How Social Justice Ideology gave us Donald Trump

trumpI am reposting here an article by Alastair Roberts, who is a regularly reader and commentator on this blog. I don’t agree with everything Alastair says, but his views are always informing, stimulating and challenging not least because they are very well researched. If you want to understand what is happening in America at the moment (rather than just rail against it), and understand what is happening in the UK as well, and if you have any concerns about the interrelationship between theology, politics and culture, then this is worth a read. It’s a long piece, and I suspect, like me, you won’t agree with everything here—but you will be given some serious food for thought, and real insight into what has happened in the last week.

I didn’t sleep at all last night. As the election results came in, I had a familiar feeling of growing concern, the same feeling I had experienced watching the results of Brexit. However, this time around, I was more than half expecting a Trump win, albeit not by such a convincing margin.

In both cases, there would have been little joy to be found in any of the results on offer. Both the Brexit referendum and the 2016 American election have exposed deeply and poisonously divided societies. Scott Alexander is right: the result last night shouldn’t change the narrative. It only makes the divisions harder to deny. The election exposed the nation’s climate; the election result is just the immediate weather forecast.

All of the protestations of her supporters notwithstanding, Clinton was a truly terrible candidate. That the same nation that twice elected Barack Obama preferred Donald Trump—Donald Trump!—to her should give an indication of just how terrible. This can’t simply be chalked down to sexism. Exit polls suggest that Trump beat Clinton by 10% among white women. These women voted against the potential first female president for a man who boasted of—and has a string of women accusing him of—sexual assault. The narrative of deep misogyny robbing Clinton and her entire sex of the win to which they were entitled is understandably a reassuring one, but one at risk of becoming a comfort blanket for people unwilling to face up to an unwelcome reality.

On the other hand, the fact that America, in large measure through the white evangelical vote, has elected Donald Trump, should be a cause of profound national and Christian shame and deep concern. Nothing about the result changes the fact that Trump is utterly unsuitable for office: temperamentally, politically, and morally. I think there is great cause to be fearful for the future of America. I unreservedly stand by all of the questions that I asked of people considering voting for him.

Our response to the result and our posture in the coming weeks and months must fundamentally be one of prayer, love, grace, and compassion for our neighbours. There are a lot of people justifiably fearful right now. Many are feeling deeply betrayed. Some are wondering, not without good reason, what this result means for their continued stake in American society. A great many relationships have been fractured or poisoned, some beyond repair. It is increasingly clear that the practice of Christian virtues of kindness, grace, love, mercy, and compassion aren’t merely preferable to their alternative, but essential to the fragile health of America as a nation. Reach out to your neighbours today and show kindness. Pray for President-Elect Trump and for the good of the nation as he leads it. Volunteer in your community. Invite someone to your church.

The Need to Reflect

Alongside such practical responses, it is imperative, however, that we address the question of why this happened. Such reflection, as it may involve unwelcome and painful charges, may be regarded as unloving. I don’t believe that it need be, although it will be difficult and unpleasant. The fact that a man as patently unfit for presidential office as Donald Trump has just been elected to it wasn’t an accident. We need to understand why.

I have been seeing a number of moderate and progressive Christians blaming evangelicals for Trump’s election. There is much truth there and is essential that we reflect upon it. I hope that you read such pieces. However, my purpose here will be to stress a different aspect of the story, one that might deny progressives the balm of moral superiority with which many of them are dressing their wounds today. This isn’t intended to elbow out or deny the great importance of those other accounts, but to supplement them.

Within this post I want to draw attention to one of the major reasons why this has happened, which is the toxic effect that social justice ideology has had upon American society and politics. This ideology has empowered a candidate who shouldn’t have been allowed anywhere near the Oval Office.

Some people have regarded the debates about social justice and political correctness in universities as a pointless and exaggerated sideshow to the political, economic, and social issues that really matter, something ginned up by conservatives to create self-serving outrage. However, the capitulation of universities and the establishment liberal mind with them to the social justice cult is arguably one of the primary causes of our current dire situation.

At their heart, the struggles for free speech in the university are a fight for the ailing mind of the Democratic Party. As long as the various ‘studies’ programmes (women’s, gender, race, etc.), critical theory, and the culture they perpetuate have sacred status in universities and form the prestige religion of the educated elite and their various institutions and organs, our situation will only get worse.

Liberal Obliviousness

For several years, I have been a habitual eavesdropper in the comments over on Metafilter. I appreciate Metafilter for the window that it gives into the minds and habits of discourse of highly intelligent liberal progressives. It has always been very important to me to understand how liberal progressives think, to be able imaginatively to get inside their ideological framework and sense of the world, to understand how deeply well-meaning and smart people could relate to the world radically differently from the way that I do.

Throughout the election period, and over the course of last night (here and here), I regularly lurked in the comments of election threads. What struck me more than anything else was their frequently profound and often utter obliviousness to non-liberal ways of thinking.

This obliviousness isn’t just extensive, it is often insistent. It isn’t merely that people don’t get it: they often completely refuse to get it. I have seen attempts to represent the thinking of Trump voters with any degree of charity treated with great hostility. On account of people’s professed vulnerability and the illegitimacy of giving sympathy to hateful voices, most discussion didn’t stray too far from a narrative attributing everything to misogyny and racism. It was a telling window into another group’s echo chamber.

