If the last eighteen months have been defined by a single question, it might be this one: How did this happen? By "this" I mean not just the election of Donald Trump but also everything that surrounds it: the ideological polarization, the newfound strength of right-wing extremism, the degradation of American civil life, all of it.
And who's to blame? Why, liberals, of course.
Perhaps not entirely, but many conservatives want to be sure we understand that the more extreme and embarrassing rightists wouldn't be what they have become were it not for the relentless contempt heaped on everyone to the right of Bernie Sanders by snooty liberal elitists. And if Trump gets re-elected, well, that'll be liberals' fault too.
That's the opinion increasingly expressed not just in safe conservative spaces, but in places like The New York Times, which on Sunday ran a piece on the front of the Week In Review section entitled "Liberals, You're Not as Smart as You Think" by University of Virginia political scientist Gerard Alexander, making a case that others have been making of late. "Liberals often don't realize how provocative or inflammatory they can be," Alexander writes. "In exercising their power, they regularly not only persuade and attract but also annoy and repel."
Most particularly, constant liberal cries of racism push away voters they might want to attract, especially when they're aimed at Donald Trump's supporters. The president might have said a couple of unsavory things, Alexander grants, but "it is an unjustified leap to conclude that anyone who supports him in any way is racist, just as it would be a leap to say that anyone who supported Hillary Clinton was racist because she once made veiled references to 'superpredators.'"
So a single word Hillary Clinton uttered in a speech 22 years ago, and for which she repeatedly expressed regret, is pretty much the same as Donald Trump running an entire presidential campaign on white nationalism and then putting that white nationalism into practice as president. Trump opened his campaign calling Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals, and vowed to build a wall on our southern border and ban Muslims from entering the country. He spent years flogging the racist birther lie, and insisted that Barack Obama couldn't possibly have been smart enough to get admitted to Ivy League schools. He retweeted racist memes. He said the judge presiding over the Trump University fraud case couldn't be impartial because "He's a Mexican" (which was false). After white supremacists staged a rally in support of confederate monuments at which a counter-protester was murdered, he insisted that there were "very fine people on both sides."
That is of course just a partial list. But yeah, Hillary Clinton did say the word "superpredators" that one time in 1996, so six of one, half a dozen of the other. How terribly unfair for anyone to charge that Trump supporters are okay with racism.
Alexander's article follows on another controversial Times story from a week before about "the renegades of the intellectual dark web," a group of conservatives whose provocative ideas are so threatening to the powers-that-be that they have been forced to suffer the indignity of being granted bylines in major newspapers, interviews on television, and podcasts with millions of listeners, as the supposedly closed-minded media tries desperately to understand what makes them tick. The author of that piece, Times opinion editor Bari Weiss, later tweeted that "When conservatives, classical liberals or libertarians are told by the progressive chattering class that they—or those they read—are alt-right, the very common response is to say: Screw it. They think everyone is alt-right. And then those people move further right."
I don't know about you, but I can't recall ever changing my ideological beliefs because I got criticized for my current ideas (which happens plenty). But whenever a conservative finds themselves the target of criticism for the substance of what they say, other conservatives are sure to rally to their defense by saying: This is how you got Trump, you stupid liberals. As right-wing pundit Ben Shapiro said after Kevin Williamson's repugnant views got his invitation to join The Atlantic rescinded, "Kevin Williamson's firing is how you got Trump, as well as the alt-right's near-mainstreaming." It has become so common that it's now a joke among liberals on places like Twitter, to take some story of a crime gone wrong or a ludicrous fashion trend and say, "This is why Trump won." It's the new "Thanks, Obama."
To be clear, no one would contest that there are times when liberals call something or someone racist when it doesn't deserve it. That does happen. There are ordinary conservatives who have actually experienced it, and it's no doubt unpleasant. But we should understand that the conservative obsession with the idea that liberals are constantly calling them racist is fueled by the right-wing media they consume, where they're regularly told that the only genuine form of racism that remains in America today is conservatives being unfairly accused of racism.
That's not to mention the fact that for years, conservatives have been treated to a steady diet of race-baiting from their most beloved news outlets and media stars. The likes of Rush Limbaugh and Fox News continually tell their audiences that African Americans, immigrants, and Muslims present a profound threat to everything they hold dear, and they should remain in a constant state of fear and rage about it. They spent eight years arguing that Barack Obama was oppressing white people with his radical black nationalist agenda, and that every policy he pursued was actually about punishing the white people he supposedly hated so much.
That's the rancid stew the right has been simmering in for the last decade. And now we're supposed to believe that the increased prominence of neo-Nazis and white supremacists is the fault of liberals being insufficiently polite, that whites gravitated to Trump because liberals were rude to them, and that if Trump gets re-elected the people who voted for him won't be responsible for their own choice but instead the blame will rest at the feet of the left? Please.
Are there excesses of political correctness some liberals are guilty of? Goodness, yes. Are there times when a liberal calls a conservative a racist even though they didn't deserve it? Absolutely. The reasonable response to that is to say, "That's unfair, and here's why it's wrong." But if your response to being called racist is to become more racist, I've got news for you: You were a racist to begin with. The fault is no one's but your own.