested that:
“Liberals looking for a way to empathize with conservatives should endorse the core conservative belief in the importance of personal responsibility. Let Trump’s white working-class base take responsibility for its own votes — or in some cases failure to vote — and live with the election’s consequences… Let them reap the consequences for voting against their own interests.”
This kind of thinking isn’t limited to media commentators. It seems to be a strand in liberal thinking more broadly. Matthew Stoller collected a series of Huffington Post comments on an article about poor whites dying from ill-health and opiate addiction:
“Sorry, not sorry. These people are not worthy of any sympathy. They have run around for decades bitching about poor minorities not “working hard enough,” or that their situation is “their own fault.” Well guess what? It’s not so great when it’s you now, is it? Bunch of deplorables, and if they die quicker than the rest of us that just means the country will be better off in the long run.”
“Karma is a bitch and if these people choose to continue to vote Republican and try to deny other [sic] from attaining the American dream, they deserve no better than what they are getting!”
“I for one have little sympathy for these despairing whites. If they can’t compete against people of color when everything has been rigged in their favor, then there’s really no help for them. Trump and his G(r)OPers will do little to elevate their lot. If anything, these poor whites will be hired to dig grave pits and assemble their own coffins.”