Within the cushioned walls of their safe place, many of the liberal progressives of Metafilter may take comfort and confidence in the absolute justice of their cause in the Manichaean battle against the countless evil and hateful supporters of Trump who have overrun the country. The American population have unambiguously voted for racism, misogyny, and ignorance.

The troubling thing is the frequent unwillingness to attempt to believe better of their fellow Americans, to explore the possibility that perhaps many Trump voters are intelligent, well-meaning, and, yes, fearful people just like themselves, people who are actually opposed to misogyny and racism and only voted for Trump because they believed there was no other choice. The fact that such liberals seem to find it more reassuring to believe that an overwhelming multitude of their compatriots are irredeemably hateful and evil than it is for them to believe that a well-meaning and intelligent person might support an opposing candidate is immensely revealing. Perhaps it suggests that such people have more of an existential stake in the cocoons of ideological communities than they do in the world of social reality.

The narratives of feminism, gender, and race theory provide a comforting prophylactic against the intrusion of unwelcome reality on many fronts. Being assured that you are a victim of evil social forces, hateful individuals, and dark structural processes conspiring against your success can be a comforting belief when the alternative is to admit the possibility of a natural reality or a broadly unavoidable social reality that doesn’t function according to our egalitarian prejudices. The possibility, for instance, that historic male dominance in social power might largely be a naturally grounded phenomenon is much less palatable than the belief that this order results from a profound and more or less universal evil disorder instigated and maintained by the male sex.

The problem with such sacred narratives and the communities that coalesce around them is that they rigorously preclude intellectual exploration. As genuinely wounded, vulnerable, and fearful people are heavily invested in them for their sense of psychic worth, the community-sustaining narratives cannot be interrogated and stress-tested. Alternative theories are precluded from consideration. Challenges to the narratives are perceived to be an attack upon the people who take refuge in them.

These narratives identify a great many genuine social wrongs, but they consistently overplay their hand, in a ‘motte and bailey’ doctrine fashion. Unfortunately, when they have assumed a sort of sacred status, one cannot challenge the overplaying of the concepts without being presumed to dismiss the genuine wrongs they identify. The cancerous theories that result can grow unchecked by healthy critical processes and steadily metastasize until they destroy their host institutions.

The result of all of this, unfortunately, is an adherence to a comforting ideological script at the expense of charitable engagement in an open public square. Indeed, far from charitable engagement, this ideology encourages ever shriller and angrier attacks on and denunciations of people who differ. Faith in the possibility and power of discourse, persuasion, and the possibility of forging common ground with people who differ are swiftly eroded. When ideological security requires protection from the cognitive dissonance of recognizing, or at least being open to, valid points in opposing arguments, or to the goodness of our critics, politics will rapidly devolve into condemnatory shouting matches. Prevailing social justice ideology is great for virtue signalling for the purpose of in-group membership among progressive liberals. It is useless and, indeed, entirely counterproductive when it comes to the tasks of persuasion or understanding.

Liberal Contempt

One of the prominent themes in the liberal discourses that I have seen throughout this election has been deep contempt for the demographics who would vote for Trump. ‘White’ people (‘white’ primarily serving as code for ‘red tribe’ white people), men, straight and ‘cisgender’ people, evangelicals, older, and more provincial people are frequently spoken of with an unmasked loathing. Their bigotry, hatred, and oppressive actions are responsible for everything that is wrong with the country. They often speak as if these groups have an unrelenting hatred for them and they hate them in return.

While they flatter themselves that they are compassionate and open—they are standing for love!—their vicious vengefulness and hostility towards people, or the way that they sacrifice even the closest relationships on the altar of political and ideological differences, is truly terrifying. The other side isn’t just driven by different yet valid group concerns, or well-meaning but mistaken, or even compromised yet open to moral suasion. No, for so many they are evil and beyond redemption, a group that cannot be won over by reason, service, or love but can only be eradicated. For instance, here is one of many such comments from the Metafilter threads:

This chart showing how The Youngs voted is very, very nice. All we need to do now is get rid of all The Olds.

The contempt that social justice ideology drives can be galvanizing for opponents. The unedifying spectacle of privileged Ivy League students attacking the misogyny and racism of people in struggling American communities who voted for Trump, for instance, and failing to summon up the slightest compassion for people in difficult economic straits, simply because they are white, sticks in the craw of people who haven’t swallowed the ideology. Reading liberal progressives’ own words, one can see that many of them have undiluted hatred for these demographics and just want them to perish. They complain about Trump’s statements about immigrants, but one wonders whether they listen to themselves talk about Midwesterners.

‘How are you feeling about the extinction of white men?’ Lena Dunham, a prominent figure among Clinton supporters, asks her father in a video she posted last week. ‘Well, white men are a problem … straight white men are a big problem, that’s for sure,’ he answers, ‘but I actually feel pretty good about it…’

It is clear to many Trump voters that liberals don’t just disagree with them, but truly hate them for who they are. Another comment from the Metafilter threads:

Bit of a story here, but I’ll tie it into this election—bear with me a second.

So, I own a small business and we’re in the midst of seemingly never-ending renovations. We’ve got a contractor who I strongly suspect screwed us on a flooring job and used outdoor-only sealant on part of the space (we’re doing one half at a time). The fumes have taken a week to subside; it was only when we rented (at our own expense) a super-serious, heavy-duty ventilation system and ran it all weekend that they finally died down enough that our employees said they could bear to work in the other side of the space and NOT have to wear gas masks to work.

