‘Punching Up’ and the Need for Openness To Opposition


Here we are; another week spent with a broken leg, stewing in my thoughts, has produced yet another politically charged article. This will come as a continuation of sorts from my most recent article on the Covington Catholic kids’ situation and identity politics. Enjoy.

The examination, and often times the subsequent critiquing, of the left-leaning parts of our democracy, to me, is both more interesting and perhaps even more important to take part in than those directed toward the other side of the aisle. I say this, despite my mostly left-leaning views, for a couple of reasons. First, on the point of importance, left-leaning voices are the prevailing voices of the popular media. Any time you consume some sort of media, unless you are actively seeking otherwise, chances are it comes with a hefty left-leaning slant. Because of this, I would argue that it requires a corresponding increase of our critical attention and examination. Secondly, on the point of ‘interest’, it must be acknowledged that classically held liberal beliefs, broadly speaking, come from a place of good intention, often aimed at assisting the oppressed, dismantling inequality and generally looking to better the public at large. This is not to say classically held conservative beliefs are the opposite, rather that they are often aimed at empowering the individual as opposed to groups at large. It is precisely this point that makes it so fascinating to me that in the current political climate the rhetoric heard from the left so frequently becomes misguided, filled with their own form of hatred and sometimes even bordering on resembling parody.

Following this year’s Super Bowl, I came across an article that claimed that the New England Patriots were ‘the preferred team of white nationalists’. You can see it in all its glory here. While the article has rightly received rampant criticism from both sides of the aisle, I believe it to demonstrate a troubling and broader point that we frequently encounter: ill-conceived moral posturing that seeks to gain credibility based neither on substance nor on empirical evidence, but rather from the simple fact that it is ‘punching up’.

‘Punching up’ means an attack on a person or persons perceived to be above you, at the very least, and often times to be an oppressor. In a roundabout way, the Patriots fit this bill. Not only have they achieved astonishing levels of success which gives them some degree of perceived power, but they also, according to many, have not only a stereo typically white fan base but also a disproportionally white roster. This perception, along with a certain red hat that appeared in Tom Brady’s locker in 2015, are essentially the entire basis of the author’s claims that the Patriots are the team of white nationalists. The leaps taken to arrive at this conclusion are massive. There is no evidence that any prominent white nationalist group has its roots in New England. Massachusetts, the state where the majority of Patriots fans reside, is one of the most historically Democratic states in the Union, and the Patriots are at exactly the league average when it comes to the percentages of whites and African Americans on their roster.

The point of this article is not to dismantle this particular author’s obviously absurd claims, but rather to shine a light on what he attempted to do. The sheer lack of evidence of his claim was attempted to be masked by attacking a perceived oppressor, with the probable hope that it was taken at face value. This same sentiment is why Jussie Smollett thought people would believe his fictitious story. Set your aim upwards, and the standard of scrutiny of your claims is frequently lowered. This is a dangerous game to play. The progress that so many want and fight for is often halted in its tracks because of this unique form of prejudice in which so many take part. It cannot be said enough that incidents like the apparently staged attack on Smollett and articles like the one mentioned above are feathers in the cap of actual racists and white nationalists, enabling them to claim that their opposition is comprised of finger-pointing, hateful people who look to blame Trump and his constitutions at every turn. The treadmill of hatred will continue to run until this stops.

Let me be abundantly clear: putting a magnifying glass to, exposing and calling out racism, hatred and prejudice is what has and what will continue to push forward our democracy. Our freedom of speech, of the press, and of assembly has allowed us to do this widely and is the reason why progress continues every day, even if sometimes it does not feel like it. However, merely because the aim of your rhetoric, in your view, is to advance a just agenda, that does not permit you to attack others when the attack is devoid of evidence and substance, as I would I argue it many times is. The consequences of these actions are halting the very progress you desire. If you think otherwise, then I suspect you’ve spent very little time considering the thoughts, feelings and points of view of those you believe to be your opposition.

Two former professors, Dr. James Lindsay and Prof. Peter Poghassian, both of whom are self-proclaimed liberals, looked to expose this phenomenon when they had seven articles they had written published in academic journals. These articles were written with the intention of being as absurd as possible while still being thought of as academic. One of them, titled “Our Struggle is My Struggle: Solidarity Feminism as an Intersectional Reply to Neoliberal and Choice,”, was a re-writing of multiples extracts from Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf, where they replaced ‘Our Movement’ with the phrase ‘Intersectional Feminism’ and replaced the word ‘Jews’ with ‘men’. This article was accepted and published. I would be hard-pressed to find a better example of what I am referring to if I tried. A piece of literature that is regarded as one of the most dangerous and hate-filled things ever put on paper was accepted as not only rational, but academic, simply because it targeted a group that is perceived to oppress. Punch upward and the substance of what is said can often be irrelevant, no matter how sexist, racist or prejudiced it is.

So many Americans today live in an echo chamber of their own beliefs. They associate with like-minded people, consume media with a uniform slant in either direction, and are constantly exposed to belief systems that are virtually indistinguishable from their own. I suspect it is this that leads so many to take part in this political evangelicalism and acceptance of lowered standards of substance that I have outlined above. When all you consume are points of view that mirror your own, your beliefs become reinforced. As they become reinforced, it becomes easier and easier for you not to understand how anyone could hold a belief that differs from your own and lessens your ability to identify absurdity in rhetoric that resembles your beliefs. When those shreds of understanding, objectivity and compassion leaves, what remains is an internal, self-reinforcing justification for attacks and judgement. It is my opinion that pushing back on this dangerous cycle is one of the most important things our country can do if we are not to rupture at the seams.

My proposition for action from this piece is to open your mind to a degree that feels uncomfortable, and to look to consume viewpoints that do not align with your own. This is not to say that the core of your beliefs will change at all, but chances are, with sufficient time, exposure and a real effort of understanding, something in your belief structure will shift, even if only slightly. It’s a powerful and necessary thing to occur in any individual and opens you up to the kind of true progress that so many desire and need. If you are to preach equality, compassion and understanding, you must exemplify these values, even in the face of perceived opponents. Bridging the gap between folks on opposing sides of the aisle is no easy task, and this is not some kind of quick fix, but it’s a first step toward a future we all want to live in. Go out there and get uncomfortable.

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