In an effort to understand the Trump fiasco, I am reading a handful of books that purport to illuminate it. First up was JD Vance's engrossing "HillbiIn an effort to understand the Trump fiasco, I am reading a handful of books that purport to illuminate it. First up was JD Vance's engrossing "Hillbilly Elegy" which offered an insider's view of the failing steel and coal towns that formed the base of Trump's win. Next I wanted to look a little more deeply at the issue of echo chambers, which have also been a suggested cause. We're all living in our own bubbles, unaware of how the other side thinks, and that has caused a disconnect. Right?
That's what I was expecting as I started this book, but I am ending it with a very different conclusion. In fact, very little in this book was new to me. The author never actually uses the phrase "tolerance is a two-way street" but that is the gist of what she is saying. This is hardly a new idea; I've been hearing a variation on that since the 1990s. By the time she had laid the foundation to this argument, I was already objecting. Surely it is common sense that there are NOT two sides to everything, right? Things like facts, reason, and human decency scuttle some arguments over the cliff. Some people have the power of institutions behind them, but others do not. Right? The author and I don't seem to agree on that. In fact she defends a wide range of positions under the banner of free speech.
Take abortion, for starters. At one point, Ms. Powers criticizes feminists for taking issue with Sarah Palin's pro-life position. "Never mind that many of the Suffragettes, the first American feminists, were anti-abortion, or that feminism is supposed to be about making choices, which should include the choice to decide to be pro-life." Again, the foundation seems to be that all positions are equally valid. So in the author's mind, there is no difference between being pro-life and pro-choice and both viewpoints should be equally respected. But there IS a difference: in the latter position you have two options, in the former you have one. Feminists take issue with Republican politicians (like Sarah Palin) who want to give the government power over individual women. (And to the earlier point: who cares that the Suffragettes were pro-life? It was 1920.)
To the core of her argument -- that the left is silencing dissent -- she uses this same model. All viewpoints are equal and any attempt to reject ignorance is seen as sinister. The most disturbing chapter is one in which she defends an inane (and very fairly criticized) op-ed by George Will. If you haven't read it, I recommend that you Google it and make up your own mind about whether it is misogynistic. The author's characterization of it does not seem accurate to me. In fact, her general attitude towards rape culture is hostile. She is in serious denial about sexual assault.
I'm sorry to say that this book didn't make me want to leave my bubble. I was saddened by how little trust the author has in women and in the power of education to broaden horizons. Her tone was often demeaning and arch, as if her perspective is "common sense" and we all just need to catch up to her. What I was reminded of here is that privilege is invisible to those who have it.
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