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That ‘regressive left’? February 15, 2017

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

I don’t know about others, but it strikes me that if you’re going to write a whole piece on the so-called ‘regressive left’, as Brian Boyd does in the IT this week it might make sense to check sources.

Who are this regressive left?

The regressive left are seen as ideologically haughty and monochromatic. In favour of censorship and shutting down free speech, condoning the use of violence as a protest option and – by emphasising melanin and chromosomes – favouring group identity over individual rights. Seen as infantile and authoritarian, the term “Nazi” is yelped at anyone who disagrees with them.

That doesn’t really clarify matters, but Boyd later writes…

But with universities turning into ideological creches, with terms and conditions now being affixed to the principle of free speech the regressive left are also the illiberal left. Worse, they’ve taken their eye off their ball.


As Obama pointed out, traditional left concerns about trade union rights (jobs, pay, pension etc) have been replaced by a ctrl-left running around university campuses in masks screaming “Nazis!” and having an unhealthy fixation with idiot, careerist provocateurs such as Milo Yiannopoulos and Richard Spencer.

Er…could this be a largely US phenomenon? One suspects it could.

And then this hoary old chestnut is dragged in:

But the regressive/ctrl-left is now defined by an an a la carte approach to freedom of expression. A belief in free speech can be a very tough ask sometimes but it cannot be negotiable.
Classic 1930s fascist tactics – wrecking meetings, attacking and harassing opponents – are now being used by those purporting to be anti-fascist.

Actually for a journalist to write so blithely of freedom of expression or speech is entertaining. There are clear limitations on freedom of speech in certain circumstances. This isn’t to say that there aren’t excesses in relation to over-policing of language etc. But whether these figure quite as prominently as those Boyd would have us believe is another matter. That D. Trump got elected fairly handily (courtesy of the electoral college, but hey what can one do?).

Then we’re off to the Holocaust.

The term Nazi is in now danger of being stripped of its horrific meaning. The Nazis burnt children alive in ovens – not Jewish children, or gay children or gypsy children – just children. Using the term to describe those who don’t agree with you is a sickening perversion of its historical significance.


That great idea of human universality – Martin Luther King’s dream that we would evolve to be only judged by the content of our character has been derailed by screeches of self-righteous cant from look-at-me-I’m-so-virtuous political poseurs.

All well and good. But one would never think that racist, misogynyst or reactionary speech and actions existed. And not just actions but policies. Indeed once more I point to the single most powerful politician on the planet. Yes, there are issues. David Plotz on the Slate.com political podcast made the point that SNL etc may not be the best places to push back against Trumpism, that some effort to engage with Trump voters would be a positive move. Same goes for Brexit. Emily Bazelon on the same podcast noted that many women she has spoken to who supported Trump were annoyed and worse by Katy Perry and others who they were long time fans of assuming they could ‘speak for their experience’. So yes, some thinking is necessary, but fixing on this supposed ‘regressive left’ doesn’t seem hugely useful. Nor does it address the very real issues out there.

And that point about sources?

The most prominent kicking the regressive left have received to date was from a critical Barack Obama in his last interview before leaving office. “There’s something wrong with the core argument,” said Obama, who bemoaned the fact that all his work on “strengthening the minimum wage and promoting collective bargaining/overtime rules” was lost “amid the controversy around transgender bathrooms”.

Here’s the transcript of Obama’s speech.

Over my shoulder here is Theodore Roosevelt. In 1884, Theodore Roosevelt was frustrated about an election and wrote a letter saying the voice of the people might be the voice of God 51 times out of 100, but the other 49, it may be the voice of a devil or of a fool. Which do you think it was this time in 2016?

Well, it’s hard to assess because we know for example that Hillary won the popular vote by a sizable margin. We know that there are a substantial number of voters out there who not only voted for me twice but currently support me who also voted for Donald Trump.
And on the coasts, and so as a consequence you’ve got a situation where there’re not only entire states but also big chunks of states where, if we’re not showing up, if we’re not in there making an argument, then we’re going to lose. And we can lose badly, and that’s what happened in this election.

Is this just a matter of showing up, or is there something wrong with the argument?

Well. No, well, I don’t think there’s something wrong with the core argument that the Democratic Party has made for years. And the reason we know that is because on the individual issues that Democrats talk about there’s strong support. For example, the minimum wage. In every survey across the country, people support a higher minimum wage. There are clearly, though, failures on our part to give people in rural areas or in exurban areas, a sense day-to-day that we’re fighting for them or connected to them.

Some of it is the prism through which they’re seeing the political debate take place. They may know less about the work that my administration did on trying to promote collective bargaining or overtime rules. But they know a lot about the controversy around transgender bathrooms because it’s more controversial, it attracts more attention.

Is it me or is Obama quite saying what Boyd suggests he is saying? And although Obama does mention political correctness his take is a lot more nuanced and incorporates a broader view that explicitly notes ‘it cuts both ways’.

Now, if you’re narrowly defining political correctness as a hypersensitivity that ends up resulting in people not being able to express their opinions at all without somebody suggesting they’re a victim, you know, if sort of, our social discourse and our political discourse becomes like walking on eggshells so that if somebody says “You know what, I’m not sure affirmative action is the right way to solve racial problems in this country,” and somebody’s immediately accused of being racist, well, then I think you have a point.

