Liberal and Most Illiberal


New York Times conservative columnist Bret Stephens has an interesting post on our politics. He says we’re not divided by liberal versus conservative; we’re divided by liberal versus illiberal. Here’s what he says liberal democracy is supposed to be:

By “liberal,” I don’t mean big-state welfarism. I mean the tenets and spirit of liberal democracy. Respect for the outcome of elections, the rule of law, freedom of speech, and the principle (in courts of law and public opinion alike) of innocent until proven guilty. Respect for the free market, bracketed by sensible regulation and cushioned by social support. Deference to personal autonomy but skepticism of identity politics. A commitment to equality of opportunity, not “equity” in outcomes. A well-grounded faith in the benefits of immigration, free trade, new technology, new ideas, experiments in living. Fidelity to the ideals and shared interests of the free world in the face of dictators and demagogues.

If he’s right in his definition (and I think he is), then we’re not even hitting the liberal barn door today, much less the center of the bulls eye painted on it. And “illiberal” is probably too cozy a term. It’s more like outright hostility to democracy.

Perhaps ’twas ever thus, but we’re living in an age when outrageousness and high volume dominate. Given our wealth of venues for instant dissemination of whatever drivel dribbles from lips and finger tips, that makes every blowhard a blow torch that easily burns down decorum, critical thinking and even our sense of reality.

Stephens’ column was nicely book-ended by that of Ross Douthat, who wrote that voting restrictions aren’t really as impactful as lefties think they are. I wonder what response he’d get if he were to run that by the people in North Carolina where most polling places in Black areas were closed and people were forced to travel long distances and wait for hours to vote. Did he check in with the voters in Georgia and Florida whose names were removed from the voting roles solely because they missed voting in the last election? So many questions, so little liberal democracy.

Most Illiberal

In an interview on the Joe Pags show Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Racism) spoke of the insurrection against the Constitution on January 6, declaring,

“I knew those are people that love this country, that truly respect law enforcement, would never do anything to break the law, so I wasn’t concerned.”

“Now, had the tables been turned — now, Joe, this will get me in trouble — had the tables been turned and President Trump won the election and those were tens of thousands of Black Lives Matter and Antifa protesters, I might have been a little concerned.”

Never mind that the rioters clearly didn’t love this country – they were attacking it – and rather than “never do anything to break the law,” they were in constant violation of the law. And no, they didn’t honor Blue Lives Matter, either – they attacked over 140 police officers. And let’s ignore his blatant racism implicit in “I might have been a little concerned” if the rioters were BLM or Antifa. Instead, let’s look at how Johnson defended himself against the justified excoriation of his racist comments.

“This isn’t about race, this is about riots. I have been attacked and criticized because I pushed back on the narrative that there were thousands of armed insurrectionists, and that’s just a small part of the 74 million Americans that voted for President Trump that also need to be suspect of being potential domestic terrorists or also potentially armed insurrectionists. This is a false narrative, and so the few of us that push back on that we get mercilessly attacked.”

Since making his disingenuous comments, Johnson has been roundly accused of slimy, miserable scum bucket racism. Full disclosure: those are my adjectives and not necessarily those of all the senators, congressmen/women, pundits and ordinary folk who have called him out.

As you can see by his last sentence, he has advanced to the next step of despotic manipulation as instructed by Trump. After doing his own version of “fine people on both sides,” Johnson has taken refuge in sulking, declaring himself a poor victim. Just look what those unfair critics have done to him!

Ron Johnson is so morally bankrupt that he isn’t worth this much space in a blog post, except for one thing: he speaks for all the Americans who manage to rationalize their fear and hatred and notions of supremacy, somehow justifying their joy in discrimination. Holding him up as a fine example of this cowardliness is useful.

Michael Gerson says Johnson is no outlier. Writing in The Washington Post he says,

“There have always been bigots with access to a microphone. But in this case, Johnson did not face the hygienic repudiation of his party. Republican leaders preferred a different strategy: putting their fingers in their ears and humming loudly. Republicans have abolished their ideological police.”

“It matters whether leaders delegitimize hatred or fertilize it; if they isolate prejudice or mainstream it. If political figures base their appeal on the cultivation of resentment for some group or groups, they are releasing deadly toxins into our society without any idea who might be harmed or killed. Such elected leaders might not have blood on their hands directly, but they are creating a society with more bloody hands.”

To be clear, I do not know if Ron Johnson (or any other illiberal posing as a Republican) is feeble minded, galactically ignorant or if he is a vicious, pandering liar. I do know that he is dangerous because he perpetuates hatred that does more than upset people; it gets people killed and it can upend our democracy. That pleases Vladimir Putin, whose propaganda Johnson and other Republicans trumpeted loudly in the last election and beyond. Johnson, like so many other chaos generators, is actively working against America, and that is very illiberal. Read this from Anne Applebaum.


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