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eyes on the U.S.

On Political Correctness And The American Left, A French Take

UM Students protest the name and mascot of the Washington Redskins
UM Students protest the name and mascot of the Washington Redskins


PARIS — The gravity of the situation at the White House grows clearer each day. The anonymous article published by the New York Times in which a high-ranking official from the Trump administration describes the internal resistance, coupled with the publication of "Fear," in which the investigative journalist Bob Woodward, celebrated for his role in uncovering the Watergate scandal, depicts a president who is authoritarian, temperamental, and erratic.

Nevertheless, Donald Trump's popularity rating remains around 45%, a dream of his French counterparts. November's mid-term legislative elections are anything but won by the Democrats. From Europe, we ask ourselves if half of the country has gone crazy.

I spent more than a month in the United State this summer, meeting with intellectuals almost always from the progressive elite, on both the East and West coasts. My impression: the other half of the country has gone completely crazy as well. Among the urban, educated classes, political correctness has acquired such a level that it requires another expression. It's a new set of Ten Commandments of which the first is clear: thou shall repent. The struggle against discrimination, once a weapon for minority emancipation, has been transformed into an instrument of oppression of the majorities (antiquated or supposed), nourished by a climate of suspicion as violent as the "fear" denounced by the opposing camp.

Take, for example, a conference at New America, one of the most respected think tanks in Washington; non-partisan — so, left wing. Question: are Americans abandoning democracy? The discussion moves, without surprise, towards the lack of confidence the public holds for traditional institutions. Then comes time for questions. A participant asks if the problem has anything to do with the fact that the United States was founded by white men. "Absolutely," responded the speaker with enthusiasm. The rest of the panel, composed of professors and researchers, rushed to nod their heads in agreement, for fear of ever being marked as traitors —or even "white supremacists."

How can one have confidence in traditional institutions if their representatives no longer dare to express the smallest divergence of thought?

Another revealing experience: a workshop on "Women in Tech"— a group which is effectively underrepresented. The organizer, a woman, placed us in a line and asked us to take a step if we were white, another if we were male, to step back if we didn't have university degrees, and so on. The result was to create a "scale of privilege" that we were invited to discuss, sitting in a circle like at an Alcoholic's Anonymous meeting. My refusal to admit guilt earned me eternal damnation.

Progressive intellectuals must practice the tolerance that they preach.

This is how the new Ten Commandments reassigns each person to his racial or sexual identity, creating countless occasions of racism and sexism against the desired equality. Universities are tragically invaded by 20-year-old inquisitors (the worst) who make professors rewrite the history of ideas to correspond to the moral norm of today. This dictatorship of the small minority, to use the concept forged by Nassim Taleb, contributes to the slipping of a middle class, made up of honest people, into the nets of Fox News and Donald Trump.

It's worth reading last year's best-seller, "Hillbilly Elegy." J.D. Vance, a "hillbilly," having escaped from his rural poor environment to attend Harvard Law School, tersely describes the degraded living conditions of the Irish proles, as well as the scorn they feel as victims of the media and of politics. They, too, have the right to form a community and to be proud of it, without being treated as "bigots' by New York Times editors or "deplorables' by former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

"Black lives matter," chants one side. "White lives matter," responds the other. Can't everyone agree by simply declaring "lives matter"? Progressive intellectuals must urgently reconnect with the politics of the abstract individual and practice the tolerance that they preach. Otherwise, the divisions of race, sex, and class will continue to tear apart the United States, and, in turn, the whole of Western democracy.

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