We’re in a retail space with apartments above and behind, and our landlord has had to pay for hotel rooms for some of the tenants, chemical testing, and a variety of other things, and has told me he intends to bill us for it. Shit just keeps rolling downhill, and I don’t have the money to pay for this crap.

I’m talking with our attorney and insurance company to see what our options are—long story short, it looks like we’ll be going after this dishonest contractor and/or his insurance company for damages. Whatever he and/or his insurance company (assuming he has one) can’t cover, our insurance should be able to. I wasn’t sure I wanted to do this, because the guy seems kind of like a dumbass and overall kind of nice, and he subbed out the flooring job, and I suspect he honestly didn’t know what happened.

But I’m also about 90% sure he’s a Trump voter. I can just tell.

After tonight . . . fuck it, I’m going after him, guns blazing. Fuck this guy.

Oh, and while I may be a business owner and in the top 4%, income-wise, I’m also a person of color who’s heard my own customers say stupid shit about my own ethnic group on My. Own. Fucking. Sales. Floor. (My skin tone is kind of ambiguous; people don’t necessarily know my ethnic background by looking at me.) And one of my stores—my flagship store, and the one currently under renovation and the one that just got fucked over by said contractor—happens to be in the capital of the old confederacy. So I suspect this guy’s a good ol’ boy.

Well, fuck this guy. You get the next four years. In the meantime, I get your house.

(Yeah, we’re supposed to be better than this, and eventually I will be. But I also have a 21-month-old girl who was born during Obama and who I wanted to see grow up during Hillary’s administration, even if I was initially a “BernieBro.” Now I won’t see that happen. I need somewhere to put this anger. Eventually, I’ll channel it somewhere more productive. Right now, at 1:08 AM on election night, it’s going toward this contractor who could potentially kill my business.)

The sort of open and unapologetic hatred of particular demographics that one sees on the left are a good explanation for why it lost—and, yes, deserved to lose—yesterday. That social justice ideology systematically provides cover for such venomous hatred is part of the problem (‘And let go of the illusion that ANYBODY but white people—particularly white males—gave this election to Trump. White men are scum.’). The fact that this hatred often comes from the more privileged people educationally and socially and is directed at those with a much lower socio-economic status merely makes it all the more reprehensible. Until the ideology that permits such hatred is uprooted, the progressive left will lack both the power to persuade and moral credibility.

Liberal Mercilessness

When you surround the enemy
Always allow them an escape route.
They must see that there is
An alternative to death. —Sun Tzu

White men (well, apart from the enlightened college-educated progressive men who support social justice ideology) have repeatedly been told that they are everything that is wrong with the world. The same is true of evangelicals as a group. They must assume a crippling guilt and much vanish into cultural dhimmitude until demographic changes eliminate them from American society. As they represent evil, no allowances must be made for them, no quarter must be given to them. They must be eradicated.

The last few years have revealed the mercilessness of liberal progressives, their refusal to provide avenues for Christians to shelter from their cultural domination. In a whole host of cases, Christians have seen that liberal progressives intend their cultural extinction. Progressive liberals care little for conscience protections, the integrity and independence of their institutions, their capacity to speak freely in the public square, work and sell without coercion in the marketplace, and enjoy freedom of association.

Liberal progressives have established a cultural total war. Photographers, florists, bakers and others will have their livelihoods destroyed if they don’t sacrifice their consciences and fall in line. If you don’t accept prevailing transgender ideology and socially orthodox views on homosexuality, you can be hounded out of academia. Equality and anti-discrimination laws are expanded as far as possible, with no concern for religious freedom. You must bow the knee. You don’t have a choice. You will be made to care.

The Supreme Court and the Presidency have gained new powers or exploited existing ones in the context of these battles. Christians know that liberals, who have demonized them and have a profound contempt for them, desire to destroy them completely and to use these weapons to do so. With Scalia’s death this threat became a lot more real.

At this point, moral principle and honour can easily be abandoned. It is a matter of survival and evangelicals refuse to consent to the fate designed for them. What they need is not a moral exemplar as a president, but more of a fighter who will act as their defender. The fact that they voted in such numbers for a man as reprehensible as Trump is not surprising, and is in large measure the fault of progressives.

What Identity Politics has Created

The monster of Trumpism is in large measure a monster created by the social justice ideology and identity politics of the progressive left. The more that a demonizing and merciless ideological narrative is used as a weapon against particular demographics, the more that they will resist it. The social justice narrative calls for white people, and men in particular, to assume a crippling guilt, to be the scapegoats for America. Trump’s movement is exactly the sort of resistance that such a narrative will provoke.

White people and men refused the narrative. For all of the progressive left’s insistence upon the evilness of America on account of straight white Christian men, Trump’s movement is founded in large measure upon the counter-claim that, for all of its undeniable faults, the nation of America was once great, and it was predominantly white Christian men who made it great.

Trump is a shameless and guilt-free candidate. This is exactly the sort of candidate who will thrive in the current context. As Michael Story has observed, the progressive left so radically overused the necessary antibiotics of shame and guilt that they produced a shame and guilt resistant candidate and movement. When people appreciate that guilt and shame have been weaponized to force them into cultural dhimmitude, they will start to celebrate shamelessness and guilt-freeness.

