Denial 101: Academia’s Liberal Elite and The Modern Politics of Comfort

The 2016 election season has illustrated that virtually no American is happy with the state of affairs. But while society babbles relentlessly about Colin Kaepernick not standing for the national anthem and debates whether America was ever truly great, our executive branch continues to succeed in thoroughly destroying the Middle East: a feat that the Bush family worked hard to achieve, and one that both of the Clintons and Barack Obama have perpetuated. Neither Republicans nor Democrats can escape blame for these atrocities, but it seems both parties are more interested in pointing fingers than recognizing the problems our world actually faces.

The left and right have been equally guilty of using blame shifting tactics throughout the history of American politics; the only difference today is that the left wing is now disproportionately saturated with elite academics who use politically correct jargon as a tool to silence their ideological opponents. Conveniently, educated Democrats often espouse narratives that preach compassion for oppressed groups, casting themselves as morally righteous heroes and everyone else as villains. Sadly, this story is no more accurate than a fairytale. This election has proven tantamount to a glorified Super Bowl, where nobody wins and the points only matter in the Middle East, where moments remain before Secretary Clinton advises President Obama to finally drop the bomb.

There is no functional difference between the way the left treats oppressed people versus the way the right does. This is a problem of ethical bankruptcy on both ends of our spectrum, especially within insular, wealthy crowds. The real difference between Trump and Clinton supporters? Despite how ugly some conservatives’ bigotry may be, many of them actually own up to their racism — while much of the educated left has become so skilled at speaking about oppression that they’re able to hide their hypocritical bigotry beneath socially-conscious language. Pointing out Trump’s explicit racism does nothing to absolve you of your own, no matter how politically correct your comments might appear on social media.

Today it’s clear that many morally righteous, wealthy, college-educated Democrats have managed to convince themselves that their support for Clinton and Obama renders them a good, peace-loving people. Blasting Trump supporters for their “vile racism’ day in and day out, you’d think these people would have at least some grasp on what racism actually is– that they would be proponents of racial equality, not just criticizers of racial profiling. But as someone who grew up in a primarily non-white neighborhood in a conservative city and attended one of the most liberal academic institutions in the country, it appears to me that much of the left’s alleged outrage over American racism amounts to little more than hypocritical grandstanding. If American liberalism truly rejected racial inequality in practice, Portland, Oregon would not be one of the most racially segregated cities in the United States. If liberal arts college students are such champions of racial justice, I would like to know why it is that so many black and brown people who attend those schools find educated liberals to be some of the most racist people they’ve ever encountered.

After the recent presidential debate, many of my peers from college preached online about how “words do matter,” using that statement as a blanket endorsement for Hillary Clinton. From my perspective the issue is not that words don’t matter, but that much of the elite academic left believes words matter more than real action. Many of these people claim to care deeply about the plight of Syrian refugees, yet they refuse to confront the reasons those refugees are having to flee their own country by the millions. While some Hillary supporters occasionally express distaste for her foreign policy record, many of these educated Democrats refuse to seriously confront the liberal executive branch’s appalling military dealings in the Middle East.

Clinton supporters often use logically inconsistent, glorified guilt trips about “a vote for Jill Stein being a vote for Donald Trump” to completely deflect accountability for the fact that the candidate they endorse has actively sought to perpetuate oppression in various parts of the world for decades. It’s comparable to someone in the 1940s claiming to care about Jewish people, insisting that the US must accept European refugees, while simultaneously making excuses for the Nazi Holocaust. While President Obama and Secretary Clinton continue to approve almost daily drone strikes on Syrian civilians, many of these elite Clinton supporters refuse to read any news that doesn’t reinforce their politically correct fairytale. Instead, they spend their time reprimanding me for daring to criticize Hillary Clinton. They say that she supports Planned Parenthood and therefore “cares about women.”

