Flyover: Is the left's vocabulary meaner than the right's?
Like many, I have been highly interested in understanding the rift in US and global politics that has resulted in the rise of Trump, LePen, Ford and Brexit.
While I run mostly in left/urban/secular/keen circles, I try as often as possible to talk to people in other circles to understand their view. My own politics match neither side, which gives me some extra perspective. However, living in left circles, I have encountered more of their terms.
The amount of hate between the sides has grown, and become very polarizing. To the surprise of most of my left friends, I believe that by some measures, the hate of the leftie side towards the right is greater than the hate the other way. Naturally, each side has the intuition that the other is more to blame.
I come to this conclusion by examining the vocabulary and stereotypes each side uses for the other. Not for or by the leaders of the other side (where the vocabulary is extremely nasty as well) but rather for the voters in the middle of each side. People you know, not the wing-nuts (to use another pejorative that goes both directions.) Here are the terms I have collected that I have seen commonly used, not between politicians, but between ordinary people. Some of these terms are used more by the fringes.
(Keen and Steward are my names for the two sides, I will discuss these terms more in later posts.)
|Nazis||Social Justice Warrior (SJW)|
|Flyover residents||Bleeding Heart Liberals|
|Duped by Trump||"Tolerant"|
|Vote against own interests||*Baby-killers (Abortion debate)|
|*White Trash / Trailer Trash|
|Media are fake news||Media are fake news|
While I have heard other terms, most are either in fairly rare use or only used by the most fringe writers. Some terms, like "Cuck," (when used as a short for cuckservative) are used as an insult within the group rather than for the other side. Items with a star were suggested by readers. I have left out stereotypes that are ancient and bidirectional.
I am generally looking for terms and stereotypes you might hear a mainstream person (ideally a person you know or would generally respect) use, to describe a voter for the other side. Perhaps in a phrase like, "They voted for Trump/Clinton because they are 'X'" Not what you saw on 4chan.
Upon considering this list, I could not avoid the conclusion that the terms on the left side (literally and figuratively) are considerably more hateful. In fact, only "Libtard" is a nasty insult, and many of the other terms on the right would, if not for their sarcastic intent, be taken as descriptive or positive. A few others, like Snowflake are pretty mild.
I am just asking about the tone of the terms. Whether the terms are valid or not, or what sins each side commits, is not the question here.
I am interested in other contributions to the list, to assure it is not biased. Put them in the comments. What have you heard your friends, otherwise reasonable people -- not wing nuts of either stripe -- say?
While there is disagreement (of course) about which side is "meaner" what is perhaps of greater interest is the recent delta. Regardless of whether you think the left is better or worse than the right, we can also consider whether the left has gotten worse or improved in recent years, particularly post-Trump-candidacy. And we can ask the same about the right. There are some suggestions that the right hides its hateful stereotypes better and is worse than it appears, and that brings up its own questions.
It seems without question that the rift has worsened, and we may wish to learn if, in the case that stereotypes have worsened, has that been one of the causes of the increase in the rift, or is it caused by it?
The particular problem I see illustrated by this list is that many on the left express an idea, either explicitly or implicitly, of superiority. That the other side is not just wrong because they disagree, but because they are stupid, or more charitably less educated or informed only by lying media. The latter comes with a further implication of inferiority, because it suggest that you have been fooled by various lies, but we superior people see through them.
Demographically, in areas like wealth and education, there is a real (though modest) superiority for the left-leaning regions over the right-leaning ones, which doesn't make things better, in fact it may make them worse.
While not all on the left side do express superiority over their political rivals, it seems clearly true that the right side perceives that they do. The right side feels the left side looks down on them as inferiors (correctly or not) while it seems much less frequent that the left thinks the right looks down on them as inferiors. Both sides do make the common presumption that anybody who disagrees so much with me must be stupid rather than just different, but I observe an asymmetry in this.
Both sides are not monoliths, either. On the right we have many different factions -- the more extreme alt-right, evangelical and hard-line conservative factions, and more centrist conservative factions. Likewise the left has its radical/antifa, progressive and socialist factions and centrist liberal groups. And there are people in between both. The more radical factions tend to do more of the hard talking and insulting, but once again my judgement is I see the terms on the right side above much more commonly from the more extreme factions, while I see many of the left side terms even from the more centrist liberals -- triggered I think by the shocking arrival of Trump and his base, and the lumping of all Trump supporters into more negative categories.
Is this important?
I think this is very important, because I think this rift plays a large role in the origin of the new factions on the right, and for Trump himself. If one side views the other as inferior, it is a powerful unifying force in both directions, but the ones looked down on are least likely to cooperate with the people who "think they are better." They become more more inclined to rally behind the devil on their side over somebody neutral on the "superior" side.
In my conversations with Trump voters, it has become clear that many of them are quite aware of most of Trump's flaws. They voted for him in part because he wasn't Clinton, wasn't the representative of the elites, actually declared a desire to fight them (even though he was one of them.) Of course, why they voted is much more complex than that, and will be the subject of future articles.
The gulf between the sides keeps going. Both sides can and should take steps back towards civility. But it might have to start on the left side.