Todd Zywicki recalled that aphorism after reading a Johnathon Haidt book. “They Really Do Hate Us” was the Wheat & Weeds post that alerted to me to the research months ago, and I have been thinking of it ever since.
Here’s how Zywicki sums up Haidt’s findings:
“Haidt reports on the following experiment: after determining whether someone is liberal or conservative, he then has each person answer the standard battery of questions as if he were the opposite ideology. So, he would ask a liberal to answer the questions as if he were a ‘typical conservative’ and vice-versa. What he finds is quite striking: ‘The results were clear and consistent. Moderates and conservatives were most accurate in their predictions, whether they were pretending to be liberals or conservatives. Liberals were the least accurate, especially those who describe themselves as ‘very liberal.’ The biggest errors in the whole study came when liberals answered the Care and Fairness questions while pretending to be conservatives.’ In other words, moderates and conservatives can understand the liberal worldview and liberals are unable to relate to the conservative worldview, especially when it comes to questions of care and fairness.”
That study returns to my mind again and again as I read Salon headlines. I have been reading Salon — a top progressive website — to try to understand the reasons people support such things as abortion and pornography and oppose religious conscience rights. Their headlines often disturb me (as they have others).
I started collecting them recently when I read this headline:
Rush Limbaugh confirms he is made of garbage and lives in a garbage can
It is hard for me to relate to that kind of hatred. As hard as I try, I cannot picture myself saying that about anyone — let alone announcing it in a public forum, to try to influence others to share that hatred.
What drives Salon’s progressives to think that this kind of hatred is okay?
Salon headlines interpret opponents’ actions in the worst possible way. Often, it’s in the adjectives and verbs. For instance:
Rand Paul’s craven new pander: Why he’s swung wildly on Israel again
Why “craven”? Why “pander”? Paul’s position may be wrong (I’m not saying one way or the other), but is it possible to judge his reasons so thoroughly as to dismiss him so totally?
Salon headlines applaud their own charity-free approach when they see it elsewhere. They especially love harsh criticisms of those who are beneath contempt: Fox News, Sara Palin and Dick Cheney.
Must-see morning clip: Colbert slams Fox News for pretending to care about child refugees
Rather than vigorous debate over legitimately debatable points, Salon headlines tend to paint opponents as mentally unstable:
Paul Krugman: GOP “inflationistas” are delusional and won’t admit they were dead wrong
Deranged Todd Akin is back — and steps in it again!
… or psychotic …
John McCain loses his marbles: Tries, fails to contain zest for possible Russia escalation
… or even demonic …
9 sinister things the Christian right does in the name of God
Russell Brand: Bill O’Reilly represents the values of the devil
There was a time in the 1990s when it was fashionable in the media to associate “the politics of personal destruction,” a Clinton phrase, with the Right. But what do you say about gleeful headlines like this?
Must-see morning clip: Stephen Colbert relentlessly mocks Rick Perry’s new look
Another 1990s Clintonism was the strange fear of a “vast right-wing conspiracy.” The fear still remains. Hunting groups, whether you agree with them or not, are making a serious point. Here’s how Salon headlines see them:
Gun nuts’ sick power trip: What’s really behind the “open carry” crusade
Ultimately, the worst form of contempt is to simply laugh dismissively at one’s opponents. Salon headlines demonstrate:
The lawless religious right: Time to stop caving to their ridiculous tantrums
Right-wing “populism” is a joke: Poor-bashing, immigrant-hating and a revolting agenda
Judging from Salon headlines, the Left is not interested in identifying and mixing it up with the Right: They are interested in personalizing their arguments and labeling, belittling and demonizing opponents. Take a recent manifestation of this regular feature:
7 worst right-wing moments of the week — Laura Ingraham hates immigrants more than Bill O’Reilly
I’m pretty sure neither Laura Ingraham nor Bill O’Reilly “hate” immigrants. But I’m pretty sure the headline writer hates Laura Ingraham and Bill O’Reilly. And therein lies a problem for the Left: Ideologies that decide it is okay to hate certain kinds of people (Christians and conservatives, for instance) have a really bad track record.
This kind of bullying behavior is only possible because the Left has been culturally dominant for so long in America. But it signals trouble in the future. Whenever ideologues become arrogant, contemptuous and dismissive, expect a fall to follow.
Because we all know that bullying is not a sign of strength. It is a sign of insecurity. We do it when we fear we may be in the wrong after all.