Jonathan Chait’s new article argues that the “Trumpian right” and “illiberal left” feed off each other:
Trump’s supporters don’t need to fabricate the notion that they face a challenge to their right to express themselves. Some of their opponents are perfectly candid about this goal. “Trump’s rhetoric is an instigation to racist, anti-migrant and misogynist violence,” one member of the Stop Trump Coalition, a coalition of activist groups attempting to shut down his speeches, told ThinkProgress. “As a matter of self-defense and protection of New Yorkers, we intend to do what the city’s elected so-called leaders refuse to do — and shut down Trump from spreading his hateful message.”
I like Jonathan Chait. I think he’s a smart guy and a good writer. But this is the trap that all political pundits who at least want to appear like they have a shred of objectivity fall into, intentionally or not: that both political parties, that both fringes of the ideological spectrum are equivalent and equally guilty of malfeasance and nonsense-making. This claim is, of course, nonsense in itself.
I refuse to blame the far-left for the rise or perpetuation of Trump and Trumpism. If Chait is right and people who traditionally wouldn’t support Trump do so because of a misguided notion that their freedom of speech is imperiled because a college student on the internet told them not to say a certain word, their moral character is more in question than their supposed ideological opponents. People who go to Trump rallies to protest in the ridiculous hope that they can get them cancelled do not threaten free speech any more than the man inside who, through his speech, threatens to sue journalists who write things about him that he doesn’t like.
One of the reasons “illiberal” leftists exist is because they wish to deny fringe ideas such as the ones Trump pronounces from becoming acceptable or normal within the parameters of political discourse. As plenty of observers have pointed out, Trump, with his promises against immigrants and Muslims and everyone else, says in plain language what normal Republicans say only in code. If this section of the left is as illiberal as Chait believes they are, he can’t seem to find it in himself to admit that an entire party is just as illiberal as this small, college-campus, internet-dwelling fringe is. It has, over the decades, acted in virtual lockstep to disenfranchise minorities, the poor, and women.
Did the “illiberal” left contribute to, for example, the legislature of Mississippi instituting a “religious liberty” law that allows illiberal Christians to deny service to homosexuals because they find them icky? Was the specter of political correctness the driving force for people who were already intolerant to reflect that intolerance in legislation? If this factions of the left merely expedites a tendency among conservatives that already exists, the problem isn’t with the “illiberal” left. The problem is where it’s always been—within recursive Republicanism.