Christopher Hitchens on standing up to populists with bad ideas

We have entered a trying time in American politics, for obvious reasons, but for me, nothing quite equals the joys of having a) an engineering professor probably making upwards of $250K a year lecture one and all on elitism in public policy and coastal elites (uh-huh, don’t blame you, don’t blame me, blame the elite under the tree) or b) having to deal with the endless attempts to show me how nuanced and totally-not-at-all-raciss Trump voters are. My favorite writing on the latter has been this bit from MediaMatters.org, shared by the brilliant Lisa Bates and penned by Eric Boehlert:

At this point, if you’re a Donald Trump supporter — and especially if you’re one from a mostly white town inside a red state — and a Beltway reporter hasn’t interviewed you as part of a Trump supporter update story, you need to get out more often.

Oh, how I wish I had written that—one has to love the bon mot. And yes, I am using French phrasing just to show off my language skills and to establish my eeeeeleeeet street cred.

I’ve read plenty of this new poverty porn and it amounts to “let’s listen to poorly informed voters talk in a poorly informed way about Donald Trump, whether it’s plain celebrity politics or big-daddy appeal or simple party loyalty or whatever. (After all, one of the points of political parties is to offset rational ignorance but yet allow people to shortcut to votes based on general values espoused rather than having to keep up on issues themselves).

None the new poverty reporting has resonated for me more than this quote in the New Yorker from Édouard Louis, author of The End of Eddy. This novel has been a huge deal in Europe, and I ordered it and read it in French earlier this spring. (IN FRENCH OMG ELITE ALERT ELITE ALERT get this woman some pork rinds) If you haven’t read the reviews, it is a “novel”–EH, that he says is true**–of things that happened to Mr. Louis growing up queer in an impoverished province of France, a province now where Marine Le Pen is very popular. This quote captured the trends I see pretty well:

For Louis, the tide of populism sweeping Europe and the United States is a consequence of what he, citing the sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, calls “the principle of the conservation of violence.” “When you’re subjected to endless violence, in every situation, every moment of your life,” Louis told an interviewer, referring to the indignities of poverty, “you end up reproducing it against others, in other situations, by other means.”

It’s not nuanced, however natural it may be, and I don’t need Nicholas Kristoff walking around like a barker at a carnival show talking to people mad about “Obummer phones” or “them immigrants” to show me how really nooooanced it all is.

I was just re-reading Christopher Hitchens’ Letters to a Young Contrarian yesterday, and I saw that I underlined this quote the first time through. It strikes me as extremely wise, and very apt:

One must avoid snobbery and misanthropy. But one must all be unafraid to criticize those who reach for the lowest common denominator, and who sometimes succeed in finding it. This criticism would be effortless if there no “people” waiting for just such an appeal. Any fool can lampoon a king or a bishop or a billionaire. A trifle more grit is required to face down a mob, or even a studio audience, that has decided it knows what it wants and is entitled to get it. And the fact that kings and bishops and billionaires often have more say than most in forming the appetites and emotions of the crowd is not irrelevant, either.”

**What are we doing with this “true novel based on my life” stuff between Knausgaard and others? We had a perfectly good word for it–memoir–and I don’t understand the difference between “novel where these events happened in my life” and a “memoir.”