Why did no one listen to Emmet Rensin?

rensinEmmett Rensin is the twenty-six-year-old deputy First Person editor at Vox and American essayist, best known for the book Twitterature which he coauthored with Alexander Aciman.twitterature

Back in April this year, he wrote an extraordinary piece at Vox in which he issued a stern warning against the dangers of

“The smug style in American liberalism”


Mr. Rensin has clearly earned the right to say, “I told you so.” But apparently, assured of our superior wisdom and exalted understanding of the body politic, few of us who opposed Donald Trump bothered to listen to a twenty-six-year-old political commentator.

In his, now evidently profoundly prescient piece of political punditry, Rensin challenged the left end of the political spectrum to see that

There is a smug style in American liberalism. It has been growing these past decades. It is a way of conducting politics, predicated on the belief that American life is not divided by moral difference or policy divergence — not really — but by the failure of half the country to know what’s good for them.

According to Rensin, American liberals fell prey to the “smug style” because they came to believe that

The trouble is that stupid hicks don’t know what’s good for them. They’re getting conned by right-wingers and tent revivalists until they believe all the lies that’ve made them so wrong. They don’t know any better. That’s why they’re voting against their own self-interest…. Finding comfort in the notion that their former allies were disdainful, hapless rubes, smug liberals created a culture animated by that contempt. The result is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Michael Lerner, albeit after the fact, has taken to heart the warning Mr. Resnin issued back in April.

Michael Lerner is the rabbi of Beyt Tikkun Synagogue in Berkeley, Calif., the editor of Tikkun magazine, and chairman of the Network of Spiritual Progressives. Following the triumpn of Trump, Lerner wrote,

The left needs to stop ignoring people’s inner pain and fear. The racism, sexism and xenophobia used by Mr. Trump to advance his candidacy does not reveal an inherent malice in the majority of Americans. If the left could abandon all this shaming, it could rebuild its political base by helping Americans see that much of people’s suffering is rooted in the hidden injuries of class and in the spiritual crisis that the global competitive marketplace generates.


So, what is the way forward?

According to Resnin, liberals need to return to the rare skill of empathy. Those who ridiculed Trump supporters and failed to heed their voices need to

wonder what it might be like to have little left but one’s values; to wake up one day to find your whole moral order destroyed; to look around and see the representatives of a new order call you a stupid, hypocritical hick without bothering, even, to wonder how your corner of your poor state found itself so alienated from them in the first place. To work with people who do not share their values or their tastes, who do not live where they live or like what they like or know their Good Facts or their jokes.

Michael Lerner echoes Resnin’s prescription writing,

Democrats need to become as conscious and articulate about the suffering caused by classism as we are about other forms of suffering. We need to reach out to Trump voters in a spirit of empathy and contrition. Only then can we help working people understand that they do not live in a meritocracy, that their intuition that the system is rigged is correct (but it is not by those whom they had been taught to blame) and that their pain and rage is legitimate.

It is odd that liberals, who pride themselves on compassion, respect, and openness need to learn again the skill of empathy.

It is all about respect and listening.

How do we truly hear those with whom we disagree? How do we empathize with people we do not understand? How do we honour differences and genuinely hear those voices that sound to us a discordant note?

We need collectively to pray the prayer that Leonard Cohen, of blessed memory, prayed:

Oh chosen love, Oh frozen love
Oh tangle of matter and ghost
Oh darling of angels, demons and saints
And the whole broken-hearted host
Gentle this soul