Online liberalism, as I’ve said many times, is not actually a series of political beliefs and alliances but instead a set of social cues that are adopted to demonstrate one’s class background– economic class, certainly, but more cultural class, the various linguistic and consumptive signals that assure those around you that you’re the right kind of person and which appear to be the only thing that America’s 20-something progressives really care about anymore.
The dominance of personal branding and cultural signalling over political theory means that liberal attitudes change very rapidly and then congeal into a consensus that is supposedly so obviously correct that it does not need defending. In the past year, liberalism as an elite social phenomenon has abandoned first rights of the accused and second the right to free expression. The Jameis Winston and Woody Allen sexual assault cases saw the rise of resistance to any discussion whatsoever of due process and rights of the accused, and in the way of their culture, online progressives moved quickly to a place where anyone mentioning those rights at all were immediately and angrily denounced, and accused of insufficient resistance to (if not outright support for) rape and rape culture. Similarly, the Brandon Eich situation, and now the Donald Sterling fiasco, have prompted this social cohort to change liberalism such that its traditional staunch defense of free speech rights has become instead an assumed disgust with those who talk about free speech rights at all. On Twitter and Tumblr, the notion that people have the right to hold controversial political opinions is not a cherished precept of the left but tantamount to racism and homophobia. And, as I recently wrote, abandoning these commitments also entails abandoning the traditional liberal argument that rights are meaningless without ability.
So take, for example, this comprehensively awful piece by Salon’s Elias Isquith. It’s a pretty perfect example of cultural and social signals substituting for an actual political position. Isquith’s piece does not contain an argument. I’m not saying it doesn’t contain a good argument; I’m saying it does not contain an argument. It’s a mostly-failed attempt to achieve an arch tone married to the blank, undefended assumption that people defending rights on principle are themselves guilty of whatever people invoking those rights are accused of. It’s no different than insisting that someone who thinks an accused murderer should have rights is an apologist for murder. Not that Isquith quite gins up the courage to make that explicit. I am tempted to say, for example, that he accuses Julian Sanchez of racism, but of course he doesn’t; he merely suggests, implies, and hints that Sanchez is a racist, or a near-racist, or a defender of racism. You know. The mature way.