|Rensin: Calling Out Smug|
is a way of conducting politics, predicated on the belief that American life is not divided by moral difference or policy divergence — not really — but by the failure of half the country to know what's good for them.To liberals, Rensin writes:
stupid hicks [are] getting conned by right-wingers and tent revivalists until they believe all the lies that've made them so wrong. They don't know any better. That's why they're voting against their own self-interest.Rensin adds:
Over 20 years, an industry arose to cater to the smug style. It began in humor, and culminated for a time in “The Daily Show,” a program that more than any other thing advanced the idea that liberal orthodoxy was a kind of educated savvy and that its opponents were, before anything else, stupid. The smug liberal found relief in ridiculing them. The internet only made it worse.Rensin takes “real elites,” who recognize one another by their superior knowledge, and contrasts them to his “liberal smug,” who:
recognize one another by their mutual knowing. Knowing, for example, that the Founding Fathers were all secular deists. Knowing that you're actually, like, 30 times more likely to shoot yourself than an intruder. Knowing that those fools out in Kansas are voting against their own self-interest and that the trouble is Kansas doesn't know any better. Knowing all the jokes that signal this knowledge.Perhaps Rensin best makes his point retelling his “popular story:”
Adlai Stevenson, Democratic candidate for president, is on parade. A band is playing. Onlookers cheer. He waves to the crowd.
A woman shouts: "Gov. Stevenson, you have the vote of every thinking person in this country!"
Stevenson replies: "Thank you, ma'am, but we need a majority."
The smug style says to itself, Yeah. I really am one of the few thinking people in this country, aren't I?Bringing smugness into the present, Rensin fears:
Trump capturing the nomination will not dispel the smug style; if anything, it will redouble it. Faced with the prospect of an election between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, the smug will reach a fever pitch: six straight months of a sure thing, an opportunity to mock and scoff and ask, How could anybody vote for this guy? until a morning in November when they ask, What the fuck happened?
The wages of smug is Trump.Now we have the full import of Rensin’s message to liberals: your smugness may yield up President Trump. Democrats are alienating the “rubes,” and there are more of them than us Knowing.
Sure, liberals believe in helping the “rubes” below them. But as Rensin says,
It is impossible, in the long run, to cleave the desire to help people from the duty to respect them. . . What kind of political movement is predicated on openly disdaining the very people it is advocating for?And finally:
So long as liberals cannot find common cause with the larger section of the American working class, they will search for reasons to justify that failure. They will resent them. They will find, over and over, how easy it is to justify abandoning them further. They will choose the smug style.Rensin is telling liberals exactly what they need to hear to save their cause. It’s time to rediscover your working class roots.
Comment: We have long pointed to the basic contradiction between meritocracy and democracy. People who gain power by being “better” will justify a system that inevitably works against the popular majority’s will. Rensin hopes liberals can recall or learn that they are no better than those they think they serve. He’s right that as of now, it’s only a hope.