Remember This Article? It Was Conservative Propaganda, and a Lot of Us Fell for It.

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Last fall, an anti-PC think piece by Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff called The Coddling of the American Mind started making its rounds on social media. I honestly can’t tell you how many times this fabulously coiffed baby showed up in my feed because some guy whom I otherwise respected shared it, sometimes even asking me directly, “What do you think of this?”

So I read it. And I sighed a deep, existential sigh. I considered going through it, line by line, to create a detailed response to those who found its arguments persuasive, but decided to do something else with my time. Then I forgot about it for a while, but in reading Moira Weigel’s excellent history of the anti-PC movement in The Guardian today, something clicked.

Greg Lukianoff heads the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a think-tank funded by the Olin and Scaife families, right-wing oligarchs whose influence over politics and media has been compared to that of the Koch brothers, as documented in the book Dark Money.

The Coddling of the American Mind presented itself as a think piece by a pair of academics concerned with a trend they had observed at American universities, but it was in fact designed to do exactly what it did—turn people who see themselves as “reasonable,” moderate progressives against college students, feminists, and “safe-space” millennials. (Reading it again, it becomes clear that the “mental health” language was actually gaslighting on a massive scale.)

It worked. Many, many people I know and otherwise respect lapped that article up like an ice cream sundae, fomenting resentment toward marginalized people at the behest of slippery billionaires.

In the weeks since Trump’s election, many of us have been wringing our hands, wondering how we got here. But Trump didn’t come out of nowhere. The truth is that the path to Trump’s victory has been under construction for years, and not just by Fox News and Rush Limbaugh.

“Every demagogue needs an enemy,” Weigel explains. The meticulously crafted “PC” bogeyman is a brilliant, coded way to blame our problems on “other” people—whether those “others” are people of color, women speaking out against rape culture, or transgender people fighting for their right to exist in a world that actively despises them. When otherwise progressive men buy into this rhetoric, they are quite literally doing the right’s work for them.

Moral of the story? Please, for the love of democracy, let’s all try to be more vigilant about who and what we give credence to in the future. Just because someone is encouraging us to punch someone who seems reasonably punchable doesn’t mean we need to. Instead, I would urge every one of us—myself included—to take a serious look at what’s driving our desire to punch each other in the first place (and who’s paying for it).

Artist and historian. PhD student researching religion, material culture, media, and politics. Bylines at The Wire Magazine, Art in America + more.

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