9 June

The New And Acrid Stench Of The Progressives

by Jon Katz

All my life, I’ve considered myself a social Democrat, sometimes a moderate Republican (remember them?), a liberal, a progressive, even a socialist.

I’ve always seen government and social policy as being about making lives better for the people,  and especially for the needy and the vulnerable.

But I think I have to learn to call myself something else now and to find something else. Being progressive is coming to mean something else.

Since I started writing about the Amish, every day I get one, sometimes more than one,  hateful message or another from someone – often a  young someone – who claim the progressive mantle but are carrying the stench of the fascist.

More and more, they are beginning to mimic the very people they claim to hate. People who lie, distort, hate, and intimidate. The anger and grievance of the far-right and the anger and grievance of the far left are fusing into one whirlpool of rage and hostility.

My friendship with Moise and his family is not political but personal. And it seems to be the business of a lot of angry people.

I’m not doing my job.

I do not hate the Amish enough, or at all.

The interesting thing for me is that for most of last year, I was writing about politics and was sometimes critical of Donald Trump, and I got the same kinds of letters every day, almost as if they were coordinated.

They used the same words, the same insults, had the same tone.  Like the ones I get now, they were all hit and run people, post one nasty message and run.

These messages have become a ritual I almost look forward to because it is important to identify them and challenge them and call them out It gives my life more meaning. I post their messages and reply once.

Let’s pause and moment and re-construct a message that appeared this morning on my blog post section:

David’s Message to me responding to sharing my experiment about the safety strips for Amish carts:

“You say, ” We are all much more at risk driving and riding in automobiles, motorcycles, and trucks- or walking in city streets – than the Amish are riding in their buggies.
Percentage-wise, there are far fewer accidents involving their carts than our cars. Horse buggies are inherently more safe than automobiles. They are lighter and go much slower, and the Amish don’t speed or drink or break the law.”

They are full of logical fallacies. Safety is not determined by a vehicle rambling down an empty area or sitting out in a field; what is relevant is the risk of BEING HIT on a busy roadway. It’s like driving a tiny car down a highway with high-speed trucks flying by.

Is your adoration, loyalty, bromance so intense because the object of your admiration holds positions of power and great privilege in his narrow little world and can dominate women and men, girls and boys, which compensatory experience you never had, so continue to try. Like the many thwarted males (good science on this btw) who voted for the last president seeing His bullying as the tough man they could never be. These 3D reflecting lights reveal a lot more than buggies careening dangerously down the road.
Have you thought through your actions here? Wait till there is an accident with one of your target’s buggies and the opposing attorney gets ahold of your blog notes that you tried to help him diminish the danger, and he REFUSED. At least you need to not8fy of the increased risk you cause.

It is occurring to me lately that these messages are almost exactly the same as messages sent out by an angry Trump and his followers, just from the other end. And this is what happens when you agree!

Are the left and the right really different any longer?

There is no left for me and no right. The center seems to be shrinking, feeding both extremes.

These messages are a good thing for me, in an unexpected way. It forces me, just like the Amish, to figure out who I am and who I wish to be and hold my ground. It is no longer about winning or losing; it’s about who I am.

If you aren’t challenged, you can’t always know who you really are. If you are challenged, you have to try to figure it out.

I’ve always hated labels and being labeled, and now it happens every day. They call it the Death Of The American Mind.

I’m sure there is a place for me somewhere – I have to find it, or perhaps let go of politics as having relevance for me and my life.

There are many good reasons to be wary of the Amish. They are a Patriarchy; there is little or no open dissent in their culture, women are always subservient to men.  Their meetings are closed and secretive. The church dictates almost every aspect of their lives.

There is also much to admire about them – their honestly, their rejection of the greedy corporate culture, their lifelong care for one another, their gentleness, love of family,  their hard and independent work, their love of the land.

They take wonderful care of each other.

I refuse to hate them to please the blood lust of angry feminists or the new generation of hateful progressives.  I’m not selling them out for praise.

