Who Has Moved More, The Left Or The Right?
Extremism is about what you do, not how you talk
This is an interesting little phenomenon sparked by an Elon Musk tweet — a debate about how much the left has moved compared to the right over the past decade and a half:
Ross Douthat had this response, which of course resolved it all immediately:
I would modify this to be 1. Since '08 US elite debate has moved substantively to the left, and liberalism much more so. 2. Since '08 politics has become more populist, paranoid and procedurally radical.
But in truth, it’s really not debateable that the left has moved much further leftward than the right has moved right — and there is a much stronger case to be made that the right has moved leftward on economics and social issues in this time, as Zaid Jilani details in this thread:
Now, what I do think is true is that the rhetoric of the right has become more extreme in this time, just as the rhetoric on the left has been amped up in the era of social media and viral politicians. Pat Buchanan’s 1992 convention speech seems positively tame in comparison. Yet any assessment of the policy positions of the Republican Party vs the Democratic Party in this time period cannot help but admit that Republicans have become more economically pro-worker and skeptical of free trade and big corporations, de-emphasized opposition to gay marriage, embraced criminal justice reform and de-escalated battles for entitlement reform.
Donald Trump was by most measures the most moderate Republican presidential nominee since Richard Nixon. But he sure didn’t ever want to sound like it. Any age when rhetoric is considered more important than what you actually do or attempt to do is a particularly foolish one. And that’s where we are right now — where someone with an agenda as extreme as Joe Biden is branded as a champion of civility and normalcy by a media that wants to frame him as something he is not.
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Left Goes From Corporate To State Censorship
For years, the First Amendment distinction has been the focus of liberals who discovered a way to circumvent constitutional bans on censorship by using companies like Twitter and Facebook. Now, that successful strategy could be curtailed as shareholders join figures like Musk in objecting to corporations and media acting like a surrogate state media.
Faced with that prospect, Democrats are falling back to their final line of defense – and finally being honest about their past use of corporate surrogates. They are now calling for outright state censorship. Obama declared: “This is an opportunity, it’s a chance that we should welcome for governments to take on a big important problem and prove that democracy and innovation can coexist.”
He is talking about imposing “standards” on companies to force them to censor “lies” and “disinformation.”
As is often the case, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stripped away any niceties or nuance. Clinton called for the European Union to pass the Digital Services Act (DSA), a measure widely denounced by free speech advocates as a massive censorship measure. Clinton warned that governments need to act now because “for too long, tech platforms have amplified disinformation and extremism with no accountability. The EU is poised to do something about it.”
Clinton’s call for censoring disinformation was breathtakingly hypocritical. President Obama was briefed by his CIA Director John Brennan on “alleged approval by Hillary Clinton on July 26, 2016 of a proposal from one of her foreign policy advisors to vilify Donald Trump by stirring up a scandal claiming interference by Russian security services.” The intelligence suggested it was “a means of distracting the public from her use of a private email server.”
Moreover, her call for censorship came just weeks after special counsel John Durham offered more details about the accusation that her campaign manufactured a false Russian collusion theory. One of Clinton’s former lawyers is under indictment for the effort. Clinton personally tweeted out the disinformation that is the subject of the federal prosecution. And the Federal Election Commission recently fined her campaign for hiding the funding of the Steele dossier.
Given that history, it would be easy to dismiss Clinton’s calls as almost comically self-serving. However, the 27-nation EU just did what she demanded. It gave preliminary approval to the act, which would subject companies to censorship standards at the risk of punitive financial or even criminal measures.
If implemented, it might not matter if Musk seeks to restore free speech values at Twitter. Figures like Clinton are now going to the EU to effectively force companies to continue to censor users.
Mental Illness Doesn’t Make You Special
Marianne Eloise wants the world to know that she does not “have a regular brain at all”. That’s her declaration, on the very first page of her new memoir, Obsessive, Intrusive, Magical Thinking. The book catalogues her experience of a dizzying variety of psychiatric conditions: OCD, anxiety, autism, ADHD, alcohol abuse, seasonal affective disorder, an eating disorder, night terrors, depression. By her own telling, Eloise has suffered a great deal from these ailments; I believe her, and wish better for her. But she would prefer we not think of them as ailments at all. And that combination of self-pity and self-aggrandisement is emblematic of our contemporary understanding of mental health.