As the progressive left constantly demonized their intersecting demographics, non-college educated white Christian men became more assertive about their identity and communities. As their hastening demographic collapse was celebrated on the progressive left, they became more open in celebrating their identities and communities and in reasserting the importance of their immense historical stake in the nation. In some quarters they started to exhibit the patterns of polarized identity politics voting. If every other demographic will play identity politics, why shouldn’t they do so too? And because they are such a big demographic, this is very bad news for the left.

The more that the untreated cancer of social justice ideologies spread through the once public institutions of government, the political parties, academia, big business, the mainstream media, and Hollywood and rendered them tribal, the more that white Christian Americans will simply dismiss their authority and cease to trust them. In place of the old public authorities, they assumed more tribal identities, rather than playing a part in a public square they had come to believe was rotten. In this context, the celebrity figure of Donald Trump, who was trusted as a familiar celebrity and who identified with their demographic was a natural person to rally behind.

They pushed back against the narrative of historical inevitability that condemned them to the ‘wrong’ side. Sabotaging the election of Hillary Clinton, who symbolized the unrelenting forward thrust of a progressive vision of history was especially satisfying for them in this context. Indeed, her manifest weakness as a candidate meant that her presidential bid rested very heavily upon identity politics and the progressive vision of history. A large number of people in America voted against this vision of history yesterday, a vision in which they must consent to cultural death for their past and present sins.

The election of Clinton was also presented by so many on the progressive left as if an action of pure identity politics. The unpleasant particularities of Clinton as a candidate disappeared beneath the claim that people were at long last being given the chance to assent to the inexorable forward march of history and cast a vote for the fairer sex, whose time had finally come. Repeatedly, when Clinton faced challenges or questions, the gender card was played by her supporters, as if the prospective holder of the most powerful office in the world merited gentler treatment by her critics. I am sure that many in the nation envisaged four long years of interminable feminist hot takes, by which Clinton’s sex would always be treated as if it were the most important thing about her. Voting for Clinton was a vote for a particular brand of identity politics and yesterday millions across America said ‘no, thanks’. Reading the pieces that followed America’s decision, I am sure that I am not along in feeling, on this front at least, considerable gratitude.

The Failure of the Liberal Mind

I have already discussed the failure of progressive liberal discourse, with its inability to tolerate ideological dissent and argument. As Heterodox Academy and other groups are highlighting, the modern college is increasingly granting social justice ideology sacred status. The modern college, especially in subjects such as the social sciences, is characterized by radical lack of viewpoint diversity: conservative voices are absent from the conversation.

Liberal progressives cannot understand conservatives, not only because of the Manichaean demands of their social justice ideologies, but also because conservative voices simply aren’t present in their environments. They’ve never been forced to understand intelligent conservatives on their own terms, let alone practice intellectual sympathy. Consequently, they routinely resort to caricatures and weak man arguments.

The sheer scale of progressive liberals’ insulation from the rest of the country is remarkable. Not only do they not understand it: they have virtually no relationship with it. Once again, progressive liberal bien pensants on Twitter have been made to look like fools, completely out of touch with public opinion. The journalists, the comedians, the pundits, the pollsters (with a few exceptions) all now look ridiculous. They really do not have a clue and we should ask why we are still listening to them.

The fact that they are so out of touch also relates to their demonization of Trump supporters and voters. Perhaps this ignorance also drives their hyperventilating warnings about the prospects of a Trump win (Fascism!!! The end of Democracy!!!) as it is rather easy for them to believe that his victory in the presidential election is a victory for all that is evil. After years of their crying wolf about various candidates, one isn’t surprised the public ignores them. Trump’s presidency will almost certainly be a poor one, but there is no reason to expect the apocalypse. When you are largely oblivious to and disconnected from the population that exists outside of your cosmopolitan circles in big urban centres, it is much easier to believe that the rest of the country is a racist and misogynistic religion-addled wasteland. Alternatively, it is easy to believe that John Oliver’s latest smug rant truly ‘destroyed’ Trump.

The Failure of Liberal Anthropology

The liberal mind has also failed in other ways. Only a few days ago, the Huffington Post was saying that it was 98% certain that Hillary Clinton would win and dismissing those who suggested otherwise. One should attend to such signal failures and let the stock of the opinions of such news sources plummet in your mind. Such exceedingly poor predictions are a good sign that they are of limited value when it comes to informing you about the social reality of America.

It is interesting to look back and to see who actually predicted the election. From what I have seen, the people who best predicted the election were generally people who were attentive to human nature and psychology and the values that drive us, the dynamics of human societies and cultures, the qualitative differences between particular demographics, etc., rather than people operating with liberalism’s skeletal anthropology. A number of the people in question, people like Steve Sailer, for instance, are pariahs of the establishment, condemned for noticing things that one is not supposed to notice. Their analysis was primarily qualitative, rather than quantitative. Liberalism’s anthropology needs to be identified as a deep part of the problem here.

People don’t function as mere detached and interchangeable economic individuals, whose differences are primarily on the surface. They form various types of communities, with contrasting characteristics. Groups have deep cultural differences in their structures, values, and behaviours. Sexual differences are real. People have networks of trust, complicated psychologies and attachments, and dynamics of group behaviour. People want to be part of something greater than themselves and desire meaning in their lives. Sadly, the study of these sorts of things is increasingly taboo within the social justice order.

