The more time I spend covering politics, the more I’m convinced that a significant chunk of grassroots political activists aren’t really arguing about politics at all. These folks are actually grappling with personal psychological issues and projecting it onto the world of politics. Every problem they had with a parent is projected onto authority figures. Every religious person who ever scolded them or made them feel guilty becomes the embodiment of organized religion and demonstrates its menace. Because they’ve had a bad experience with a member of a minority group, that experience reveals something sinister about every member of that minority group. The cop who wrote them a ticket instead of giving them a warning demonstrates the danger and corruption of law enforcement, the boss who fired them for shoddy work exemplifies the inherent cruelty of the capitalist system, and every frustrating experience they had with an ex-girlfriend demonstrates some defect in all women.
This is why things get so personal with them so quickly. They cannot distinguish their worldview from themselves, and so if you contradict that worldview, they believe you have attacked them personally. In their minds, expressing doubt about an accusation of sexual assault means you support rape; scoffing at the need for higher taxes means you’re greedy and want them to endure more financial difficulties; and as a Yale freshman puts it in The Atlantic article linked above, “You can’t devalue a woman’s right to choose and respect women.” Only 31 percent of women believe abortion should be legal in all circumstances — meaning, in the mindset of the student, 69 percent of women do not respect women.
This is not purely a matter on the left; I recall during the publication of Heavy Lifting having an argument with a guy over relationships, marriage, and family-raising where it was clear that to him, “women” had become a synonym for “my ex-wife.”
No issue is too small to be inflated into a clash between identity groups. There’s a Facebook page for my old neighborhood, and recently a post announced that the local day care would be expanding. A couple of residents were furious and lamented the gradual departure of most local retail establishments. (Some who had previously owned businesses on that retail row blamed the high rents, low foot traffic, and limited parking.) But it didn’t take long for the Facebook thread to turn snotty comments about how the neighborhood had been taken over by “breeders.” Somehow a small but vocal group of non-parents had concluded that the families in the neighborhood were some sort of sinister, conquering force. This isn’t mere incivility, it’s contempt, and they’re proud of their contempt.
Some might argue this is the natural extension of the “the personal is political” slogan of the 1960s. If everything about you — the products you buy, where you live, whether or not you stand for the National Anthem, what music you listen to — is political, then everything about you is fair game for a political debate and denunciation. If our political beliefs are what define us most, then those who oppose our views aren’t merely folks who disagree but a dangerous threat to us.
While the phenomenon is found on both sides of the aisle, I think it’s clear that a big chunk of the grassroots Left is consumed by this philosophy.
A loud portion of the Democratic base is completely convinced that the people on the other side of the political divide are literal Nazis and that there are no real distinctions among those who disagree with their worldview. Ted Cruz is indistinguishable from David Duke, Brett Kavanaugh is indistinguishable from Steve Bannon, and Steve Scalise is indistinguishable from Alex Jones. And just as the United States of the 1940s figured out that it could not mutual coexist with Nazis, the angriest leftist activists are convinced they cannot mutually coexist with a political opposition they label Nazis.
You can’t function as a constitutional republic or a democracy with this kind of attitude. This mentality is a ticking time-bomb for violence, worse than barging into a restaurant and yelling at lawmakers. It leads to events like the attempted mass shooting of GOP congressmen at Alexandria, Va., baseball field . . . or worse.