A fairly common theme I have heard from a number of conservative and progressive commentators has been to blame Donald Trump’s election on the air of moral superiority taken by Democrats and social rights activists. The exact way this was phrased varies, from the very progressive Jonathon Pie imploring people to have conversations with people with differing opinions; through to the much less progressive Steve Price telling Jamila Rizvi on air that people voted for Trump because, “People like you lecture and heckle them.”
That’s right, all you leftards and bleeding hearts need to start showing greater respect for those with differing opinions. I say that a little facetiously, but I actually agree to some degree. There are some lessons for the left side of politics if it wants to be heard by a broader base who right now seem willing to vote against their own interest.
I do strongly agree with the argument that you don't change many people's mind through belittling them and I would recommend listening with as little judgement to the concerns of those with differing opinions. Some of us progressives can be very quick to shout “Bigot,” at the first opportunity and try to discredit an opponent instead of understanding them. I have also written previously that I sometimes feel a controversial debate can be side-tracked by the question of was it racist/sexist instead of focusing on was it right? I fully support these type of critiques. However I do have some concerns with the overall argument that it is this heavy-handed approach by progressives that drives people to vote conservative or alt-right out of pique.
Take responsibility for your own vote and its consequences
Firstly it's a real abrogation of voters’ responsibility. By all means, if you want to vote for Trump, Hanson or Brexit that's you're right, but you don't get to blame me when Trump appoints a creationist head of the nation’s education (as well as most of his family to positions of power they are unqualified for) or when Hanson votes with the government (which she almost always does) to cut welfare, workers’ rights or pensions. That's not on those of us who tried to warn you this would happen- however we tried- that’s on you for not listening or doing your own research beyond easily disproved memes.
Let me again say that I agree progressives don't always help our case when we match the vitriol that gets thrown from the right. I have written previously about the dangers of overreaching in your statements and generating pushback, and this is a mistake I think progressives occasionally make. But I am concerned we are beginning to confuse overreach and aggression with basic dialogue. It is still okay (in fact I would argue it is imperative) for progressives to continue to bring facts into a conversation, state a contrary opinion or correct an untruth.
It is not always lecturing
And this is where my second concern with this line of argument comes in. It is being exaggerated and distorted. Some right wing commentators and bloggers are really pushing the idea that anytime someone is called out for racism or corrected for factual inaccuracies they are being lectured, seemingly oblivious to the aggressive dog whistling behaviour of their own champions.
A recent example from my personal experience was in the online response to a recent article I published about Steve Price’s ridiculous assertions around the disempowerment of old white men. As a prominent right wing figure, inevitably there were going to be those who would defend Price and I didn’t mind that. That was no surprise, but the methods of defence were either by attacking Waleed Ali (who wasn’t even mentioned in the article) or celebrating Price’s willingness to start difficult conversations.
I get that there are topics that are tricky to talk about and require a bit of sensitivity, but ‘Starting a conversation,’ often seems to be code for making borderline offensive statements under the guise of discussing an issue. Don’t get upset if you start a conversation and I respond. That is how a conversation works. And don’t demand respect for your opinions if you’re not giving it, both to those you converse with and those you speak about. That’s hypocrisy.
And it is hypocrisy
But it seems to be just accepted. It is a clear double standard that some on the left are buying. The right can speak how they like (listen to the aggressive tones of Bolt, Price, Bernardi, Christenson, Hanson, Lambie et al), but progressives have to tiptoe around their opponents’ feelings (I still advocate being as respectful as possible), or they are accused of being overbearing and disrespectful. The flawed arguments about respecting freedom of speech often get recycled, without any admission that freedom of speech gives equal freedom for people to speak their mind and others to criticise them. No one suggests progressive voters are against Peter Dutton because they are spoken down to- no matter how often they are disparagingly referred to as leftards, terrorist sympathisers or SJWs. People want Dutton out of office because he is complicit in the imprisonment, abuse and death of human beings.
When someone tries to correct a factual mistruth you are stating, that doesn’t necessarily mean you are being lectured. Before you moan that you are not being taken seriously, have you considered their points? When someone calls you out because something you said or did was grossly unfair or offensive and affected someone in a way you might not have anticipated, perhaps you should listen too. I can’t believe I’m writing this, but when did we all get this precious? A lot of people pushing this argument are the same who argue for repealing section 18C of the discrimination act, and telling those who disagree to toughen up.
I would suggest those people who get offended by being told they are wrong and use it to justify something as important as who they vote for probably need to toughen up more than those who get offended when they are unfairly singled and stereotyped based on race religion or gender.
So which is it? Do we need to toughen up or get more respectful? Conservatives, you can only choose one.