September 04, 2019
Neo notes a phenomenon that may be familiar to some of you:
Some (not all) of the liberals I know seem to have a constant need to assert their Trump-hatred at regular intervals and inject anti-Trump remarks of various kinds into ordinary non-political conversations.
We’ve previously mentioned bizarrely emphatic and incongruous outbursts, the relevance of which to ongoing, often mundane conversations was hard to fathom, and which seemed driven by a compulsion to signal some imagined piety or status. A more subtle and common example occurred in January, when the family headed out to a Burns Night dinner at a restaurant adjacent to the university. Before the food appeared, we were treated to a brief poetry reading courtesy of a local academic. I was tempted to roll my eyes at the prospect, but he did get the crowd in good spirits. Until a poem about food and good company was somehow given, as he put it, “a political edge.” And so, we endured a contrived reference to Brexit - implicitly very bad - and a pointed nod across the ocean to a certain president, who we were encouraged to imagine naked.
At the time, I was struck by the presumption – the belief that everyone present would naturally agree - that opposition to Brexit and a disdain of Trump were things we, the customers, would without doubt have in common. That the poem’s sentiment of friendship and community was being soured by divisive smugness escaped our local academic, whose need to let us know how leftwing he is was apparently paramount. The subtext was hard to miss: “This is a fashionable restaurant and its customers, being fashionable, will obviously hold left-of-centre views, especially regarding Brexit and Trump, both of which they should disdain and wish to be seen disdaining by their left-of-centre peers.” And when you’re out to enjoy a fancy meal with friends and family, this is an odd sentiment to encounter from someone you don’t know and whose ostensible job is to make you feel welcome.
It wouldn’t generally occur to me to shoehorn politics into an otherwise routine exchange, or into a gathering with strangers, or to presume the emphatic political agreement of random restaurant customers. It seems… rude. By which I mean parochial, selfish and an imposition - insofar as others may feel obliged to quietly endure irritating sermons, insults and condescension in order to avoid causing a scene and derailing the entire evening. The analogy that comes to mind is of inviting the new neighbours round for coffee and then, just before you hand over the cups to these people you’ve only just met, issuing a lengthy, self-satisfied proclamation on the merits of mass immigration, high taxes and lenient sentencing. And then expecting nodding and applause, rather than polite bewilderment.
Update, via the comments. Two additional illustrations of the same phenomenon:
Last year, at an otherwise enjoyable social gathering, a woman I barely know suddenly told me, quite confidently and with a hint of satisfaction, that non-leftwing people are terrible, immoral and deserve to be shunned. I should stress there was no tentative exploration, just an explosion of opinion, declaimed as self-evident. I was rather caught off-guard and it took me a second or two to process the abrupt change in conversation and sheer level of presumption. We had, seconds earlier, been admiring the grounds of the venue, a country house.
After a bewildered pause, I pointed out that I was one of those terrible, immoral people that she was talking about, and suggested that maybe doctrinaire politics wasn’t the best ice-breaker, given the circumstances. And so, I had to be the accommodating one, the one who lets casual but quite emphatic insults pass without rebuttal.
Because we were at a goddamn wedding.
I also recall a visit to a friend’s place, years ago, where a handful of other people had gathered – mostly people I didn’t know. After maybe five or ten minutes of amiable chatting, one of the strangers suddenly, quite randomly, began a long and impassioned political tirade, the relevance of which escaped me. I forget the particulars, if indeed there were any, but the thrust of the young woman’s outburst was that conservative voters are bad people, driven solely and always by selfishness, wickedness, “hate,” etc. And that she, by implication, was an altogether loftier being, driven purely by compassion.
Again, there was an assumption that the rest of us – including me, a person she didn’t know - would be in wholehearted agreement, or at least defer to the general sentiment. The woman’s tone and demeanour made it clear than any demurral or factual correction would likely result in a heated and lengthy exchange. She was there to signal her piety – and we were there to bear witness to her self-determined magnificence. And so, not wanting to further derail a supposedly pleasant social gathering, I said nothing, and eventually, after much bluster, the rhetorical storm passed.
And I very much doubt that the young woman in question – whose declaration of piety was aired via the medium of loud selfishness - appreciated the patience and restraint that had been extended to her, if only to spare others a tiresome argument.
Heavens, a button.