Rory Sutherland

How the left wastes its energy

The left fritters itself away on causes with mostly symbolic value

How the left wastes its energy
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There are only three infallible rules in advertising. Be distinctive. Make a lot of noise. And try to feature a cute animal somewhere. Had Donald Trump followed my advice and bought a springer spaniel he would have won California.

For a man with such tiny hands to be elected to the world’s highest office, I think we can all agree, is a tragic loss to proctology. But it is also a remarkable lesson in how to play the media. Hillary had $2 billion to spend; what Trump miraculously found was that with each outburst of political Tourette’s, he got more airtime than her, and for free. So eager were the mainstream and social media to express their horrified disdain for his latest outrage that they were effectively donating to his campaign. By exploiting the media’s virtue-signalling reflex, Trump had found the thermal exhaust port on the liberal Death Star. The more he was attacked, the stronger he grew. As James Lindsay wrote back in June, ‘Liberals, want Trump to win? Keep calling him racist’:

People left, right, and centre — but especially on the right — are justifiably sick and tired of being called bigots and having almost every-thing in social politics reduced to smear campaigns about bigotry. The over-application of terms of bigotry as a means of silencing disagreement with a left-bending social orthodoxy has become, shall we say, ‘problematic’. As a result, words like racist, sexist, misogynist, homophobe and the rest have become conservative dog-whistles that mean ‘honest and brave’, and ‘willing to speak his mind (without fear)’. Like the inappropriate application of an antibiotic, the incessant misuse of these terms has created a superbug.

The commentariat were right in one way: Trump’s support was fuelled by hate. But it was mostly hatred by one class of white people for another class of white people. A large part of his appeal lay in the pursed-lipped horror he aroused in some of the world’s most annoying whites. (Yet intriguingly the Latin vote, where Trump fared better than Romney, seemed unperturbed by his outbursts, maybe because when translated into a language where coño and puta madre are used like punctuation marks, the Donald didn’t seem all that rude.)

But honestly, lefties, how clueless do you have to be not to realise that people living in a rust-belt town might not empathise too much with Yale students protesting about the cultural sensitivity of Halloween costumes? Do you think no one suspects that virtue signalling is mostly an un-conscious and oblique form of status signalling? Just as tattoos and piercings might prove the strength of your immune system, proclaiming your openness to all change is a way of advertising how unthreatened is your place in the social hierarchy.

This reflex causes the left to waste energy on causes with mostly symbolic value; energy which could be spent on campaigns that matter far more, such as protesting the US’s appallingly high rate of — especially black — incarceration. But campaigning for the removal of flags and statues just feels better somehow. Virtue signalling, in short, is rather like wetting the bed; in the short term you get a nice warm feeling, but soon afterwards everything starts to stink.

There is one thing I recommend which we can all do to help. It’s a simple rule I invented last weekend, and it seems to work. Before you respond to anyone online, check their last ten posts. If eight or more are related to the same issue, do not respond or engage, positively or negatively. I recently came across one person whose last 44 posts were all rants about Brexit. Please ignore them. It will be better for you and it’s much better for them.