The Anglophone left and discipline through -isms

I imagine that politics is nearly always a convoluted mess of fractal coalitions, and ruthless undercutting of enemies and “allies” alike. Perhaps it gets more noticeable as one gets older, though.

This week, I’ve been thinking about one or two more relatively bizarre examples. It may in part be a product of spending so much time immersed in the politics of #Brexit, and getting them conflated with American matters. But then plenty of participants on either side of the Atlantic have promoted the idea that there are common dynamics at work, so I suppose it’s fair game for me.

In any event I feel more and more like the establishment-left coalitions, both here and in the UK, are wielding certain topics as disciplinary cudgels as ruthlessly as any right-wing strategist has ever done. The Brexit debate has seen plentiful slime on all sides, certainly, but presuming that Remain is about to win [edit: oops!] I wonder if their success is partly achieved by more aggressively denigrating their opponents. It seems as though anyone who favored Leave, for any reason, was immediately condemned for being xenophobic, Islamophobic, “simply crazy” and indifferent to the poor.* Call me biased if you will, but I have a difficult time coming up with a comparable list for the other side; plenty of people for Leave have said vile things but I just haven’t perceived an equivalent unified execration of the people who favored Remain, themselves.

In any event, considering this got me thinking about how much of the American left uses similar tactics for policing dissent, and that led me to one particularly novel illustration. It seems like at present—having as they do all too many real examples to hand just like in Britain—liberal America’s elites and their followers readily charge opponents with Islamophobia and take for granted that this is simply indefensible. Personally I think it basically is, and I don’t feel like America’s left is actually being over-broad in applying the label, to date. What gets me, though, is that much of this same establishment-left will not tolerate criticism of the Israeli government. So if you suggest that (the predominantly Muslim) Palestinians are victims of abuse… the same coalition that regards Islamophobia as unequivocally unforgivable will unite against you, and warn darkly of antisemitism.

America’s most recent shooting/mourning/gun-control-preaching drill has meanwhile prompted an additional, related observation. As I’ve noted before I think the objections to gun control are basically fantasy, and I happily and regularly vote for candidates who advocate it, but I also think the urgency attached to “mass shootings” is out of all proportion to their real threat. As the Clinton-Sanders contest demonstrated, though, it certainly comes in handy when Democratic Party elites want to impose discipline!

On top of that, the combination of the past couple of days’ base-rallying sit-in by House Democrats and my musings on abuse of -isms got me thinking about another quirk of our contemporary politics. Right along with xenophobia and Islamophobia, the Anglophone establishment left is increasingly on alert for nationalism. Whether you dissent on the European Union, immigration or trade deals, nationalism is speedily becoming another go-to charge when elites want to shut down conversation.

And yet (here in America, unlike Britain which already has gun control) the same establishment-left that is regularly morally outraged at the enablers of armed murder… are perfectly content to see their own officeholders enable ongoing armed murder, so long as it takes place in other countries. For the progressive dedication to internationalism, it seems, “some exceptions apply.”

Postscript 6/24: As long as I’m updating to reflect the outcome of the Brexit referendum, let’s add wanton age-ism to the list. I think the most popular meme among disappointed Remain supporters this morning is “young voters didn’t want this but old voters overrode the next generation’s preference, that’s illegitimate, old people shouldn’t even be allowed to vote.” As much as there have been times when I’ve sympathized with this feeling, if you really still believe this in a few days when knee-jerk anger has passed, that’s disgusting and you ought to be ashamed.

* On the basis that taking any risk of a stock market downturn constitutes harm to the poor, because, y’know, poverty in Britain is obviously a consequence of GDP rather than a distributional issue…

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