The left’s impoverished vision of humanity is exposed in its failure to read the election. The thin understanding of the fungible homo economicus with the thin veneer of identity politics simply does not do justice to the sort of beings that we are, the sorts of communities that we form, and the manner in which we make decisions. A movement that works with such a poor understanding of human nature will not be able to understand why human beings act in the way that they do. Consequently, hatred is constantly introduced as an explanation where it really need not be. Where a number of us were trying to grapple with the complex motives of hypothesized Trump voters, the progressive left tended to indulge itself in the ideological fantasy that their opponents were merely racists and misogynists, whose hate was leading them to vote against their interests.

The Failure of the Progressive Liberal Social Vision

The progressive liberal social vision has taken aim against the politics of local attachments and championed ever-increasing diversity. It has operated on the assumption that human populations and persons are interchangeable. It has operated on the assumption that economics is the most determinative consideration for human action and values. Immigration has been celebrated as an economically empowering practice, raising the wealth of a nation. The diversity that it establishes has been lauded as that which makes America great.

Unfortunately, the progressive liberal paradigm fails to recognize that importing people is not like importing apples. People have deep and contrasting values, behaviours, forms of community, etc. When you import people, you import their values. When you change the demographic constitution of your nation, you will invite significant changes of its culture, institutions, and values. America was never formed by diversity as such, but by particular regionally differentiated mixes of cultures, some being more successful, others less, and most retaining something of their original and distinct characters, long after their origins retreated into the distant past.

They have wilfully ignored the evidence that high ethnic diversity often directly undermines the intangible communal values and meanings that many people most care about: trust, affinity, belonging, heritage, etc. They have failed to attend to the marked differences between cultures and to the much deeper affinities that certain groups have to America’s historic values and identities. While this definitely need not mean that diversity is undesirable, it should allow for a conversation about a more prudential immigration policy.

Liberalism, and perhaps progressive liberalism especially, has celebrated a sort of cosmopolitanism of shallow and indifferent differences, all curated by its ideology. It has attacked the concern of non-cosmopolitan white voters for protection of national and regional identities against radical demographic erosion as racist and xenophobic. While the Democratic Party took borders seriously in the 90s, it increasingly ideologically fetishizes the absence of them. All while white liberals frequently perpetuate a NIMBYism and gentrification, whereby their communities and schools are spared from the most serious effects of demographic change.

Any suggestion that the integration of the values of specific religious and national communities might pose significant challenges has been dismissed as racist, Islamophobic, and bigoted, despite extensive evidence of the real effects of the cultural divides in question. Liberals have loudly condemned concerns about Muslims, while signally failing to address very real issues of Islamic terrorism. When people ideologically refuse honest discussion of pressing problems, they leave the door wide open for others who will.

Failing to honour the multigenerational stake of particular communities in America and the particularities of American identity, they have practiced an extreme universalism and an indiscriminate welcome, often wilfully pursuing the displacement of America’s historic demographics. When progressive liberals frequently gloat that white Americans will be a minority themselves before too long, those white Americans have good reason to resist demographic movements designed to secure their marginalization. Proud American identity has frequently been treated with a sniffy disdain and the attachments of the majority of the American population regarded with scorn. The fact that many white Americans find deep meaning and identity in the particularities of their national, regional, and even various ethnic attachments is ideologically abhorrent to many progressives.

The more than liberalism has rejected these human realities, the more it has opened up the possibility of a natural attachment to one’s place, one’s people, and one’s culture to curdle into an ugly xenophobia and rampant racism. Sadly, just such a phenomenon has risen to the surface around and been partially legitimized by Trump.

This election has also revealed that progressive liberals don’t actually have quite the power among minorities that they might think. The identity politics of social justice ideology involves progressive liberalism’s ideological curation of a range of different tribalisms, especially within the academy. Whether one is an Asian, a Muslim, a woman, an LGBT person, an African American, progressive liberalism provides you with an ideological framework within which to assert your tribal identity.

Progressive liberalism can easily fall into the trap of thinking that, simply because minorities currently largely align with it and the Democratic Party for the pursuit of their best interests, it will always remain that way. It assumes that a progressive liberal ideology grounded in a European tradition will always enjoy the privileged place, encouraging and accumulating tribalisms like pet lion cubs.

It fails to recognize that the alignment is often opportunistic and cannot be banked upon in the long term. Latinos didn’t come to heel for the Democratic Party as they needed them to this time around, for instance. As demographics shift and minorities gain more power and progressive liberals lose credibility in wider American society, one should not presume that minorities will fall in line behind it. While Islamic scholars may often be treated as if pets of their movement by progressive liberals, for instance, one should not simply presume that this relationship will be sustained in the long term, as little natural affinity exists. It is dangerous to treat tribalisms as pets. When they grow big enough, they may turn on you. Minority groups as groups often have much more in common with social conservatives than with their current liberal patrons. A great many of the things that cosmopolitan liberals most hate about rural white Americans have their analogies in minority groups.


Progressive liberals represent the enervated heart of a culture without deep civilizational confidence, energy, and vigour. As people, they are obsessed with discussing transgressive sex and sexuality, yet are increasingly struggling to reproduce themselves. While they expect the ever-continuing expansion of what they deem civilization, its conveniences, and its pleasures, they are afflicted by a deep and wasting decadence. They have failed to feed the hunger for meaning and purpose in the human soul, perhaps the most devastating failure of the movement of all. Despite its current cultural dominance and power, such a movement cannot survive indefinitely. The future of America and Europe belongs to peoples who have the cultural energy that liberalism lacks.

