The American political style: The Intemperance Union

In the last few days, something has come into sharp focus for me. Although I am an Australian, I read a lot of things written by Americans. Over the last few months, a lot of this has related to the election of President Trump, and a lot of it has been complaints from liberals or the Left in America.

Then today I read a particular “status” or post on Facebook, which seemed to mainly be an expression of concern at an alternative history program which is to appear on American TV imagining what America would be like if the Confederacy had won the Civil War. The writer said how concerned he was at this program, and took pains to claim that the South only fought to protect slavery and that they only lost because of their incompetence. He was concerned that any romantic ideas about the Confederacy should be rendered null.

This post seemed a perfect example of the American style of thinking. Not many people, including myself, would want to see an America in which the Confederacy had won (although I seriously doubt slavery would have survived until 1917, let alone 2017.) But the absolute, black-and-white thinking shown by the poster on Facebook is somehow very typical of the American style. No credit is given to one’s political opponents. They are to be regarded as wrong in every respect. The implication is that nobody on the Confederate side ever had an unselfish moment, showed bravery, had any kind of moral moment, or even fought competently …

(Even CS Lewis had a character in one of his children’s books – The Last Battle I think – who was presented as a good soldier and man despite the fact that he had fought on the wrong side – that of Tash not Aslan.)

But the reflexive sloganeering … the demonisation of one’s opponents … the moral absolutism … all illustrate the characteristic American style.

I wonder if there is some atavistic religious impulse behind this: a division of the world into the elect and the damned. It certainly seems that the American political style increasingly cannot encompass any kind of moderation; any kind of “meeting at half way.”

And yes, my impression is that it is the “tolerant liberals” who are the worst offenders. There have been some studies done on this, which support the idea that the Left is especially unforgiving. Certainly I am thoroughly familiar with the language of abuse and disapproval which is marshalled by liberals against conservatives.

 

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5 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by fuzziewuzziebear on July 24, 2017 at 7:34 am

    It has gotten a lot worse since feminism was introduced. Now, there is no tolerance of a diverging viewpoint.

    Reply

    • Posted by Julian O'Dea on July 24, 2017 at 8:40 am

      I don’t think feminism is the main issue. Leftism is a moving target and it tends to be whatever is currently considered progressive. I think their problem is that they have a quasi-religious belief in “progress” and become very angry when it is thwarted. Because many of their aims are unrealistic (and ignore human nature), they tend to be perpetually frustrated.

      Reply

      • Posted by fuzziewuzziebear on July 24, 2017 at 9:33 pm

        Maybe it is the timing, combined with my American viewpoint. Not that things were wonderful before, but Watergate made turned a lot of people cynical to politics.

  2. Posted by Veteran of the American Parapraxis Wars on July 25, 2017 at 12:30 am

    “But the reflexive sloganeering … the demonisation of one’s opponents … the moral absolutism … all illustrate the characteristic American style.”

    And there is such richness in the comedy that can be portrayed as a result …

    Take equal measures of Brom Bones from the American mood piece “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”, Elmer Gantry from Sinclair Lewis’s book of the same name, and Rachel from the television show “Friends”.

    Add to this a cause of “moral rightness to shopping”, scatter a few dead malls around the landscape, and what do you have?

    A gaudy female American preacher issuing forth loud exhortations that you should worship in shopping centres to save your eternal soul!

    WE’VE GOT TO SAVE THE AMERICAN LANDSCAPE FROM THE DEATH OF SHOPPING MALLS! WE’VE GOT TO SHOP TO SAVE OURSELVES!

    Except that this comes from a Huey Long-esque sense that everything in America is stated backwards, so that for instance communism will arrive in America in the form of “anti-communism”. Americans will shout with great glee at how they need to preserve a specific form of blight because they’re unable to imagine the space as “undeveloped”, or more appropriately how they can’t imagine themselves when they’re not empowered as lumpenprole economic actors.

    No, really, you’re missing a beat here.

    You could have such great fun satirising “the intemperance union”, and there are certainly enough “dry drunks” of commerce running around in America to provide ample real-world fodder for it.

    Remember “Jan’s Song” by INXS? Crank the “Jan” character up to eleven and give her an American accent. It’ll all be right as rain, you just watch … *aaa-choo* 🙂

    But don’t just take my word for it, observe and learn instead!

    Reverend Billy’s “Church of Stop Shopping” — NOW THAT’S THE SPIRIT!
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reverend_Billy_and_the_Church_of_Stop_Shopping

    Are we having fun yet? 🙂

    Reply

  3. Yes, this tide of hate is what’s happening (at least on social media) here in the States.

    And yes, it’s more the left than the right – and the left self-censors to a point of religious fervor (just ask a liberal with less-than-perfect opinions).

    It disturbs me deeply – we are at a point where conversation cannot be had.

    However, it wasn’t always like that… I can remember civil discourse, in my youth.

    I found Haidt’s book, “The Righteous Mind” a very useful explanation for the phenomena.

    Reply

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