Believe it or not, today’s “must-read” op-ed is by Sally Kohn, a liberal activist and CNN commentator. But she’s written something pretty remarkable and quite laudable, and that is likely to get her ostracized and cursed by many of her liberal friends. I apologize in advance if my defense of her makes that worse.
Ms Kohn did something that very few of the current partisan poison-spitters do: she spent several years getting to know people on the other side, as a regular guest on Fox News. I suspect most liberals who foam at the mouth over “Faux News” (they think repeating that for the 400 millionth time is witty) have never even spent several minutes watching it. Her Fox News gig forced her to do something that precious few people on either extreme side of the partisan gulch ever do: meet, talk with and actually get to know people who think differently from her.
What she discovered is that it is actually possible for someone to hold an opposing opinion on policy issues yet not be a hateful, angry, sexist, racist, xenophobic, homophobic, Islamophobic deplorable (if Hillary Clinton reads one op-ed by a liberal writer today, please, Lord, let it be this one.) Maybe they’re perfectly nice, intelligent people who just see things differently from you. Kohn cites as an example her Aunt Lucy, a conservative Republican who lives in “flyover country” and watches Fox News, and who is also an intelligent, informed, curious, decent, kind person who loves her family and is completely accepting of Ms Kohn’s same-sex partner.
From this point on, much of the article is a primer for liberals on how to argue with conservatives without being combative or insulting (I hate to say it, but it’s still pretty condescending.) Anyway, I have a feeling many liberals might have a hard time sticking to it, particularly once they discover that swaying conservatives isn’t like horse-whispering: most are perfectly capable of countering liberal arguments with logic and evidence, just as I would refute her example, an assertion that “comprehensive immigration reform actually raises wages and working standards for immigrant and citizen workers.” But I don’t want to get sidetracked into that debate here. The point at hand is that a liberal is actually telling fellow liberals that conservatives are not necessarily drooling, Nazi monsters – and in Time magazine, yet! That alone deserves applause and encouragement.
Incidentally, I want to make an observation about her mention of the stunning difference between the nice conservatives she knew at Fox News and the angry conservatives who sent her vicious messages on the Internet (Lesson to remember, fellow conservatives: You seldom convince someone you’re right when you start off with “You’re an idiot!”) That’s partially a symptom of our deep partisan divide, but I think it’s mostly a result of what I call “anti-social media.”
The Internet has allowed people with extreme views to find and talk only to each other while blocking anyone with differing views until they self-select into little cliques of radical intolerance. The bubble-bred reinforcement and relative anonymity of the Internet have emboldened people to say things online (profanity, personal insults, even violent threats against the President and others) that they would never dare say to someone’s face – either out of politeness, awkwardness, or more likely, a fear of getting punched in the nose.
We see this ugly trend not only in politics but other controversial areas, such as religion. Atheists who used to adopt a stance of calm, polite rationality to avoid alienating people now routinely lob insults, playground taunts and tired, juvenile clichés like “flying spaghetti monster” at all religious believers. This kind of childish bullying convinces nobody of anything, other than that the Internet has spawned a whole new meaning for the Biblical phrase, “jawbone of an ass.”