My issue is that I don’t hate them for the things I don’t like, and they don’t hate me for the things they don’t like. This is what my messengers don’t like.

This idea of tolerating the other makes the warriors on both ends crazy. It’s the fascists who can’t bear being disagreed with.

It’s disheartening but not the worst place for me to be. These challenges make me stronger. I have to stand up every day and remember who I am..

I used to think I was one of the good guys; Now, I wonder who they are and where they are.

For the past two years, I’ve had the idea we are fighting one looming evil; lately, I’ve wondered if we don’t have two evils gathering around us and no way of fighting them both.

This is an age of anger and hate, love is taking a pounding.

It’s like putting your little finger into a leaking dam.

It’s frustrating to try sometimes.

You never get to change anyone’s mind, and they never get to change yours; it’s just a spinning wheel, going round and wrong, crushing honor, honesty, compassion in the wake.

I’ve been choosing a message a day to make this point and posting it.

It’s my own way of fighting back, as small and inconsequential as it is.

The latest message I want to share is from someone named David who hates the Amish, especially the dominance of men in their church and culture. He seems to be trying to be a feminist, he seems more like a general-purpose hater.

Because I like my friend Moise and the family, and find much of Amich culture fascinating,  David has chosen to hate me as well, even as he castigates the big men in trucks who hate him and me.

I can’t help it, really I can’t even bring myself to hate  David, and he’s a lot nastier than the Amish. I’m a wuss.

We can see the circle grow, hate-to-hate-to-hate.

Because I like my friend and his family very much, then I “adore” them; my friendship is not a friendship but a “bromance.”  Friendship is just something else to sneer at.  (I can’t wait to read that to Moise.)

He took the prize for the best illogical fallacy of the year by telling me that pushing for safer carts will cost many lives, and was itself an illogical fallacy. I’m still working on that one.

If you watch the news at all, which I can’t recommend, you will see that this kind of thinking is now mainstream. I’m the freak.

These people are a test of my hope. They make me hopeful because I am not them and will never be them, and that fills my soul with joy.

I can stay hopeful. And I do. And I will.

It’s true: sticks and stones can break my bones, but names will never hurt me. The values of the Middle School Playground are now our social currency and discourse, online, at home, in Congress.

I am happy to be that strange voice in the wilderness, peddling a message nobody really wants to hear; it suits me. I am not alone, but it is getting lonelier.

If this is how we are learning to speak with one another, I am a fossil, a relic, of no consequence to the world. It surely isn’t worth David’s trouble to throw up on me. That’s pretty much what it feels like.

So there is  David’s message, what I call the most obnoxious message of the day. I had some doozies to choose from. The Amish touch people very deeply, and in different ways, but more importantly, I understand that they also reflect and mirror the rest of us in very powerful and revealing ways.

I was always taught it was wrong to lie, and I felt bad when I did. David has no problem with it. Neither does half the country.

David shows his contempt for bullying men by apeing them like a chimpanzee in the zoo and being one himself. How does one repel the anger and cruelty of Trumpism by becoming a Trumpist?

I have to disagree with so many of the things Moise believes, yet I respect him so much more than the wanna-be progressive who would write a letter like that.

I blame my writing about this on Hannah Arendt, the leading moral philosopher of the last century, a former teacher of mine (one class), and a lifelong inspiration to me.

The reason bad people win, she wrote, is that good people say nothing. That’s how they get started; that’s how they conquer. That’s why I’m writing this. I wish to be good.

So I won’t shut up.

If I can stir up one good person, it is well worth the time.

As for David, he will get his one chance to respond to me, and then I will ban him from my blog forever. I don’t want people like him anywhere near me or my writing.

It’s a safe bet.

Hours after David posted his message and hours after I replied, there is no sign of him. One more refugee from the truth, hiding behind his user name, spilling his poison into the well but making sure not to take a drink.

It’s the least I can do, David.




