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Passion and Conviction

From Noah Rothman at Commentary, The Age of Emotion and Unreason

On balance, the majority has a better story to tell than the minority who are on the losing end of pressures foreign trade and automation place on U.S. employers. But those who do not emerge better off as a result of these pressures have the more compelling story, and it is one that has captivated the imaginations of our influencers, media, and political leaders.

Because the policy prescriptions of the American nationalist movement are not tethered to much beyond the whimsy of the president, those who would anchor it down with intellectual foundations may one day find themselves the objects of resentment.

Before America’s intellectual class was fervidly crafting a policy rationale for the Trump movement, it was transfixed by the notion that America was a uniquely racist and discriminatory nation. This, too, was an idea advanced by those who stood to gain politically from the presumption that the United States was beholden to vestigial racial anxieties. In quantifiable terms, though, the U.S. is one of the least racially discriminatory nations on Earth. Nagging racial disparities in outcomes related to socioeconomic status, health, criminal justice, and residential integration persist. The refusal of most of the liberal political and intellectual class to balance the frustrating against the optimistic was as much deference to the loudest voice in the room as anything else.

From the “population bomb” to a fear of genetically-modified foods; from the myth that women make 77 cents for every dollar a man makes to the notion that minimum wage hikes help those who depend on it; and from many other falsities like these, the left perfected appeals to emotion over reason. The practice has yielded awful policy. As comedy programs sufficed for news coverage and political satirists “destroyed” their targets to wild applause, the intellectual left atrophied. Appeals to emotional satisfaction supplemented liberal disappointment in suboptimal policy outcomes, and the art of convincing argumentation deteriorated. Meanwhile, conservatives became convinced, all evidence to the contrary aside, that they had lost just about every political and cultural battle to their liberal opponents and that their best bet was to emulate them.

It is not without irony that the left might be convinced to reduce its dependency on emotionalism in government only after recoiling from seeing themselves reflected in Trump’s movement. But the fever won’t break soon. The incentives to incite and bait and troll and react reflexively are overwhelming. These instinctual responses to adversity are called lucid and weighty by those who know better. This is not an age of reason. It is a time when passion has been mistaken for conviction and authority. Unchecked, little good can come of it.

Category: Politics, Progressivism

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