Recently, I published an article in American Greatness that, against the background of a first-person account of a short walk in what I see as the bleak and broken New York City of 2021, presents my reflections on the total civilizational collapse we are witnessing in the West. The article pulled no punches in painting a stark picture of a city and a nation betrayed by its leaders and handed over to those who condemn the best among us, champion the worst, and want to bring America to its knees.
The article garnered many plaudits but also predictably generated its share of controversy. First came this sophisticated bit of “commentary” from someone whose publications attest to a worldview that appears to consist almost exclusively in hating Donald J. Trump and his supporters:
nazi shit pic.twitter.com/O6N6SC9YpI
— Christian Vanderbrouk (@UrbanAchievr) February 25, 2021
Following on the heels of this belch came a scathing denunciation, longer but not substantially more articulate, from the prominent Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson. His opinion piece, titled “The GOP is now just the party of white grievance,” used out-of-context quotations from my article—coupled with Gerson’s flights of sheer fancy approaching actual libel—to attribute insane viewpoints to me that I did not express and certainly do not hold.
Gerson contends that I “propos[e] the whipping of brown people” and “practice[d] a kind of genocidal-chic” “by comparing human beings to ‘insects’ and ‘leeches.’” These alleged racist and genocidal views of mine, he contends, make me someone who easily could “headlin[e] a panel at next year’s Conservative Political Action Conference,” a proposition that, in turn, he uses as evidence to prove his thesis that the entire Republican Party “has been swiftly repositioned as an instrument of white grievance.”
I will get to the unintentional irony in Gerson’s observations in a moment, but I should say first that, in contrast to Gerson, I am not a prominent public figure but a private individual who writes on the side. I do not have anything like Gerson’s influence or anything like the Washington Post’s institutional clout. To attribute to me, falsely and in bad faith, horrific racist and genocidal viewpoints is beyond the pale and a testament to the very kind of heedless bullying of private individuals in which the contemporary Left and NeverTrump “Right,” with their concentrated power, seems to be routinely engaged in 2021. Though I submitted a brief response to Gerson’s attack to the Washington Post, they naturally declined to print it, thus allowing Gerson’s inflammatory ad hominem allegations to stand unchallenged.
So let me take a moment to set the record straight. It is absurd that I need to clarify this, but here we go: I am not in favor of “whipping . . . brown people” (Gerson’s quote, not mine), and as far as genocide or “genocidal-chic” (whatever that might be) goes, I am against it. What I actually wrote in the first passage to which Gerson appears to be referring is that while those homeless people who are mentally ill “deserve our care,” the “rest need the whip,” and “will be thankful for it” when all is said and done. What I meant, of course, is not a literal whip, but something like “tough love.” That, in my view, is generally the more compassionate approach to such issues in the long run and also one that has substantial empirical support.
One is free to agree or disagree with that position. But to imagine all homeless people as “brown people,” as Gerson does, and then to claim that I advocate literally whipping them (implicitly, it is suggested, merely because they are “brown”) is evidence of Gerson’s own racially inflected lunacy and does not reflect any actual desire or position I expressed.
Similarly, at one point in the article, I likened the movement of two homeless bums circumnavigating each other to the “desultory dance” of “ungainly insects going through the motions of a mating ritual both know will end in anticlimax.” If the use of a simile comparing some human behaviors to insect behaviors is the practice of “genocidal-chic,” as Gerson calls it, then Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis must have been a mere prelude to Mein Kampf.
More generally—revealing the central irony behind his thesis that the Republican Party (where he once found a professional home) has become the party of little more than contrived racial grievance—while race is at most tangential to my essay, Gerson makes it the centerpiece of his attack. This is, yet again, more a testament to his mindset than to mine. My approach to race is the civil rights era’s liberal ideal of thinking of people as individuals, not as members of racial categories. But, alas, much of what passes for today’s Left has abandoned that ideal and turned to a kind of divisive racial hysteria accelerating our return back to a world of my-tribe-versus-your-tribe savagery that we have been trying to transcend for many decades.
For the Left and certain erstwhile Republicans to find perpetual racial grievances being expressed by the mainstream Right requires performing, again and again, precisely the kind of bad-faith hatchet job that Gerson did to my essay. No stone can be left unturned, lest race and racism be lying in wait just beneath. Everywhere must be found to lurk hidden racist dog whistles (dog whistles only certain liberals and woke leftists can hear), disguised Nazi insignia (ditto), and sinister smoke signals that white supremacists (and those sharp leftist gumshoes) can recognize.
In marked contrast to this state of affairs, it requires no special effort for the Right to find perpetual racial grievance expressed by the mainstream Left. There is no need to follow trails of clues with fingerprint-dusting kits and magnifying glasses in hand. It is right there, right on the surface, whether in Gerson’s deranged screed or in the hundreds of others churned out by his leftist and NeverTrump peers each and every day. It is right there in many an executive order promulgated by the Biden Administration. The Left today is utterly and thoroughly obsessed with race and other identity categories.
Unable or unwilling to generate policy proposals that help actual poor and working-class Americans, the neoliberal mainstream and Left’s only option is to gaslight people through debased pandering to their most superficial characteristics, which the Left seeks to reify into profoundly important, indelible, and eternal classifications.
To make this charade work its magic, the key piece of the puzzle is to project that identity obsession onto the Right; to make it appear, in other words, that the Left is fighting to save people from those who would oppress them on the basis of those same characteristics. If nothing else, it is a bold gambit that has already ensnared many well-intentioned people who are sincerely hoodwinked into believing they are engaged in a righteous crusade against white supremacist demons apparently hiding in plain sight.
For every sincere crusader, there are many more who have sung hosannas, quietly nodded along, or simply stayed silent out of fear of reprisals from the woke mob. The crisis will come to a head and end in due time as its excesses inevitably rouse a sleeping nation from its slumber. But I am afraid far more damage will be done and many more good people will have their lives and reputations ruined before all is said and done.
Gerson, had he been interested in honest engagement instead of bad-faith caricature, might have tackled my arguments rather than taken aim at an absurd straw man. Sadly, when all you see is race, then everything looks like racism.
You have filtered the world through reductive racial categories and imagined others—whether on your side or the “other” side—share your tribalizing instincts. Like a man sitting on the toilet and sniffing in disgust, Mr. Gerson, the stench of racism you are smelling is your own.