Keep America great
I actually think it is a very worthwhile project to inject patriotism into progressive discourse. I personally get my fix from reading good Lincoln, imagining the big Confederate tears whenever daddy Grant told them no terms except unconditional surrender, and jamming out to Woody Guthrie's anti-fascist folk tunes. We need more of that. I'm a progressive liberal and I fucking love this country and we need more of us.
1. The current mainstream of American “conservatism” does not give a damn about economic performance, occasional attempts to pretend Reagan’s legacy works well aside. Trump’s version of the GOP is defined by a single concept: own the libs. There is no policy discussion because no one cares about policy.
2. Few progressives spend enough time abroad or study foreign societies deeply enough to realize how rare the US is to be as, well, progressive on race as it is.
Virtually everywhere else in the world it is more common and less stigmatized to be bigoted against various groups and openly talk about it. Civil society groups are less effective at highlighting the issues surrounding race, statistical data is never gathered or analyzed, and the governments don’t even attempt policy fixes.
There are few places that do better by multi-racial citizens than the US (including Canada, from which we could learn quite a bit) and many that do worse (including traditional progressive idols Sweden, France, Germany, and Denmark).
It would be helpful to the progressive movement, in support of a healthy sense of patriotism, to have views more rooted in history and balance on the matter. It would also mean that my older black neighbors don’t find young white progressives completely nuts.
Reading this makes me wish American politicians or commentators weren’t considered ready for the job until they had spent a couple of years living in another country. So many takes about how country x is THE model to follow, or country y is a shithole nation, strike me as hopelessly naive, and the type of thing one would never say if one had actual experience living somewhere else. (This is not a criticism of Matt Y, this is a criticism of those on the left who worship the social democracies of Europe, and those on the right who elevate dictators.)
Spending five years in Germany and Austria in the mid-2000s — a fresh graduate of an ultra liberal university, on Fulbright, then staying on as a PhD student — was some of the best political education I ever had. There’s the initial shine: public transportation is so good here! People take care of each other! I don’t have to worry about healthcare benefits! And then eventually some skepticism: why is there this sense that the best achievement is to work as little as possible until you get your pension from the government? Does the strength of this social safety net result in a lack of urgency, or is it something else? Why does this feel different? And is that urgency I feel once more as soon as I land in London good, actually?
The absence of nuance in these sorts of discussions are a good indicator of an embarrassing absence of experience. There’s a lot to learn from other countries, and a lot that’s good about this one. Once you live abroad for awhile, you know!
RE Ethnic homogeny in Central and Eastern Europe. Its very modern. I don't know if you've read Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War by Keith Lowe, but you should, it really highlights how historically odd the present ethnostates of central/eastern europe are. The years immediately following World War II saw continued violence and what we'd today call ethnic cleansing. Ukraine had big Hungarian and Polish minorities, and vice versa. Hungary had Roma, Germans, Serbs, Poles etc, because of course it did, it was the heart of one of Europe's great empires. But in the immediate post-war world a narrow ethnic nationalism won out. These countries had been at war with one another and with themselves for six years.
So the ethnic homogeneity and cultural purity of Hungary or wherever which the modern right lauds is actually a historical anomaly. During the pre-communist heyday of all these nations they were multi-cultural and were home to significant national minorities. So its not only dumb its fake.
(I don't think its mentioned in the book but its also interesting that Israel was founded in the same period where ethnostates just weren't odd. The Poles got a state and had to kick out Ukrainians and Ukraine got an SSR but had to kick out poles, and so on. Jews getting a state just makes way more sense viewed from the late 1940s than it does from today.)
I like this a lot. One thing I've changed my mind on as I got older is that America has a lot of virtues. There's a lot we should improve on and a few countries we should learn from but it is a great place to be a citizen of.
I like to point out Europe as a counter example to America not to praise their system, but to simply remind Progressives: multicultural, multiethnic democracy is HARD. The United States does a pretty darn good job at it, and change takes generations.
Europe basically built their postwar peace on splitting up each ethnic group into its own small country, and forced a bunch of people to move in order to guarantee the peace. That earned Europe the peace they sought (and they spend less on defense since they're not fighting each other, and America guarantees peace on top of everything else), but it's cost them some dynamism. It's also not perfect either; even with the great breakup which occurred after WWII: there are still national movements in most countries on the Continent.
