The Atlantic

‘In My Isolation, I Searched for Sanity on the Internet’

A collection of reader concurrences and dissents with responses.
Source: Andrew Cullen / Reuters

Last month, I argued that the left’s rhetoric can sometimes fuel support for the populist right and that folks who want to defeat its most bigoted incarnations should act accordingly. For example, they should cease mislabeling others “alt-right” so promiscuously and study up on the factors that trigger authoritarian tendencies.

The whole article is here. Lots of people responded to it. Below I’ll air a selection of concurrences and dissents. And I’ll begin by highlighting two common misreadings:

  1. Some critics imagined me to be arguing that the left is morally responsible for bigotry on the right. But as I wrote, “no one deserves racism or authoritarianism” and “no one is morally responsible for its ills other than its perpetrators.” Note the distinction between the claim that rhetoric on the left can cause some people to move right and the totally distinct proposition that the left bears moral responsibility for whatever choices those people make.
  2. Other readers took me to be counseling the left to stop objecting to bigotry. In fact, I wrote that the phenomenon I was describing “doesn’t mean ceasing to fight racism or sexism … or refraining from telling the truth about them. It doesn’t mean thoughtlessly accepting every smug claim of ‘that’s how you got Trump,’ or excusing the GOP for its culpability in elevating a misogynist bigot.” As ever, I would advise all Americans to actively oppose racism and sexism.

A civic discourse that forces writers to answer for arguments that they explicitly disavowed benefits no one.


There are many ways that rhetoric on one side of the political spectrum affects the other side. Some correspondents suggested possible mechanisms that I did not address. Austin Anthis emailed, “I was a moderate student at Duke University and found myself so attacked for my beliefs there that I would escape into my room and watch conservative pundits talk some ‘sense’ that I could not find on campus. I’ve seen what you described take place in my own life. I hope people take it to heart.”

I wondered, Was he advocating for racism? Sexism? Torture? The return of prohibition? Some views to be savaged. He was gracious enough to clarify on the record. He began by writing about his formal training as an RA and the norms

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