To my friend Pamela

I need to own my reaction to the rhetoric of the mainstream Left a little more, I think. It is not only about how Trump folks react to the way they are portrayed and addressed by the left. I am also alienated by it as well, and I believe this gives me insight into what is happening.

I have this incredibly wise little how-to book called Difficult Conversations that my company had me read back in 2011. One principle in this book stood out to me when I read it: if you are in a tense conversation with someone, attributing motives to their word and actions shuts down the dialogue. When I told Susan about it we decided to make this one of the basic agreements of our marriage.

My concern with the way identity politics operates, there is a readiness — even an eagerness — or is it a habit that has become reflexive? — to immediately reach for a psychology that tells us the real motives of anyone to our right, despite what they say, or even what they privately think. Further, we apply this psychology differently depending on how we classify them, and again regardless of how they publicly classify themselves or how they understand themselves.

The experience of being treated this way is deeply offensive, and it might even touch on the essence of offense: being treated as if what we say does not matter, and worse being treated that way because of what someone else had decided we are. If this is not Othering, what is?

Now, I cannot prove to anyone who decides that the words I have just said are only a semiconscious or unconscious tactic for preserving my identity group’s power, and not, as I claim (and possibly even believe) the appeal from one individual to another to be respected, heard and conversed with as a fellow individual who might (despite how they categorize me) have things to teach you as well as learn from them. Maybe, if dialogue with me fails they will have no choice but to reach for theories to explain why I refuse to converse with them as a true equal. But if they reach for that theory before we even get going, it will be me searching for reasons why they are unwilling to treat me as an equal.

One more note, spoken in the language of Judeo-Christianity: if racists attack you with racist ideas, does it make sense to balance their racism with an equal-but-opposite counter-racism? Can that even be called antiracism? To liberals, this seems to be just another form of racism requiring a principled liberal stance against all dehumanizing reduction of individuals to categories. It is very difficult to do this. It is extremely tempting when faced with prejudice to pick up the sword of prejudice and start fighting. Liberalism, the modern heir to the long refinement of Jewish tradition universalized and disseminated throughout the world by Jesus and his followers, calls us to transcend the conflict and instead of fighting racists with counter-racism, to fight racism with respect, dialogue, reason and rigorous demonstration.

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