Los Angeles Times columnist Virginia Heffernan went viral last weekend because of an op-ed. She wrote about her discomfort with her very friendly “Trumpite” neighbors. They shoveled snow from her driveway without her even asking, making her “realize I owe them thanks.” But Heffernan wondered “how much thanks?”
To her way of thinking, she can’t allow neighborliness to wipe away the alleged horrors of the Trump era. “My neighbors supported a man who showed near-murderous contempt for the majority of Americans,” Heffernan wrote. “They kept him in business with their support.”
She decided that she would appreciate the gesture but she would refuse to offer absolution. “Free driveway work, as nice as it is, is just not the same currency as justice and truth,” she determined. “To pretend it is would be to lie, and they probably aren’t looking for absolution anyway.”
But she’s gracious enough to “offer a standing invitation to make amends. Not with a snowplow but by recognizing the truth about the Trump administration and, more important, by working for justice for all those whom the administration harmed. Only when we work shoulder to shoulder to repair the damage of the last four years will we even begin to dig out of this storm.”
How magnanimous of her.
The column was rightfully mocked by conservatives as petty, arrogant, and out-of-touch. It illustrates how many liberals think they’re superior to the “deplorables” simply because they have the “correct” beliefs. Deplorables can demonstrate all manner of noble conduct, yet are still morally inferior to the ungrateful liberals they assist. Many before this article’s publication have pointed out these traits.
What’s been relatively overlooked is Heffernan’s preference for living among the deplorables. She doesn’t identify where she lives but it is, according to her, nearly all white. “These neighbors are staunch partisans of blue lives, and there aren’t a lot of anything other than white lives in the neighborhood,” she complains in her column. Yet, she noted that the quality of life is much better in this un-diverse neighborhood: “Back in the city, people don’t sweep other people’s walkways for nothing.”
She believes the reason she received this generosity is that she’s white like her neighbors. She recounts examples of groups that aim to help people like themselves. For some reason, she chose Hezbollah and the Nation of Islam as her examples, even though this is a basic trait of nearly all families. We’re hardwired to help out those we see as like ourselves, whether they’re members of our family or church or just look like us. It took Heffernan 51 years to realize this obvious truth.
“Loving your neighbor is evidently much easier when your neighborhood is full of people just like you,” she concluded.
Despite her belief that diversity makes us stronger, Heffernan chooses to not live with it during the epidemic. She instead chooses a “Whitopia” for her pandemic refuge. Life is apparently better where the deplorables are. Diverse areas don’t see neighbors shovel each others’ driveways. People trust one another in homogenous neighborhoods and share a sense of solidarity.
At least one good study confirms Heffernan’s perceptions. Famed Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam studied community trust and its relationship with ethnic diversity in the 2000s. Much to his dismay, he found that diverse communities reported far less trust and a lower quality of life than areas that lacked diversity. Residents in diverse areas keep to themselves and disengage from community life. Putnam found diversity doesn’t unify us—it tears us apart.
The world wrought by COVID-19 inspired many liberals to flee the big city to Trump country. No point paying expensive city rents when you work from home and everything is closed down. So they moved out closer to the rubes and saw their folkways and customs up close. Maybe these wealthy liberals will lose some of their disdain and appreciate the friendliness of Trumpites. Maybe they will begin to question the virtues of diversity.
Or, they may end up like Virginia Heffernan and cling to their cherished beliefs. They don’t want to become a deplorable—they’d just rather live next to deplorables than closer to Section 8 housing.