There is actually confusion on both the right and the left about how to manage intolerance. I think some people are genuinely upset — because they feel like the left is nice to everyone EXCEPT THEM. For whatever reason, they don’t see the difference between disliking someone for being black, being gay, being Jewish or even being poor and disliking someone because you DISAGREE WITH THEIR IDEAS. The first is called intolerance, bigotry, racism, etc. the second is called democracy.
Confusing the mix is the fact that liberals are just as likely to be parochial and sneering towards simple cultural differences as conservatives. I can’t speak to conservatives and how they talk about liberals. But I can report from the front lines of liberalism that there’s plenty of sneering going on.
At any rate, suffice to say that at least some percentage of the time that conservatives, right-wingers and evangelicals feel insulted it’s because they are BEING insulted. They are being insulted because they like country music or Budweiser or NASCAR or hunting or crafting or being a mom or because they feel genuinely happy about Jesus. None of those things are IDEAS or politics. They are cultural markers that tend to be statistically correlated with certain ideas and politics.
When you make fun of markers rather than arguing about ideas — when you make fun of the way people dress, the way they talk, their religious devotion or the fact that they like to bake cookies with their children, YOU LOSE ELECTIONS. Not only is it lazy, not only it is wrong, it’s STUPID, because for the sake of those 5 minutes of feeling culturally superior and oh so sophisticated, you lost 5 precious minutes that might have been used to change someone’s mind.
It’s shocking, actually, how often avowed white supremacists talk about Black History Month and multiculturalism and how they feel left out. Everyone else gets a day — why don’t we get a day?! As crazy and ahistorical as that may sound to us, I think they genuinely feel left out. Trying to talk to poor white people about white privilege is hard because “white” is not necessarily a synonym for “powerful” “rich” or “privileged”. I’m not saying it’s so hard that it can’t be done, but you’d better bring your A-team for *that* conversation because your really nice and earnest and economically privileged college student from Wellesley going to get eaten alive.
I think it would help to be more clear that we don’t actually tolerate and embrace everything. Because we don’t actually tolerate INTOLERANCE. We can all play the tolerance game or we can each play divide, conquer, hate, etc.. What we can’t do is invite someone playing the divide-conquer-hate game to join the tolerance game on equal terms.
“You’re nice to gay people, why can’t you be nice to anti-gay people?” The answer is that anti-gay people are trying to annihilate gay people but the reverse is not true. Tolerance doesn’t stretch that far. We are (or should be) enthusiastic about or at least tolerant of a wide variety of cultural differences. That doesn’t mean we tolerate all ideas. We generally reject ideas that undermine the kind of open, free, accepting, diverse, and equal society we hope to build.
Let’s be clear. Stop talking about how open, accepting and loving we are because we don’t love everything. We don’t accept everything. And we are not open to everything. We have an agenda. We believe in it. Let’s talk about those ideas.