Eloise is a champion of neurodivergence, an omnibus term that’s recently ballooned in popularity, which can include autism, anxiety, borderline personality disorder, or indeed any other psychiatric condition that’s hot right now. The term is designed for making sweeping pronouncements. Forget the fact that, say, autism and schizophrenia are so different that they have at times been described as opposite conditions. Forget the fact that saying you’re neurodivergent has as much medical meaning as saying you have a disorder of the body. The idea is that there’s a group of people whose brain chemistry differs, in some beautiful way, from some Platonic norm. And it’s an idea that’s taken on great symbolic power in contemporary liberal culture.
There is, for example, a thriving ADHD community on TikTok and Tumblr: people who view their attentional difficulties not as an annoyance to be managed with medical treatment but as an adorable character trait that makes them sharper and more interesting than others around them. (They still demand extra time to take tests, naturally.) It’s also easy to come across social media users who declare how proud they are to be autistic; I’m glad they’re proud, but their repetitive insistencemakes me wonder who exactly they’re trying to convince, us or them.
Darker, there’s the world of “DID TikTok”. DID, dissociative identity disorder, is a profoundly controversial condition, once known as multiple personality disorder. Many serious experts question whether it exists at all; at the very least it’s incredibly rare. And yet thousands of adolescents have diagnosed themselves with the condition, and happily perform their various personalities for their social media followers, typically in ways that defy all established psychological understandings of the disorder.
Against this backdrop, Eloise is a marketing department’s dream come true: hers is a story of the young, beautiful, dysfunctional — and successful. Eloise is the perfect 21st-century woman, from a certain internet-enabled philosophy of human affairs. She is an admirer of witchcraft and believes that women have a mythical connection to water. She does a lot of drugs and becomes bisexual. She uses Tumblr and travels the world, vacationing in Lisbon and the south of France, and moves to Los Angeles to be an actor, taking care to embed that period of her life in a self-defensive patina of irony. She lives an enviable life of obvious socioeconomic privilege, which she does not have time to recognise, as she’s too busy cataloging her psychiatric maladies.
She crams them into every last anecdote: apparently nothing happens to her that she does not ultimately attribute to those maladies. Eloise’s love of swimming as a child is, for instance, laboriously explained in terms of her neurodivergence. I’m talking thousands of words. It seems never to have occurred to her that a love of swimming is not exactly rare among children, or that she doesn’t have to justify her joy at being in the ocean by making it “deeper”. Again and again, she holds perfectly mundane attitudes and behaviours up to the reader and says “Isn’t this special?”
The label of neurodivergence is so vague and capacious, pretty much anything can be pulled into its orbit and made “diverse”. There’s a meme that crops upon Tumblr, TikTok and Twitter that starts with “the neurodivergent urge to…” and is immediately followed by, well, just about anything a person does. Common examples include the neurodivergent urge not to reply to an email or to order food in rather than cooking what’s in the fridge.
Why McCarthy Is Still The Next Speaker
Trump is the only figure with the power to unravel McCarthy. Allies of the former president suggested he was pleased with McCarthy’s behavior during the Times-tape drama because it showcased his hold on the GOP leader. That doesn’t mean Trump won’t eventually give the California Republican his own last-act twist. The only thing that’s clear is that Trump would play a role in any fatal blow to McCarthy’s hopes to claim the speaker’s gavel — quite possibly the leading role.
So, sure, another tape of McCarthy’s private comments to fellow GOP leaders may yet emerge. And top House Republicans would again ask members to stay focused on their agenda ahead of the midterms, when they’re expected to take back one or both chambers of Congress. Any new revelation would risk chipping away, even if slightly, at McCarthy’s standing with members whose trust he needs to lead effectively.
I interviewed the House Minority Leader yesterday on his plans to manage a GOP conference that will likely include a lot more Matt Gaetz clones after the coming election — listen here:
Items of Interest
“[Aldous Huxley] compared the brain to a 'reducing valve'. In ordinary perception, the senses send an overwhelming flood of information to the brain, which the brain then filters down to a trickle it can manage for the purpose of survival in a highly competitive world. Man has become so rational, so utilitarian, that the trickle becomes most pale and thin. It is efficient, for mere survival, but it screens out the most wondrous part of man's potential experience without his even knowing it. We're shut off from our own world.”
― Tom Wolfe