  1. Thank you, John for speaking your truth. Wishing you and your Amish neighbors every best. Live and let live. 😎

  2. Thank you for this. I have been struggling with whether or not to start pointing out to my ‘friends’ that their language is the very language they ranted against when Trump was in office. This moral indignation, which always follows a message to BE KIND, spewed out like poisonous venom. I have remained silent as I know I will be now be labelled ‘unenlightened’, I am the problem. Yet, I think. Are there others??? Others like me, so disheartened at how brutal things have become. Is this as systemic as it seems? or is it another illusion of social media and manipulation? Guess I will have to find out for myself. Off to find some armor.

  3. There does seem to be more fervor injected into every dialog. Maybe it is global warming. I am still a progressive Democrat, but don’t agree with everything the progressive caucus does. If they choose to move the definition away from where I stand, it is not my problem. I believe I will practice Gelassenheit.

  4. You are in the majority. This country and all countries are filled with good people trying to do good in their own small worlds. Don’t let the loudest voices obscure the modest ones.

  5. Please keep stirring me up. Recently I decided to get a tattoo (or at least an engraved bracelet—I’m a bit of a chicken) of a quote from Steven Ritz, author of The Power of a Plant. (Great read) I quote: “If you’re not pissing people off, you’re not working hard enough.” I’ll keep being human, loving my neighbor and speaking out for social justice. I don’t need a label to be kind. Please keep stirring me up. Gail

    1. Hi Marcia,

      I love what you said about trying to wrap your mind around the “buggy creening down the highway” comment. I cannot fathom it either–chucked as soon as I read it in Jon’s blog– and none of what I’ve seen of Amish horses and buggies, which is plenty matches or fits the “careening.” The closest I came is this: Imagine a cartoon from the 1950s-1960s. Maybe? Honestly, if that’s what “David” thinks, what REALLY is the problem? Is it leftover road rage because he might have had to slow down?

      1. Road rage!. You might just have hit on. Notice that David is nowhere to be seen or heard from today, he had so much to say yesterday. THey don’t hang around to slug it out, but then social media is the coward’s playground – no accountability for your words.

      2. David needs an enema…I promise that Susan D will never be banned from this blog, she isn’t nearly nasty enough

  6. Yup, I had a day just like yours myself today. Right here in Cambridge! Stating a centrist political point regarding a local SJW brouhaha resulted in an immediate attack from the “progressive” Facebook Fascists and keyboard warriors. Funny thing is, in the course of their rants, they misquoted both the Constitution, and completely misrepresented history (I taught both for 40 years). One guy went so far as to claim my viewpoint justified Southern slavery before the Civil War (easily parried as I recently retired as the head historian/ranger for the NPS at Vicksburg). Others tried to argue that a school district was not *really* a government subdivision, and therefore BOE members had no responsibility to represent the will of the voters in that district (I spent a term as an elected BOE member, none of them had). But, since I dared question their narrative and agenda with actual facts – I was wrong. Oh well – two hours of my life wasted by engaging in mental masturbation on social media; but like you, I believe that facts and truth will prevail, and refuse to be bullied into silence by the jackbooted thugs who exhibit every tactic and behavior of the fascists they purport to hate… Keep fighting the good fight!

    1. Thanks for the message, Tim; I appreciate it. One caution. This is not really a local blog; it’s a national blog; there aren’t an awful lot of local people reading it, so if you write about local things, please explain what you mean by terms like SJW brouhaha; etc.. thanks.. I hope it wasn’t all a waste. We learn something from everything.

  7. This was definitely thought-provoking.
    I have been critical of the Amish as a community that doesn’t allow its members to pursue individual opportunities for growth, for having children with pre-determined futures. But in this country, most children have futures predicted by their zip codes. Many members of marginalized communities are called out for pursuing other lives or values; criticisms of “not Black enough, or. from my rural Upstate village, criticisms of being over-educated or citified. So the Amish are not alone in being -or desiring- insulated, siloed communities.
    I don’t want to respond with trumpian language to those with whom I disagree, and I will try harder not to. But it does remain essential to call out craven hypocrisy, often displayed by those who wear religion as a badge. Your neighbors have, and live by, values. Sadly, we are more used to the ‘preaching for dollars’ presentation of faith. And public officials who want to change the rules of the game to benefit their side (Hi, there, Mitch). You are correct, though; being louder and angrier and more righteously indignant is not a helpful strategy to make our communities or our country stronger.

