Jonathan Chait Wants You to Freak Out Like He Is!

Jonathan ChaitI want to be very clear: I think it is wrong that police officers commonly lie on the stand regarding traffic citations that they’ve given out. I’ve seen it firsthand and I think it is an outrage. Yet I have never written an article about it. In fact, I don’t believe I’ve ever spoken to anyone about it. It’s not because I think it is just fine. Rather, it is because it isn’t that important. And this is what I think when Jonathan Chait writes, Can We Start Taking Political Correctness Seriously Now?

I didn’t even need to read it to know what it is about: some Missouri protesters blocking an ESPN photographer from gaining entrance to their encampment. I heard about it over the weekend. And I thought, “That’s a mistake!” We are liberals and we believe in openness and fairness and freedom of speech. Just the same: it’s college. And besides, people do stupid things all the time. Is this a trend? Not as far as I can tell. Incidents like this go back as far as there have been colleges and they never became normalized — even in the “scary” 1960s.

But Jonathan Chait has been complaining about this stuff for years. And if there is one thing that everyone knows about Jonathan Chait, it is that he will never give up a fight. I know of two different fights he’s had with Ta-Nehisi Coates. In both cases, Chait was completely wrong and out gunned. Yet those fights only ended when Coates got bored. Chait would always have a response because in Chait’s mind, he is never wrong. Or something. It could just be that he’s lazy. Once you write an article about political correctness, the next dozen just write themselves. They are all the same, you just have to change the specific example and tweak the reasons why this time young liberals have turned authoritarian.

Hanry FarrellHenry Farrell at Crooked Timber wrote a very useful article, Beware the Commissars of Political Correctness! He documents Chait’s alarmist writings as far back as 2006 when he warned about Netroots and the possibility of “members starting off as relatively sensible liberals, or left-liberals before veering into the abyss.” The abyss, of course, being “more liberal than Jonathan Chait is comfortable with.” He really reminds me of Bill O’Reilly, who is just fine with people of all political stripes — as long as they aren’t outside his clearly defined political window. (Admittedly, Chait’s window is far more reasonable than O’Reilly’s.)

The truth is that every liberal I’ve read regarding the Missouri protesters have been harshly critical. But here’s Chait’s takeaway:

That these activists have been able to prevail, even in the face of frequently harsh national publicity highlighting the blunt illiberalism of their methods, confirms that these incidents reflect something deeper than a series of one-off episodes. They are carrying out the ideals of a movement that regards the delegitimization of dissent as a first-order goal. People on the left need to stop evading the question of political correctness — by laughing it off as college goofs, or interrogating the motives of PC critics, or ignoring it — and make a decision on whether they agree with it. [Emphasis mine. -FM]

So you see the problem. It isn’t enough to condemn the act. We must all join Jonathan Chait’s bandwagon. We must admit not just that the protesters are wrong, but that they are part of some great threat to liberalism itself. Our criticism of this act is proof that there is a major problem. Have things gotten worse in Missouri since this incident? Not that I can tell. So it is more of Jonathan Chait’s Chicken Little act. Missouri is the leading edge of leftist totalitarianism, just as Netroots was nine years ago.

Jonathan Chait has a large readership. And he writes a lot of good commentary. But he blows out of all proportion what everyone agrees is a minor problem. It is very much as if I went around ignoring police brutality because my personal cause — the one that really gets me excited — was the injustices going on in traffic court.


See also: Jonathan Chait Should Stop Writing About Education Reform.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

10 thoughts on “Jonathan Chait Wants You to Freak Out Like He Is!

  1. Per Rick Salutin, the Missouri college folks have since changed their policy towards photogs:

    http://www.thestar.com/opinion/commentary/2015/11/13/what-adults-dont-get-about-student-protests-salutin.html

    And, seriously? People are getting murdered by cops, entire towns are using shakedowns of poor people to finance the city budget, and Chait’s bent out of shape because some college students didn’t allow a photog? Since when do the Kochs allow photogs at their strategy sessions?

    What a buffoon.

    • Right. And the whole thing is not that Chait is complaining that we don’t put down this behavior. It is that we don’t think it is some goddamned big deal. These are students, after all. I remember when I was younger, going through non-violent resistance training. This was because of the years of experience that organizers had learned. Missouri is not an organizing effort based on old-timers who have loads of experience. From the article you linked, “Missouri students, for instance, now say they regret barring the photographer.” Right. But where is Jonathan Chait’s article about how the students are learning? Nowhere. And that’s because Chait can’t be educated on the matter because this PC business is just an ax that he has been grinding for a decade or more and will continue to do so until he dies.

  2. I think I will reserve my freak outs for important things. Like how I don’t have any ice cream.

    Or that I apparently TMIed on Twitter. *turns red*

    • You can never unseat my throne as TMI champion. In the game of TMI, there can be only one! (I think I crossed “GOT” and “Highlander,” there.)

      • Well, you two have nothing on me regarding the “old man who doesn’t understand the modern lingo.” I had to look up TMI. And used as a verb, Elizabeth — you get extra hipster points!

      • Noooo, don’t think you can top what I said James. Then again, I don’t think Frank understood (on purpose.)

    • Exactly. But I’ve been reading Chait for far to long not to know that he won’t give up on this. Chait’s a smart guy. But when he was in his 20s, he was an old man.

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