Many of the Clinton supporters I went to school with have no comprehension of racial or economic problems in their own cities. Out of all those jumping on bandwagons about black lives mattering, not once in Portland did I see any of these white people attempt any outreach to black communities whatsoever. When I started working at a nonprofit high school in one of Portland’s poor, predominantly black neighborhoods, I quickly learned that when you get on a bus heading north out of Portland’s more affluent hipster district, the bus slowly boards more and more black people until you realize every white person got off two zip codes ago. I also learned that very few of these rich white “allies” I went to school with cared enough about black people to lift a finger to actually help them.

When I tried to tell my college peers about the school I was volunteering at in North Portland, explaining to them how it’s the only place that many poor kids of color can get a diploma now that Portland Public Schools drastically cut its budget for alternative schools, I begged them to help me fundraise for the school so that it wouldn’t get shut down. I blasted almost every social justice group at the college with a plea for campus-wide crowdsourcing, and literally nobody was interested. The few who bothered responding said it was “great you’re doing that,” but that they were “just too busy with homework.”

I have also witnessed many of these college-educated Clinton supporters make blatantly racist statements when they thought no one was around to notice. One of my peers remarked with visible disgust that he couldn’t believe Reed would hire “people who can barely speak English” to work foodservice at the campus cafeteria. Another peer used racial slurs in warning me not to date a person from the Middle East specifically because of their ethnicity. Now both of these people have the audacity to lecture me about how Donald Trump’s racism is “despicable” as they attempt to escape blame for American racism by pledging their allegiance to Hillary Clinton.

This is the precise problem with political correctness: its sanctimonious grandstanding convinces the liberal elite that as long as they say the right words, they’re helping oppressed people. They then use this language to try to educate others about racism and poverty — those concepts they learned about in sociology class. They use this language to chastise my former high school students, many of whom have seen their black friends slaughtered in gang and police shootings, mandating that these young people support Hillary Clinton in the name of racial and economic equality.

Many of these liberal college grads are simply paternalists masquerading as “socially just” free-thinkers because they’re in too much denial to take accountability. They use expensive “politically correct” vocabularies to reinforce each other’s abhorrent racism and classism in their safe little spaces, assuring each other that using trigger warnings renders them even remotely decent human beings. But as long as these academics continue to spout the proper ideology of a good liberal, no one holds them accountable for how they treat people. That’s because many in these elite academic circles only care about people in theory. They care about words, not actions. They care that Donald Trump says mean things about Muslims, not that the executive branch actually does mean things to Muslims, like publicly executing tens of thousands of Syrian women and children in the name of anti-terrorism.

Many Clinton supporters seek to impale Trump’s campaign by exposing whether he paid corporate taxes or supported the Iraq war, but they won’t even acknowledge that their renowned Democratic candidate continues to perpetuate the war on “terror” as one of Obama’s chief foreign policy advisors. Is it that these Clinton supporters truly care about people from the Middle East, or that they want to sound like they care? In a way it seems that this act of scapegoating other people for the problems they learned about in school allows many educated liberals to feel absolved of membership in the barbaric society they’ve helped create. In a way, the American left has become another city on a hill.

Fundamentally, racism is driven by greed, and its perpetrators seek to exploit entire groups of people for their own profit. What it means to live in a “free country” is that if you’re white or rich enough, you can legally dominate other people in your quest for the American Dream. Many small businesses operate quite ethically, but the tiny class of people who run corporate conglomerates have legally extracted wealth by brute force for decades. The people who own private prisons, for instance, have a vested interest in maintaining poverty to fill jail cells. They want poor people to keep pushing violence and peddling drugs (often their only means to survive) so that police can have easy targets to arrest. Similarly, big pharmaceutical companies need private health insurance to remain unaffordable so that they can continue charging astronomical prices for basic treatment like EpiPens.

