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We live in a country of unimaginable abundance. It shouldn’t be so hard to find common ground.

- Liberals Are Ruining America. I Know Because I Am One. | Steve Almond | The New York Times

A century ago, as an early great champion of progressivism, Teddy Roosevelt dismantled our society’s engines of greed. Under the leadership of presidents from F.D.R. to L.B.J., left-wingers waged war on corporate excess, institutional racism and poverty. There was a widespread and galvanizing belief in government as a force for good in the lives of the disenfranchised.

By contrast, consider the popular response to the Great Recession. The Tea Party — inflamed and partly financed by well-funded lobbying groups — took to the streets to blame government for a crisis caused primarily by Wall Street. Liberals did little aside from condemning the Tea Party. It wasn’t until the Occupy Wall Street movement began, nearly four years later (at the instigation of the Canadian magazine Adbusters), that those on the American left began to protest economic inequality, and even then the movement could articulate no specific policy goals. The same general passivity marked our reaction to the perceived moral atrocities of the Bush era, from the war in Iraq to domestic surveillance to our torture program.

The most insidious effect of our addiction to right-wing misanthropy has been the erosion of our more generous instincts. At least for me. I’ve come to regard all conservatives as extremists, a mob of useful idiots plied by profiteers, rather than a diverse spectrum of citizens, many of whom share my values, anxieties and goals. When I hear the crowd at a Republican presidential debate cheer for capital punishment, I write them off as sadists, rather than accepting them as citizens seeking a means of keeping themselves safe. Slagging conservatism has become my one acceptable form of bigotry.

- Liberals Are Ruining America. I Know Because I Am One. | Steve Almond | The New York Times

This, to be blunt, is the tragic flaw of the modern liberal. We choose to see ourselves as innocent victims of an escalating right-wing fanaticism. But too often we serve as willing accomplices to this escalation and to the resulting degradation of our civic discourse. We do this, without even meaning to, by consuming conservative folly as mass entertainment.

… The real problem is that liberals, both on an institutional and a personal level, have chosen to treat for-profit propaganda as news. In so doing, we have helped redefine liberalism as an essentially reactionary movement. Rather than initiating discussion, or advocating for more humane policy, we react to the most vile and nihilistic voices on the right.

… The demagogues of the world, after all, derive power solely from their ability to provoke reaction. Those liberals (like me) who take the bait, are to blame for their outsize influence.

Rather than taking up the banner and the burden of the causes I believe in, or questioning my own consumptive habits, I’ve come to rely on private moments of indignation for moral vindication. I fume at the iniquity of Pundit A and laugh at the hypocrisy of Candidate B and feel absolved — without ever having left my couch. It’s a closed system of scorn and self-congratulation.

But what’s really happening when I scoff at Sarah Palin’s latest tweet amounts to a mimetic indulgence: I’m bleeding the world of nuance, surrendering to the seduction of binary thinking.

- Liberals Are Ruining America. I Know Because I Am One. | Steve Almond | The New York Times