    1. Very thoughtful message, Jeanne, I have lived in Boomer country before the farm, the children were programmed from birth to go to college, make money, be entitled. I knew few parents who don’t do that. The Amish girls are free to leave, to work outside the home, to marry who they choose, and if they stay on the farm past 21, they have to be paid for their labor. They have health care for life, insurance for life, no mortgages to pay, no nursing homes to be sent to when they get old and they can choose the kind of work they wish to do. Fifteen percent of them leave for good, the others choose to stay. They can marry who they choose, or not marry, and no one forces them to have children they don’t want. I’m not here to judge them, but I can say many women outside of this culture have it a lot worse. They are not Trumpian in the sense that they don’t judge other people or speak poorly of them or threaten them.

  8. Hi Jon: All I can say is keep up the good work which you are doing in your community and the school in Albany. Your post of David’s comments are just another reason I do not have a social media account.

    Best wishes,
    Have fun with the prom queen,
    And I have learned more about the Amish through your Blog than I ever knew before,


  9. I saw one of their buggies in Fair Haven a few months ago, and it was good reminder to stay sharp driving those curves in the dark. I’ve been following your reflector project, hoping you and Moise find something that works for them on all logistically and ethically. If nothing else, all of these posts will hopefully make us all more aware of the other drivers sharing the roads.

  10. Jon
    I hear your pain, as they say. In the ’60’s I saw the last part of a movie about politics (maybe atomic bomb? sorry, just a snippet of memory that has stayed with me) set in the US. The final scene, after the hero lost a court room fight, showed the guy picketing at the company gates. A sympathetic onlooker came and shook his hand, but said “You might as well go home to dinner. You’ll never change them.” Our hero replied: “I’m doing this so they don’t change _me_.” Even as a careless kid that made sense to me – a lot, I guess, since it seems to have stuck for so long..

    But I think our national weaknesses are not really new. POWER has always been at work in the US, everywhere, really. Until the technology of the latter half of this century canceled it, great distances and opportunity and hope (especially for whites) reduced the fuel for our nastier inclinations. But now the “net” and the “media” has provided gasoline on dry straw and more whites are beginning to feel some actual hardship (although there were always poor white people).

    But hate and judgement thrives when people can’t or can avoid knowing each other personally. Can avoid seeing each other as people. I read that our polarized legislature really started to metastasize when Gingrich passed the rules that allowed politicos to spend much more of their time not in DC, but on their own turf politicking. When they were in our capitol those lunches with the caucus, the cocktail parties, those dinners, those lawn parties with the families and children where all sides attended so they wouldn’t miss something profitable – those allowed and provided actual personal face-to-face interaction between legislators. They got to know each other personally to some degree and thus had a harder time demonizing each other and a harder time committing real ugliness in front of people who they actually knew.

    Maybe more basic personal interaction in a common neutral venue would help some of this nations ills. Much more personal interaction… In that way, the Amazon phenomenon is probably really bad for us. The virus also kept people separate. We point and knock-on trumpies who refused to close down their towns, but in some ways, they have the right of it.

    I hope there is more coverage of the towns in Idaho that simply refused and that some real journalists talk some more with the people there. The teachers who _knew_ they were going to get sick and still insisted on keeping the schools open because they felt their community would take too big a hit to go any other way. They didn’t even deny scientific facts, as I understand it. They considered them secondary in the face of their community’s well being – which defined as something more than simple physical survival. Don’t know much detail, since the “story” wasn’t carried for long. They’re point seems worth thinking about, though.


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