In the wake of Donald Trump’s election, I and many others have drawn attention to what we believe is one of many factors the left has lost political ground over the past several years: far-left political ideology, particularly within the culture of higher education and the media (including radical factions of the social justice movement, Black and Brown identity politics, third-wave feminism, college campus censorship culture, political correctness, etc).
Our criticism has drawn the ire of many on the far left who are exceptionally quick to accuse us of committing the Pundit’s Fallacy. The Pundit’s Fallacy is a type of cognitive bias – the tendency towards believing that the best way for a politician to improve their political standing is to adopt a position more like ours. Of course, which policy positions are most likely to win an election are not necessarily the same as the policies we personally would like to see implemented, so it’s suspiciously convenient to believe that they happen to be identical.
So, isn’t it a bit suspicious and convenient that I not only oppose far-left political ideology but also think it helped Donald Trump win the election? Let me be the first to admit that the answer is yes. It is a bit suspicious.
But there’s an important mitigating factor that critics of the anti-far left are missing: Half the reason we opposed far left political ideology in the first place is that we predicted it would be a political disaster.
To illustrate how this works, imagine the following conversation between two store managers:
Manager 1: ‘Hey, I don’t think we should scale up our production. There isn’t enough demand and we’re going to end up losing money.’
Manager 2: ‘I disagree.’ *Scales up production, and the company loses money*
Manager 1: ‘See, that’s why we can’t scale up production. It’s going to lose us money.’
Manager 2: ‘Well, isn’t it a bit suspicious of you to say that? I mean, isn’t it rather convenient that you both believe we shouldn’t scale up production and that the company would be better off if we adopted a position more like yours?’
Actually, no, it’s not suspicious at all, because the reason Manager 1 didn’t want to scale up production to begin with was that he predicted it would be an economic disaster.
And yet, this is more or less how I feel talking about far-left politics.
Me: ‘Hey, I don’t think we should be pushing a far-left agenda. People don’t like it, and we’re going to end up losing the election.’
Far left: ‘I disagree.’ *Pushes a far left agenda, and we lose the election*
Me: ‘See, that’s why we can’t push a far left agenda. It’s going to lose us political capital.’
Far left: ‘Well, isn’t it a bit suspicious of you to say that? I mean, isn’t it rather convenient that you both believe we shouldn’t push a far left agenda and that our politicians would be more popular if we adopted a position more like yours?’
This a plainly absurd thing to say. I call it the Pundit’s Fallacy Fallacy: the tendency to view anyone who believes their stated political positions would improve their party’s political standing as inherently suspect. The main problem is that sometimes one’s stated political positions are what they are because they believe it would improve their party’s political standing.
In other words, there’s a specific causal link between what improves a party’s political standing and one’s stated political positions. So no, it’s not that suspicious, and it’s not a mere coincidence.
Now, there is one important caveat: I (and many others) oppose far-left politics for other reasons as well. I personally am unsure whether far-left politics was decisive in the most recent election, but even if it made no difference whatsoever, I would still consider it harmful (though to a much lesser extent). So yes, it is a bit suspicious that I also think far-left politics may have contributed to Donald Trump’s victory.
But it’s worth noting that most of the reason I and many others opposed far-left politics in the first place (or at least, opposed it so vocally) is precisely because we thought it might lead to this scenario. We predicted – months or years in advance – that openly and frequently mocking White people, calling people bigots for having reasonable concerns about Islam, creating institutional barriers to prevent conservatives from entering academia, etc. – would alienate millions of people and lead them to do something outrageous and reactionary. Something like, oh I don’t know, elect Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States.
At that point, something will crack. The nonsuburban electorate will decide that the system has failed and start looking around for a strongman to vote for — someone willing to assure them that, once he is elected, the smug bureaucrats, tricky lawyers, overpaid bond salesmen, and postmodernist professors will no longer be calling the shots. …
One thing that is very likely to happen is that the gains made in the past 40 years by black and brown Americans, and by homosexuals, will be wiped out. Jocular contempt for women will come back into fashion. … All the resentment which badly educated Americans feel about having their manners dictated to them by college graduates will find an outlet.
-Richard Rorty, Achieving Our Country, 1998