At some point in your life, you will read a Tantrum Warning from a right-wing pundit.
Gnawed down to its base gristle, the Tantrum Warning amounts to this argument:
Progressives better stop doing (progressive thing) or the far-right will get even MORE conservative.
Simple, isn’t it? The Tantrum Warning has several variations. Sometimes the Tantrum Warning actively asks progressives to do a specific thing, or the ultra-right will go full snowflake.
The Tantrum Warning comes when liberals won’t sleep with the right:
Fewer people are hooking up across party lines, and Republicans say it’s because Democrats are too quick to dismiss their dating-app profiles.
The Tantrum Warning comes when liberals won’t let the right eat their burgers:
The nice thing about the hamburger problem is that Democrats can fix it without moving substantially on policy. They just have to become less annoying.
The Tantrum Warning comes when liberals support Pride parades:
“For the most part I’m pretty libertarian,” says the 22-year-old [Lauren] Southern, who originally hails from Surrey, British Columbia. “But if you ever want to spur some homophobia in reasonable people, just take them to a Pride Parade.”
The Tantrum Warning is a classic swindle of modern right-wing rhetoric, and every chiseler in their constellation has written at least one Warning. The Tantrum Warning can be shaped to whatever form best serves the conservative movement at any given time. Who is oppressing them today? Whoever it is—Parkland teens, African-American activists, the poor, Hollywood—you can be sure that the guilty parties are not showing due deference to the highly dignified scholars at Breitbart.
In fairness to the far-right, the Tantrum Warning is not theirs alone. A revolving cast of centrist hacks specialize in it too. It’s the only kind of thinkpiece Conor Friedersdorf writes. For example, here:
But none of that excuses the Yale activists who’ve bullied these particular faculty in recent days. They’re behaving more like Reddit parodies of “social-justice warriors” than coherent activists, and I suspect they will look back on their behavior with chagrin.
At the most general level, it means ceasing to indulge the fantasy that the left can say and do whatever most gratifies its impulses, without any trade-offs or costs or political consequences, and that anyone who suggests otherwise is just implicitly less committed to fighting racism or sexism or assorted other bigotries, or so dumb that the proferred counsel is better gleefully mocked than grappled with.
In a humiliating essay, he defended Kevin “Hangman” Williamson by bending himself into a tone-policing so convoluted, it should have been a yoga pose. It was the most Friedersdorfian paragraph possible:
More specifically, I dissent from the way that Williamson was dragged, regardless of his position. That dragging would be a small matter in isolation, but it is of a piece with burgeoning, shortsighted modes of discourse that are corroding what few remaining ties bind the American center. Should that center fail to hold, anarchy will be loosed.
“Should the center fail to hold.” Imagine writing that a year into the Trump Presidency. The center! Even if you haven’t had the pleasure of consuming Condor Freikorps, you may have read a version of the Tantrum Warning from famous concern trolls Jonathan Chait, Bari Weiss, and Claire Lehmann. Perhaps you’ve thrilled to the pulsating virility of Dan McLaughlin and Bret Stephens. You may have seen versions come from the pen of Julia Ioffe or Andrew Sullivan. Michelle Goldberg’s “How the Online Left Fuels the Right” is a classic of the genre.
Here’s another: on May 12, the New York Times published Gerard Alexander’s beautifully idiotic “Liberals, You’re Not as Smart as You Think.” The graphic included a microphone attached to plunger detonator box. The meaning was transparent: by speaking, liberals are setting off a bomb. Alexander wrote:
Many liberals are very smart. But they are not as smart, or as persuasive, as they think. And a backlash against liberals — a backlash that most liberals don’t seem to realize they’re causing — is going to get President Trump re-elected.
Alexander is a regular at the usual conservative buffet-heat-lamp shacks, including the American Enterprise Institute, the Claremont Institute, and the Hoover Institution. A serious concern troll, in other words. He writes that conservatives will soon vote against progressive politicians because of Michelle Wolf at the Correspondent’s Dinner …and…oh, wow, I can’t even pretend to honor his disingenuous argument with a complete sentence. The evidence doesn’t matter in a Tantrum Warning. Look, you can write his column yourself. Pick four far-right grievances out of a hat, and you’ll have the same argument.
I’m serious. I Googled the terms “Black Lives Matter,” “transgender,” “climate change,” “Confederate,” and “liberals.” Four entries down, I found a piece from the Koch-funded CATO Institute. The topic was Trump-era political protests:
“Unfortunately, what all of us are seeing across the country, more and more, is a threat to that marketplace of ideas, with people trying to shut down others with different perspectives,” says John Hardin, director of university relations at the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, a conservative group that promotes open debate on campus.
Back to Alexander: “When [liberals] use their positions in American culture to lecture, judge and disdain, they push more people into an opposing coalition that liberals are increasingly prone to think of as deplorable. ... Liberals are inadvertently making that outcome more likely. It’s not too late to stop.”
Not … too … late! C’mon, libs. Knock off the opposition, and submit like champs.
It doesn’t matter what the current grievance is: Alexander’s column would be the same. How can I say this? Because he wrote the same piece in 2010, in the Washington Post, when it was titled “Why are liberals so condescending?”
He’s been pimping this shtick for a while.
In general, the Tantrum Warning is flawed for two reasons.
First, the logic is barren. The logic of the Tantrum Warning presumes that there is a large body of slightly right-leaning centrists who will support reasonable policies as long as nothing upsets them. Apart from being a cowardly way to do politics, it’s just pure make-believe. Trump was elected by rank-and-file suburban Republican voters, not annoyed centrists or bitter proletarians. He won because the Democrats failed. Trump is not an outside force, but the result of our dismal institutions and rampant inequality. Our system is a sham. We must confront this fact, or nothing will change. Ever. The way to win is to court voters who stayed home, not try to persuade committed Trump stans.
Second, the Warning is an empty threat.
Indeed, what will the far-right do, if liberals don’t respect them? Will they elect a dementia-addled sex criminal to be the most powerful man on Earth? Is that the threat? Will they threaten to build a wall? Will they enable ICE to break up immigrant families, rain bombs on other countries, punish gay people? Will you pass a tax cut and vote to gut Obamacare?
Oh, butch and fearsome American Far Right, please do none of these things! I cannot imagine how I could live in this imaginary America you threaten me with! Your teeth are swords, your claws are spears, your wings are a hurricane!
Or perhaps, you have already done all of these things, after years of fooling liberals with this very long con? Could it be that you are not speaking in good faith? Could it be that taking you at your word is the very thing that allows you to have your way? Is the Tantrum Warning just a trick for media conservatives to get platforms they don’t deserve?
Could it be that what you threaten to become, you already are? “You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry!”
Why should we like you now?