October 19, 2022 | Reading Time: 4 minutes
In ‘correcting’ GOP metaphors, liberals reveal their denial
Democrats and liberals just have to keep on keeping on even when, or especially when, keeping on keeping on is exhausting.
Over the summer, there were record numbers of migrants who had attempted to cross the southern border. We know this because border authorities regularly reported the numbers taken into custody. The Republicans often used them to hammer the president. They claimed Joe Biden was ignoring what they call a “border crisis.”
The liberal reaction tended to zero in on what liberals tend to zero in on – external falsifiable reality. Fact is, there was no “border crisis” on account of border authorities doing what they are supposed to do. Seizing migrants who have crossed the southern border did not indicate an emergency. It indicated a system working as it should.
Liberals were right. But being right didn’t matter. Remember this the next time a pundit tells you the Democrats are doing it wrong in the run up to November’s election. Again, with feeling: being right is not the same thing as being victorious. Being right is just one of many tools available to partisans when participating in democratic politics.
To the Republicans, the border is not an international political boundary that has been arbitrarily established to divide two nations and their respective laws. It is not a legal event horizon. It is not a zone of ambiguous constitutional rights. It’s nothing concrete.
The border is a metaphor, a fetish, a symbolic representation of meaning deep and profound as well as impervious virtually to facts, fact-checking and the liberal’s fealty to external falsifiable reality.
Just as a rose in western literature is not a rose, but harmony, romance or honor, the border is not the border but the true soul of America that’s been struggling to manifest what historian Federico Finchelstein called, in a separate but related context, “a transnational ideology that opposes the putative barbarism of liberalism.”
Finchelstein was referring to fascism, but I think his concept aptly applies. To the GOP, the southern border expresses “national traditions as emanating from a specific national self rooted in the souls of individuals.” That is, white people. He added: “Only fascism represented the true intuitive nature of nationalism; liberalism, on the other hand, was an artificial form of conceiving the nation.”
Remember what I said about pundits telling you that the Democrats are doing it wrong in the run up to November’s election. One of those pundits is Cenk Uygur, host of The Young Turks. He said Tuesday that the Democrats are going to lose because reasons.
“It looks like we’re going to lose the midterms,” he said, responding, I suspect, to Monday’s freak out. “People will look back at Democrat’s inability to pass voting rights legislation as the moment we lost everything. Stunning failure of epic proportions. And everyone in DC yawned because they’re used to excusing Democratic failures.”
First, never trust anyone who says with authority that something that hasn’t happened can’t happen because of something that didn’t happen. He’s picking your pocket. Given the ambiguous provenance of Uygur’s financial backers, that’s more likely the case than not.
More importantly, however, is that reasons – or external falsifiable reality – will not and cannot overcome metaphor. No matter how many times liberals say that there’s no crisis at the southern border, or that those hyping this fake crisis are exploiting anti-immigrant bigotry, it’s not going to change much, because Republican voters tend to operate according to the laws of a separate political physics.
They believe that the border is under siege and hence the country is being invaded on account of their view of the border as a metaphor for “a specific national self rooted in the souls of individuals,” which is to say, a white nation under God for white people thanks to God.
Meeting metaphor with reality might even deepen its emotional impact given the view that liberalism creates a nation “artificially” rather than “organically” and according to “national traditions.”
At a minimum, liberal fealty to external falsifiable reality can keep the partisans of political metaphor in check. At best, they can erode the metaphor’s power through time-consuming, back-breaking, mind-numbing attrition. But something somewhere at some point has to give. Just hope it breaks in the direction of liberal democracy.
My intuition tells me liberals remain in denial. They don’t want to believe so many Americans, perhaps more than half the country, tend to operate according to the laws of a separate political physics.
More precisely, they fear the work necessary for winning what is essentially a war of attrition. The AP reported that 45 percent of Republicans say they have little or no confidence in the midterms.
It doesn’t matter whether they believe the Big Lie or know the Big Lie is a lie. What matters is that Big Lie is a metaphor for a transcending truth, which is that a “specific national self rooted in the souls of individuals” is under attacked by the “barbarism of liberalism”
Again, it’s not that liberals should abandon their fealty to external falsifiable reality in order to defeat metaphor. I think those who suggest wielding our own are wrong. We don’t need more metaphors. We need more democratic politics. We have to keep on keeping on even when, or especially when, keeping on keeping on is exhausting.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.