Although I happen to approve of affirmative action, but I think that I can have a polite dialogue with somebody who differs from me on that issue. And so, on the one hand, my advice to progressives like myself, and this is advice I give my own daughters who are about to head off to college, is don’t go around just looking for insults. You’re tough. If somebody says something you don’t agree with, just engage them on their ideas. But you don’t have to feel that somehow because you’re a black woman that you’re being assaulted. But speak up for yourself, and if you hear somebody saying something that’s insulting, feel free to say to that guy, “You know what? You’re rude” or “you’re ignorant” and take them on.

But the thing that I want to emphasize here though is, the irony in this debate is often-times you’ll hear somebody like a Rush Limbaugh, or other conservative commentators, or you know, radio shock jocks, or some conservative politicians, who are very quick to jump on any evidence of progressives being “politically correct,” but who are constantly aggrieved and hypersensitive about the things they care about, and are continually feeding this sense of victimization, and that they are being subject to reverse discrimination.

Look, I had to live through controversies like the notion that I was trying to kill Christmas. Right? Well, where’d that come from? Well, you know, “He said ‘Happy Holidays’ instead of ‘Merry Christmas,’ so that must be evidence of him either not being a Christian or not caring about Christmas.” It sounds funny now, but you’ll have entire debates in conservative circles around that. So it cuts both ways. And my advice to young people, and my advice to all of us as citizens, is to be able to distinguish between being courteous and being thoughtful and thinking about how words affect other people and not demonizing others versus having legitimate political debates and disagreements.

Of course there’s a certain truth in the idea that online contesting is pointless – at least it is unless it is backed up by offline activity. But surely that’s so obvious it hardly needs to be said. No?


1. Roger Cole - February 15, 2017

Who is Brian Boyd?


EWI - February 16, 2017

A professional liberal troll in the employment of the Irish Times. Expect much continuing output on how we should stop worrying about Trump.


2. Ed - February 15, 2017

‘Free speech’ in Boyd’s case seems to mean the freedom to use passive constructions to paper over the lack of evidence (‘seen as’ twice in three sentences!), to compose sentences that are completely ungrammatical and indeed nonsensical (‘seen as infantile and authoritarian, the term “Nazi” is yelped at anyone who disagrees with them’—eh? the term ‘Nazi’ is seen as infantile and authoritarian?), to absent-mindedly insult the victims of Nazi genocide through your inability to write clear prose (Jewish and Roma children were killed precisely because of their ethnicity), and to mangle quotations, through incompetence or sheer bad faith, so that their meaning is turned inside-out. Not so much ‘free speech’ as cheap, third-rate, hand-me-down speech, picked up from a poundstore and liable to break as soon as you’ve paid for it.

Adam Johnson wrote a very good rebuttal of this tripe about the ‘regressive left’ and college students sharing the blame for Trump’s victory back in November, when that trope was being sent out into the world from the opinion pages of the New York Times. It’s fascinating to watch how a trope works its way down the pecking-order of conformist journalism from top-level hacks like David Brooks to grade Z bozos like Brendan O’Connor and Boyd; they’ve all treated us to this nonsense about ‘transgender bathrooms’ since November (Bob Geldof, with his uncanny knack for picking up on the latest fashionable idiocy, wheeled out the same cliche a while back).

“Even if, for the sake of argument, one accepts the premise that “political correctness” fueled Trump’s success, what’s missing from the conversation is that few people—the above pundits not excepted—derive their ideas of political correctness from first-hand experiences. Often the perception of “political correctness” is heavily filtered through Fox News and right-wing radio’s cartoon version of it. Day in and day out, center and center-right outlets highlight and distort the most obscure excesses, typically on college campuses, to feed a narrative to its audience that white men are under siege by conspiratorial liberal forces. But the majority of Trump’s supporters haven’t been to college in decades, nor are they interfacing first-hand with these academic enclaves; rather, they’re presented with anecdotes on television and a bustling market of anti-liberal films that stoke a vision of a dystopian PC police state.

“To this extent, liberals couldn’t really dial down the “identity politics” in an effort to assuage white conservatives even if they wanted to; the Murdochian echo chamber will just move the goalposts and cherry-pick new outrages. Centrists and liberals accepting the premise of out-of-control political correctness as something that can be dialed down have done all of the heavy-lifting for the right wing—and, increasingly, white supremacist forces—without critically analyzing whether the average voter’s perception of “safe spaces” and “thought-policing” is at all connected to objective reality.”



3. RosencrantzisDead - February 15, 2017

The Nazis burnt children alive in ovens – not Jewish children, or gay children or gypsy children – just children.

What bullshit revisionism is this?

The Nazis burnt jewish, gypsy and disabled children. I do not think they even had a concept of gay children – gay men were cast as sexual deviants, remember. That these children were jewish or gypsy was the fundamental reason why they were exterminated and other children were not. The distinction emanated from the Nazis. It was not a bunch of german socialists who went round labelling people ‘jews’ or ‘gypsies’.


Starkadder - February 15, 2017

I agree with you, RiD. The Nazis specifically targeted Jewish and Roma children, and homosexual adults, for murder. The article’s “Just children” implication is wrong, and is worrying close to the
infamous Trump White House Holocaust declaration that failed to mention that Jews were the main target of Nazi persecution. Given that Administration has being explicitly supported by a number of anti-Semitic organisations, this makes it even worse.

As Deborah Lipstadt said:

““The de-Judaization of the Holocaust, as exemplified by the White House statement, is what I term softcore Holocaust denial.”


(“Softcore Holocaust denial” brings to mind a very disturbing image of neo-Nazis romping on silk sheets. 🙂 ).


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