Thursday, November 21, 2019


Last week, I told you about a New York Times column in which Roger Cohen introduced readers to Chuck Hardwick, a retired pharmaceutical executive and former leader of what was then the Republican majority in the New Jersey state assembly. Hardwick, 78, dislikes Donald Trump ... somewhat; he "admires the president’s energy, his courage in taking on difficult issues like China 'stealing its way to prosperity,' his corporate tax cuts, and what he sees as a revitalizing impact on American ambition," but he has qualms about Trump's temperament. Cohen offered up Hardwick as the emblematic persuadable voter, and excoriated Democrats for not seeking to choose precisely the kind of nominee Hardwick wants. (Hardwick likes Mike Bloomberg.)

Cohen, unsurprisingly, received a lot of criticism for this column. He responded the way Times op-ed writers always respond when chastised from the left: In his follow-up column, he doubled down and insisted that his critics are narrow-minded bigots.

Cohen writes:
At 78, Hardwick’s easy to stereotype as just another old white guy. That unhappy state of privileged irrelevance is of course compounded, in the same exercise in caricature, by a successful career in pharmaceuticals — that industry being uniformly evil.

Here were some readers’ comments on the column. Hardwick is “an oligarch, glad to have the world tilted in favor of the ultrarich.” He’s a man who “made big money in Big Pharma.” Like other “old white ex-big pharma executive men” who voted Trump, Hardwick is among those who have “disqualified themselves as either too prejudiced, and/or too incompetent to judge who the next president should be.” In the same vein: “Anyone who can still be undecided on Trump is neither sane nor moderate.” Hardwick is a “plutocrat who is only interested in maintaining his power and his fortune.”
I am shocked, shocked, to learn that people sometimes use intemperate language in an online comments section.

Cohen argues that the commenters are stereotyping Hardwick, and refuse to learn the first thing about him.
Still, I find the almost complete inability of opponents of Trump to grapple with who supports him and why to be deeply alarming. We are talking about tens of millions of such supporters. This failure, this abandonment of curiosity, this rampant intolerance, this blindness, increases the likelihood of Trump’s re-election.
"Abandonment of curiosity" about Trump supporters? Seriously? These are people who read The New York Times, which sends a reporter out into the wilds of Michigan or Pennsylvania every ten days or so to determine whether Trump supporters in diners still love Trump. (Spoiler alert: They do.) Anyone who's still subscribing to the Times after plowing through dozens of these articles can't be said to have no "curiosity" about the other side.

Cohen tells us, scoldingly, that Hardwick's success in life came after a rough childhood.
Hardwick’s is very much an American story. He was born in rural Kentucky, where his father, Joseph, was a grocery store manager. His mother, who was manic-depressive and underwent electroconvulsive therapy, died when he was 5. His dad eventually remarried and borrowed heavily to open a truck-stop restaurant in Burnside, Ky., on a busy highway. The restaurant failed. It took years to pay off the loans.

Hardwick’s father moved the family to Akron, Ohio. Wonder Bread hired Joseph as a bakery worker. He was 50. He was happy because you had to have 15 years of experience to qualify for the pension plan, so he would just qualify if he retired at 65.

“We had no car and he walked to work every day for 15 years,” Hardwick told me. “He was crushed in an elevator accident when I was in the eighth grade and he didn’t work for over a year. I dropped off the basketball team and got a paper route delivering The Akron Beacon Journal and essentially became self-supporting. I also gave money to the family from the $15 a week which I earned, good for a kid in the mid-1950s.”

Hardwick’s break came when Wonder Bread supported a new program at Florida State University that granted degrees in baking science and management, and chose to jump-start it with scholarships to four children of employees. Hardwick was one of those children. He eventually earned an M.B.A. in marketing, worked for two years for Wonder Bread and joined Pfizer in 1966. Over almost four decades, he rose to the highest echelons of the company.

The American dream? Looks pretty like it to me.
"It's very much an American story." I'd say it very much used to be an American story -- a kid from Nowheresville who manages to make it into the white-collar world without several generations of college in his family history. Who manages to do that now? Who goes through this much strife today without periods of homelessness and crippling debt? Where are the factory jobs with defined-benefit pensions? Where are the paper routes when there are no newspapers anymore?

And even back then, what happened to the bakers' kids who weren't among the fortunate few to get the scholarships?

But what truly galls Cohen is the name-calling:
Plutocrat? Oligarch? Big Pharma? I don’t think such labels help. I don’t think they tell you anything about the human being so labeled. If there’s one sure route to a second Trump term, it’s more of the liberal contempt that produced the “deplorables.” It’s more of the knee-jerk stereotyping that denies that Trump supporters have reasons for thinking as they do. We know exactly how that movie ended in 2016.
Around the time this column was posted, a feature story on the front page of the right-wing site American Greatness was Dennis Prager's "Does the Left Hate America?" (Spoiler alert: The answer was yes.) In another piece titled "The Left’s Raising and Glorifying of Cain," we were told:
Aversion to God and infatuation with criminals. Those twin traits aren’t common to every "progressive." But in America, as in Canada, they are common enough to have made a comfortable home for themselves on the Left.
Today at the same site, Sebastian Gorka warns "decent, old-school Democrats" that
the party they have a traditional, atavistic familiarity with no longer exists and is in fact run by radicals like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), extremists who hate America, and unreconstructed socialists or communists like Senators Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) who want levels government control over the economy which far exceed anything the USSR ever envisaged.
But it's okay for right-wingers to use intemperate language. No one ever says they might be driving away persuadable voters. No one ever they might be hurting America. Only our side is subject to this sort of scolding.

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