Bill Clinton’s NAFTA grossly exacerbated the outsourcing of American jobs to inhumane sweatshops abroad; Obama’s health care policies made insurance even more outrageously expensive for the dying middle class than it already was, and Hillary Clinton endorsed the Trans-Pacific Partnership for years before suddenly backtracking in her campaign speeches because she knew it was costing her votes. Conveniently, Hillary’s promise to strike down Citizens United came only after she used the ruling to fund her own campaign with corporate donations. As a friend once pointed out: why wouldn’t she knock down the ladder after using it to climb to the top? I would also argue that all three of these liberal politicians have directly exacerbated our abhorrent wars on “drugs” and “terror.” This means that they’ve played a key role in effectively decimating countless communities of color both domestic and foreign. But because Donald Trump says derogatory things about minorities, we should continue allowing the Democratic Party’s elite ruling class to exploit poor people and communities of color across the globe?

Frankly, the only ‘ism’ that I care to dwell on is classism. Classism has spawned every colonialist travesty that’s sought to exploit the wealth, land, and dignity of another group of people. For centuries this colonialism has actively destroyed everyone and everything that it could derive power from by doing so. White colonialist imperialism was thriving well before the United States formed, but the US government has become an entirely new caliber of evil, using technological innovations to continually commit mass violence for profit across the globe. The current DAPL catastrophe is a perfect example of the United States’ modern colonialism. Has Donald Trump spoken out about these protests? No. Has Hillary Clinton? Also no. This doesn’t make either candidate “less evil” — it simply means that both of them have been complicit in systematic racial and economic oppression, even if only by way of their silence. By blaming either party exclusively for America’s problems, you’re essentially apologizing for these racist systems no matter how much you denounce them on Facebook.

Systematic economic oppression is inherently dehumanizing, which is part of why slavery is now regarded as such an evil phenomenon. But more Americans need to recognize that one person’s economic degradation always benefits someone else. Whether the sons and daughters of slave owners realized it or not, they reaped the benefits of slavery. The same deep pockets sending them to college were what allowed their money-grubbing parents to violently exploit Natives and Africans so that American elite could gain the global leverage we call “freedom.” The way we allow our government to destroy everyone else in the world while we benefit is no better than 19th-century Christians excusing slavery because it boosted their economy. We are the world’s economic powerhouse, after all.

Realistically, American academia is the only safe space in the entire world. It’s a sphere you’re only allowed entrance to because of your financial or intellectual privilege, a sphere where other materially comfortable academics pat you on the back for your “culturally sensitive” discussions about the low-income neighborhoods you’d all be too scared to walk through at night. If most educated liberals actually cared about Muslims or black people, they would dismantle the very racist, classist systems that reward paternalistic colonialism with diplomas. But then, they would have to go get jobs in foodservice and fight tooth and nail to feed themselves just like the peasants they learned about in anthropology class. As people with virtually no income, they would have to move to the slums they reference when self-righteously condemning gentrification. They might even see what it means to need a gang’s protection for their own survival–to need guns to actually defend themselves because, for once in their lives, they would not be safe from the routine violence they claim to care about with their Black Lives Matter hashtags. But as long as these educated people choose to keep praising each other for falling in line with standard liberal rhetoric that only cares about social justice in writing, they will continue dominating our political scene with their self-aggrandizing complacency disguised as good intention.

There is no hero in this story, but there is certainly a villain. While we stare at our iPhone screens in awe as cops continue to execute black people on the street — while we engage in these battles over who cares more about Muslims and the economy–we will continue to allow our executive branch to keep perpetuating these wars on “drugs” and “terror” that have recently caused both police brutality and the Syrian immigrant crisis to skyrocket. Politicians from both major parties have helped construct this degenerate system primarily by way of their constituents’ own lazy ignorance. If you choose to actively ignore the United States’ grotesque human rights violations at home and abroad, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. And if you are so presumptuous as to point fingers at either candidate’s supporters for the state of society before educating yourself about what’s happening to our world, I ask that you please stop wasting my time by pretending to care.

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