Progressives should spend more time building a vision of America instead of spending their days telling people how awful the country is, was, and will be unless we agree to all of their policy demands. Uniting people means fostering an inclusive message; that means adding onto our story, not revising it in it's entirety.
The Republican Party came within 20,000 votes of winning Wisconsin despite: 1) trying to take away working peoples’ health insurance 2) tax cuts for billionaires and corporations and 3) tragicomic gaffes by Trump early in the pandemic. Wisconsin was the tipping point state.
This near victory was possible only because progressives’ cultural message is almost as toxic as Republicans affinity for plutocrats. If Republicans chilled out, learned to love the Trumpian NHS, and ran on cultural issues, they would win national elections 60-40 and might carry states like New Jersey.
The focus on Hungarian Conservatism is a straw man because few Republicans actually read that magazine and few swing voters care about esoterica. The headline should have been “election results show woke progressivism is toxic.”
Matt, I have enjoyed your Hungary-trolling on Twitter the last few days very much, but I wish in this lengthy of a piece you had taken a bit more seriously what the appeal is to conservatives. You are arguing against a strawman here. Some conservatives admire Orban’s hungry because it is anti-immigration, promotes conservative social values, and broadly “owns the libs” in the EU. Clearly many Republicans would like to do similar things here. Your leap to say “this means conservatives actually wish to make the US much poorer” though… is sort of nonsense. No conservative would agree with you. For one thing, if you look back 50 or 75 years, the US had much more conservative values, lower immigration, and still was the wealthiest country, with technological leadership, and immigrant success stories like Andy Grove. It is not axiomatic (as much as you’d or I’d like it to be) that liberal social values are inseparable from economic growth. If you believe that is the case, I’d prefer a more honest grappling with it here as that is clearly the crux of your argument. (But please troll away on Twitter… great fun on a free website)
If this were a game of Civilization, we'd have a huge late game lead, and would be deciding whether we wanted to go for a cultural, diplomatic, or science victory. Let's not try to emulate a country that got knocked out of serious contention over a century ago.
Very well put and the best header was "It actually gets stupider than this". When Republican "intellectuals" and "thinkers" (Rod Dreher, Tucker Carlson) are leading with their chin with idiocy like this, any basically competent Democrat should be able to land a good punch. Unless they too are so mired in navel gazing self criticism of our country they've lost the energy and ability to unify and inspire.
"a kind of obscure hipster fascist, Antonio Salazar,"
Got a laugh from me.
"Yeah, you wouldn't have heard of him -- he was big in the club scene in Porto, but never got a deal with a major label in the States."
Matt's right: Blood and soil nationalism is a sad and pessimistic ideology for sad and pessimistic people.
"Yea... I live in a major city, blue as high-grade sapphire, and I don't deal with "woke culture" on a daily basis except on the internet, and that's easily avoided."
+1000 Rod seems to be the archetypal Very Online Person. What he is writing about and reacting to doesn't really exist in anyone's offline reality. What Rod deals with in his day to day life in rural Louisiana has precious little woke about it. Ah but then he gets online and is confronted with Very Online People who feed him exactly the hysteria he craves.
This is obviously a problem on both the left and the right.
In short - get the F off Twitter.
Sections like the "Maybe don’t line up behind a huge scumbag?" section is why I subscribe.
Entirely thanks to Matt’s Hungary posts, this has been my favorite week on Twitter in a while, probably since Donald Trump got Covid.
Amazingly, despite these people's insistence that they have nowhere in the country to turn and godless sodomite (((globalists))) like me control the totality of US culture, I still have to listen to their creepy, freedom-hating carping. The thing about Rod Dreher is – to paraphrase Tom Lehrer – I feel that if a person has decided he's lost any ability to influence contemporary society, the very least he could do is to shut up.
I'm obviously joking, I'm glad I live in a country where everyone more-or-less enjoys the right to free speech including people who hate me – in fact, people like Sohrab Ahmari are basically right that dictatorship would empower his opinions of "church good, sex bad" whereas only in liberal democracy do my opinions of "church bad, sex good" get a fair shot at a hearing. But nevertheless: there are no legitimate moral grounds to deplore gay sex or trans people transitioning, immigration makes a society stronger and richer, coercing displays of patriotism weakens a country, and there are still so many people who strongly feel the opposite of all of that, so Dreher et al.'s conviction that my side has won feels let's say premature from where I'm standing.