Son of Marginalizing the Mainstream, Mainstreaming the Margins

To recap, briefly:  The center-left’s cultural marginalization of the center-right is a form of identity politics that fuels the current vicious cycle of race/gender-based identity politics and makes progressives and conservatives alike worse.  And identity politics are ultimately not interested in Enlightenment principles of individualism and reason; they are far more interested in the overthrow of systems based on those principles.  The marginalization is about the process; the identity politics are the subject and object of that process.

The process can also be viewed through a different lens.  The process is an example of the inherent problems raised when dominant or privileged institutions engage in gatekeeping.

In the days of yore, before technologies like cable, satellite and internet arrived on the scene, center-left institutions (particularly of journalism) were far stronger gatekeepers — and boy, did those outside the gates resent it!  Conservatives (whose opinions pre-Reagan were not even dominant within the GOP) were among the complainants — but so were far-left types like Noam Chomsky, and far-right types (who were even marginalized by conservative institutions like National Review).

The aforementioned technologies lowered the barriers to entry for the right in the marketplace of ideas.  It became much easier to create “conservative media” of national reach and influence on the radio, cable television, and the internet.  But the center-left jealously guarded the gatekeeping power it retained over the access to and staffing of their own forums.

There were at least two bad consequences to this marginalization.  First, it helped make “conservative media” more tribal and more angry, as noted on Tuesday (in the first link above).  Second, the creation of these parallel institutions created a set of parallel gatekeepers who — even when they were not intensifying the anger and tribalism — could otherwise influence the right without concern for any engagement from or with the supposed “mainstream.”

Ironically, during at least part of this period (before the race/gender flavors of identity politics really gained momentum) liberals tended to agree in other contexts that “problematic” political speech should be met with counter-speech, rather than censorship.  The theory was (and is) that suppressing speech only drove it somewhere with a lower profile, where it would thrive as “forbidden knowledge.”  Yet in journalism (and academia, and showbiz), the center-left’s attempt to maintain overly strict gatekeeping in the face of new technologies had a similar effect, ultimately empowering their bêtes noires and fueling the polarization of our political discourse.

Of course, these sorts of institutions cannot avoid line-drawing and gatekeeping.  Inclusion and exclusion are yin and yang.  But institutions involved in the exploration of ideas, or in the attempt to establish the common factual foundation for public debate, usually ought to be able to distinguish “hate speech” from “heresy speech,” for example.

The failures of center-left institutions in their gatekeeping functions helped lead to this current political moment.  It’s a moment in which a president and a political party can theorize that the center-left media is to the Trump coalition what the Soviet Union was to the Reagan coalition — an Evil Empire that glues its foes together.  It’s a moment where campuses may exchange one set of speech restrictions for another under threat of state action.

It’s a moment when institutions ought to realize that their gates are keeping them under siege more than keeping the barbarians at bay.

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