In an ideal world, progressive liberals might take some important lessons from this election. Perhaps some might develop a principled appreciation for more limited government powers and reach. Increasing the reach and power of government seems great to those who are convinced that the arc of history will always bend in their direction, less so to those who recognize that history doesn’t work that way.

Sadly, I fear that most won’t and social justice ideologies are much of the reason why.

The dynamics of the social justice movement reinforce the echo chambers within which it is trapped, preventing it from encountering, hearing, or listening to challenging voices. Sacred egalitarian values prevent them from grappling with differences. A commitment to a merciless Manichaean vision leads them to demonize, alienate, and even radicalize opponents. An impoverished understanding of human nature prevents them from appreciating and engaging adequately with the human drive for meaning, purpose, and self-transcendence.

The fight for the university as a realm of open and pluralistic discourse, unshackled by social justice taboos and sacred values, has never been more imperative. The cancerous growth of unchecked ideology must be arrested and the valid concerns of social justice thought must once again be situated within the realm of public contestation. On account of the systemic failure of the university to resist the metastasization of social justice ideology, its growth has spread to all of the major institutions of liberal thought and expression. The result has been devastating for the political health of the country, saddling us with a cultural elite that is incapable of understanding or engaging with the nation that they are living within, and fiercely hostile to many of the people within it. This elite is rapidly losing its credibility and moral authority and radicalizing its opponents, rendering those opponents dangerously immune to the antibiotics of guilt and shame.

It should not be forgotten that the current social justice movement is one that is profoundly invested in not noticing the unwelcome contours of reality. If it consistently succeeds in its purposed failure to see realities such as sexual difference, we should not expect it to recognize its own systemic failings in these regards. While it may still seem to enjoy considerable cultural power, we shouldn’t bank on this continuing indefinitely. The election of Trump—something they brought upon themselves—may just be the first of many cracks to appear.

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28 thoughts on “How Social Justice Ideology gave us Donald Trump”

  1. Thank you for posting this in full. In essence Donald Trump became the child in the story of “The Emperor’s New Clothes” and he strode onto the stage and shouted “the Emperor has no clothes”. People immediately knew that it was not them who could not see – it was the elite. The elite who had been demeaning them, ignoring them and using bullying tactics to silence them. However the Trump Presidency works out, it is a watershed moment. I pray that God calls his people to prayer and repentance and that a Christian nation can be rebuilt.

  2. Really? Liberals are to blame for a misogynistic, racist, sociopathic success? Ignoring how more people actually voted for Clinton than Trump. Ignoring how more poor people voted for Clinton than Trump. Ignoring how every single ethnic minority group overwhelmingly voted for Clinton than Trump. Ignoring the intervention of the Russians, ignoring the smear campaign over emails, ignoring the FBI intervention just before the election against all precedent (moving the polls by 3%). Ignoring the role of Fox, of Breitbart. Ignoring the false memes that spread like wildfire on Facebook. Ignoring the attempts (partly successful) to suppress the vote in minority areas. No, it was all the fault of the universities. Give me strength.

    One side has constantly lied and not engaged with the other during this election, and it wasn’t the ones the ‘liberals’ were supporting.

    This article is just an excuse for the author’s own obvious prejudices (calling social justice ‘cancer’?!) and hatred.

    If you want to understand what happened, don’t bother with this article. Try Michael Moore, try 538, even try Crack’d (it had a serious article on the rust belt’s support of Trump). Try anything but this.

    • It is interesting to see that so many people on the left are coming to pretty much the same read of the situation as me. While none of us are excusing Trump (who is morally reprehensibly and completely temperamentally and otherwise unsuited for office), most of us recognize that the myopia of the progressive left (which is only one faction of the left) established many of the conditions for his appeal and rendered the left incapable of appealing to crucial demographics. I’ve written in condemnation of Trump on several occasions and have blamed evangelicals for their part in his rise.

      ‘[I]t was all the fault of the universities’. Me genoito! But the universities must accept their measure of responsibility and not treat those hateful and stupid white proles as scapegoats. There is no shortage of blame to go round. Unfortunately, social justice ideology with its politics of guilt and deference tends to control others by burdening them with guilt, while failing truly to bear its own, and establishing its moral superiority.

      ‘Social justice’ is cancer? Absolutely not. Prevailing social justice ideology is cancer. Actual social justice is something to which every Christian should be wholeheartedly devoted. There is a huge difference.

    • Jonathan, I have been engaging with self-styled progressives for more than a decade. With very few exceptions, they flee debate, and suddenly fall silent when statistics are quoted. They use intelligent arguments like ‘bigot!’. They refuse to be evidence-led like the rest of us are obliged to be, preferring to be ideology-led, expecting that things will (or must) conform to their preferences.

      That is how we got Obama demanding that nuns fund contraception, that men must be allowed to use girls’ bathrooms, and that no one is allowed to use unreliable things like biology to determine ‘gender’ (or should that have been ‘sex’). Everyone knows in their heart that these things are nonsense, and there is a long list of further nonsenses where those 3 came from.

      • Despite my harsh words for a certain progressive subculture (which ain’t that progressive), I’ve also seen plenty closed-mindedness from conservatives, whether it’s market-worship, appeals to authority (whether constitutional or biblical), or simple assumption about progressives’ alleged ulterior motives.

        TBF, I’ve not seen conservatives indulge in speech-policing: that’s a distinctively left problem, rooted in its authoritarian Marxist roots.

          • Christopher, no, they don’t. Relevance is admittedly questionable, but if progressives are to change their behavior, they’ll be more likely to do so if they see fairness, with criticism being applied evenly.

          • My remedy is different – being a ‘progressive’ is incoherent, so no-one should be one. Being a ‘conservative’ is also incoherent, so no-one should be one. Being a truth-seeker is coherent.

    • If you want to understand what happened, don’t bother reading Jonathan Tallon.

      His comments are just an excuse for his obvious prejudices and hatred.

      He shuts his eyes and ears to the evidence, regurgitating the lefty liberals propaganda and bias widely disseminated by MSM.

      One side constantly lied. And the other didn’t? Please!!

      See Jonathan Tallon, it works both ways.

  3. Good article. Liberalism, in the sense of the value of the individual, natural rights, freedom, and sound market-based economics, is an important social creed with its roots in Christian social theology. Progressive liberalism with its increasingly absolutist, uncompromising and anti-reality agenda is a major threat to Christian witness and benign cultural influence. It is only a matter of great regret that the overreach of the latter has created such a monster as President Trump.

  4. Fascinating post, Alastair, but I do wonder if your thesis is really borne out by all the evidence… I think you’ve definitely captured something of what’s happening but I’m not sure it’s as powerful a factor as you’ve made out (perhaps that’s just your rhetoric?). Trump won by flipping the Great Lakes states, where jobs are the main concern for most, not the culture wars. Conservative Republicans have been banging the same drum about heritage, religious freedom, American identity for years and were annihilated by Obama in 08 and 12 on basically the same message and policy platform as Hillary. The difference this time is 6million plus fewer people turned out for Hillary rather than a great surge for Trump (he basically turned out traditional Republican voters)- this surely speaks to her unpopularity compared to Obama rather than the collapse of progressive liberalism as such. There is, I think, a tendency to overreact to election results- just as many declared Obama’s election a sign of post racial America, so I hear crowing from certain quarters that Trump’s election is the watershed of a renewed nationalism movement… maybe it’s just a sign that people’s prosaic concerns (job & house) rule their political choices.

  5. Thanks for posting that.

    Whether they know it or not (and given their manifest ignorance of Marxism and economics in general, many don’t), SJWs descend from the ’60s New Left, the opposite of liberalism, being inherently authoritarian. New Left guru Herbert Marcuse’s 1965 essay Represeive Tolerance could be their manifesto, if many had read it, which I doubt they have.

    I’ve been appalled to see so-called progressives sneer at poor whites, and their desire for stable, well-paying manufacturing jobs with benefits. They insist it’s fantasy, that they just gotta get over their “privilege,” as if impoverishment’s just punishment for their alleged inherent racism. Since when did progressives become advocates of neoliberalism? The progressive movement began to fight for labor. Identity politics has twisted it out of all recognition.

    It’s the economy that won it for Trumpery; but aided and abetted by faux-liberalism. Perhaps, at last, true progressives, who put economic justice at the heart of the struggle, and recognize all racism as evil, can rise again. The Sanders campaign gives hope, and points to the future.

  6. Progressive liberals represent the enervated heart of a culture without deep civilizational confidence, energy, and vigour. As people, they are obsessed with discussing transgressive sex and sexuality, yet are increasingly struggling to reproduce themselves. While they expect the ever-continuing expansion of what they deem civilization, its conveniences, and its pleasures, they are afflicted by a deep and wasting decadence.
    And this passes for serious analysis?

    • Penelope, there’s a tendency these days to pretend that no one can make an observation to do with social affairs (and a good many other things) unless it is ‘evidence based’ or is supported by ‘serious analysis’. Yet most of the time in real life we use something called experience, or common sense, or even intuition – and it serves us pretty well, not least because life is too short for endlessly investigating whether the most efficient shape for a wheel is round before we drive off in our cars.

      And I think it may be this grasping unto themselves of territory by groups of self declared ‘experts’ who dismiss everybody else’s viewpoint that has led to the kind of alienation described in the above article.

      The amazing thing is that so much ‘evidence’ and ‘analysis’ has resulted in so much nonsense which has been imposed on so many people and caused such misery. Or could it be that there has really been very little serious ‘analysis’ and no objective ‘evidence’, and that is why debate has been silenced and promotion of the program has been done with verbal abuse, threats and court cases?

      • Everyone is entitled to a viewpoint, but some views should not be published and/ or accorded respect. Saying that progressives are obsessed with ‘transgressive’ sex, but are unable to reproduce themselves and are decadent is both offensive and untrue.

  7. Thank you, Ian, for posting such a perceptive article.

    My view comes from deep within Trump country in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. The pastor of our evangelical church refrained from advising the congregation for whom to vote, but rather covered the issues and handed out clothes pins with which to hold our noses while we voted.

    Alastair Roberts could not be more accurate in his assessment. Allow me to amplify his excellent analysis on a few points:

    Class played an important role in the political realignment that resulted in Trump’s victory. Despite ostensibly being the party of the working class, the Democrats are now seen as the party of the privileged. They are seen as insular and insulated from the working world, not subject to the rules and laws that govern the “little people,” enriching themselves in public office. Clinton was the exemplar.

    Most working Americans are Christians, or at least respectful of Christianity. For nearly a decade, we have experienced a gathering assault on religious freedom for Christians, while a puzzling Islamophilia has marked elite political and media opinion.

    There was dread in the air before the election, the expectation that the country was about to pass the point of no return if Clinton and the Democrats were put in power, that Christians would eventually be forbidden from living their faith in the public square. Now, after the election, there is a sense of reprieve among American evangelicals. But the relief is cautious and conditional, knowing what a frail vessel Donald Trump has shown himself to be.

    • “There was dread in the air before the election … that Christians would eventually be forbidden from living their faith in the public square.”

      If so, on what basis?

      The free exercise of religion as guaranteed by First Amendment isn’t going anywhere, is rigorously enforced by the courts, and many state governments and legislatures are in Republican hands. Christians would certainly be forbidden from using their faith as an excuse to flout the law, whether it’s issuing marriage licenses, or illegally discriminating in the provision of goods and services, but they’ve never had this right, and in a secular republic, nor should they.

      • James, I was reporting my observation that the evangelicals I know dreaded a further assault on their religious freedom. You may debate whether they had grounds, but not whether they felt this way and were motivated by their assessment.

        Yes, the First Amendment does protect the free exercise of religion, but the Obama government prided itself on circumventing the Constitution. If one has been paying attention over the past few years, hardly a week has passed in which some American Christian individual, family, or organization has not been sued, fired, fined, put out of business, or otherwise persecuted for acting upon or at times simply expressing their convictions. Many Christians took note of this extra-Constitutional phenomenon and voted accordingly.

  8. Wow. This was an incredible article. This review article by Jonathan Haidt about the rise of authoritarianism appears to be in good agreement with your arguments here.
    And BTW, I have been a member of Metafilter for 10 years. And I have read every single comment in the election threads. Your description of that site is absolutely 100% correct. It wasn’t always that way. But in recent years the most strident voices on the social justice left have been indulged by the moderators, and as a result, the pathology endemic to those ideologues as you described has become the site norm. It is sad for a lot of us who simply don’t have a home there anymore.

  9. Hello from a Metafilter liberal. This was an interesting and insightful look into the way we’re perceived from the outside. I must say that your observations of the “liberal mind” being incapable of seeing the diverse factions of Trump supporters are ironic as the observations inevitably paint liberals with the same broad brushstrokes. There are plenty of Metafilter comments and opinions that I personally disagree with, and depending on the degree of disagreement, I and most members will bring them up on the site. Our members include a diverse group from various social, religious, and ethnic backgrounds. I’m sure it was easy to find typical liberal comments to bolster your point, but know that many of these comments often face plenty of disagreement even among our own site members. There may be an overarching liberal narrative that emerges, but that is no indication that we all ascribe to every point of such a narrative.

    Any of these liberal or conservative corners or “safe places” on the Internet must look like ignorant monocultures from outside observers, but its dangerous to treat them as such. I agree that this was a mistake on the left in forgetting about the diversity and humanity of Trump’s supporters, but to then make any assumptions about the left as a whole leads to similar problems and perpetuates ignorant assumptions about other large swathes of society.

    Perhaps simply a willingness to communicate, learn, and empathize between all of our respective corners is a good starting point at getting past these divisive rifts. Sadly this approach usually fails miserably on the internet, but at least seem to do much better in real world conversations.

    • I agree with your solution. But my god, what I find most disturbing is how easily many liberals on MF will cut off family for not passing their ideological purity test. The threads and AskMe are littered with this kind of thing. Perhaps it is all a big show and these people have no real intention of telling mom that she is a hateful and deserves to be isolated from her family for voting Trump. I certainly hope so. But if these people are serious, how does one keep a country of strangers from being ripped apart at the seams when these people appear to be so willing to draw lines in the sand right through their closest relationships?

  10. Thanks for posting this in full, Ian. Although written from a US perspective about the US election, it has many troubling echoes for we Brits and other Europeans. A very helpful contribution to thinking through the confusing times in which we find ourselves.

  11. Interesting how simplistic thinking characterises liberal thinkers (basically those who regard all people as being equal) with the worst examples of liberalism, whilst making the inexcusable on the right understandable. I have already read one commentator who suggested that gender justice is the cause of social malaise – presumably what we need is to secure patriarchy and all will be well. Is that what this article implies: “If it (social justice movement) consistently succeeds in its purposed failure to see realities such as sexual difference”?

  12. We have the mind of Christ as believers.We sense his displeasue when we do wrong and that also confirms we are His child.As a chaplain I was taught to keep an open mind on all things.Only Christ had the ability to read (with pure thought) the motive of man.I just want to lift up Trump.As God gives us time to come around,I want to give God time to work on Trump.Maybe I only saw one side of him.Its good we are talking about this.Gender roles are changing too.We have not come that far from 1950s Mississippi and my family in the high country of Wyoming fail to understand sometimes the mindset of those on the westcoast.I am old,but I am still learning from you Ian.My wife sees my joy,so I thank you my dear man. ps we are going to share glory together! That just rocks me.

  13. Quote: “The dynamics of the social justice movement reinforce the echo chambers within which it is trapped, preventing it from encountering, hearing, or listening to challenging voices.”
    If that is the case (with emphasis on ‘if’), then how tragic that is. To me, social justice necessarily involves listening to all voices, especially those rarely heard, and positively seeking to encounter the reality that gives rise to them.
    The conclusion I am led to is the reminder that any ideology, approach or perspective has the potential to become self-serving and divisive, even when intentioned otherwise – which is precisely why it is always healthy to heed the ‘other’ voice.
    Therefore a concern for social justice invites me to read and consider this piece, even if I dislike or disagree with it, but not to ignore it.


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