Archived Opinion

The Left still has something to learn about tolerance

op frI’ve been observing something for years — though recently it has snowballed  — and it has always struck me as hypocritical: the intolerance of progressive liberals toward conservatives who hold diametrically opposing political and social views. The hypocrisy, of course, is that progressives espouse a philosophy of tolerance and openness. Bring a climate change denier, an evangelical Christian or a supply side, free market capitalist to the party, however, and many of my liberal friends will write off said individual’s political and social commentary before they’ve tossed back their first IPA.

Of course, it’s easier to spot this shortcoming in liberals because they like to talk about how important it is not to marginalize any segment of the population. Many conservatives have no problem blaming the country’s problems on Muslims, immigrants, the poor, or the politically correct transgender crowd, so we progressives barely raise an eyebrow when Donald Trump makes another outlandish statement about deporting tens of millions of immigrants. He never claimed to be tolerant, and neither did his supporters.

New York Times Columnist Nicholas Kristoff’s May 7 column titled “A Confession of Liberal Intolerance” contained excerpts and data from several studies that upheld this observation: “We progressives believe in diversity, and we want women, blacks, Latinos, gays and Muslims at the table — er, so long as they aren’t conservatives.”

With North Carolina embroiled in a fight over HB2, Western Carolina University wrestling with how to control the potential influence of accepting a large donation from a very politically active conservative organization, and Donald Trump slinging barbs at everyone from women to Muslims, many liberal thinking folks are in a tizzy, finding a lot of opportunities to channel their sanctimonious arrogance toward those they disagree with.

Perhaps, as Kristoff argues, it may be time for liberals to add a few more chairs to the table. He singled out higher education in particular: “Universities are the bedrock of progressive values, but the one kind of diversity that universities disregard is ideological and religious. We’re fine with people who don’t look like us, as long as they think like us.”

Just recently an article by former N.C. Gov. James “Jim” Martin, a Republican, has been published in several state newspapers. Martin argued that perhaps the best solution to the HB2 quagmire might be for those on both sides of the issue to sit down at the proverbial table and actually listen to the other side:

Related Items

“What can we do now? First, both sides need to take time to listen to each other. We might learn how some young people have great difficulty dealing with their anatomy and hormones, in ways most of us could never begin to understand. Denying access to our state courts for protection leaves them vulnerable to harm from bullies. Our courts should be open for civil judgment. Hate crimes should be defined in enforceable law.

“On the other hand, we might learn also that some people have had terrible experiences with sexual predators, and are fearful of laws that could make it easier for one to slip into girls’ locker rooms. It is not fear of transgender individuals, who have probably already been using such facilities without incident. (In almost 80 years of occasional visits to public bathrooms, I have never once dared to check out the qualifications of those standing next to me, and doubt that you have.)”

Once again, an admonition to sit down together and listen, coming from someone with age and, hopefully, wisdom.

I cut my teeth on political discourse with a cast of characters from my two years in East Dorm at Appalachian State University. Three or four nights a week we got together and talked and argued about girls and music, played backgammon and drinking games, and got heavy into political conversations that would too often go too late into the night. I haven’t kept up with any of that crowd — the Q Man, Mike Lackey, Stinky Pugh, Gregory FM Cuddy, Andy Standar, and the now well-known writer Stephen Dubner (of Freakonomics fame), among others — but we would get loud and fired up talking about the coming of Ronald Reagan and the where this country was headed. And we definitely did not come from similar political backgrounds.

But we went to our separate rooms as friends, enlightened by the exchange of ideas and passionately held opinions. I respected them. And that’s what bothers me about many of my liberal friends — lack of respect for opposing views. I know too many very, very smart conservative men and women with whom I disagree with on a whole lot of issues. But I take their views seriously.

Beat your ideological foes with the vigor of your argument and your intelligence, not by relegating them and their opinions to second-class status. Otherwise, it’s just the pot, kettle, black thing.

(Scott McLeod can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

Leave a comment

Smokey Mountain News Logo
Go to top
Payment Information


At our inception 20 years ago, we chose to be different. Unlike other news organizations, we made the decision to provide in-depth, regional reporting free to anyone who wanted access to it. We don’t plan to change that model. Support from our readers will help us maintain and strengthen the editorial independence that is crucial to our mission to help make Western North Carolina a better place to call home. If you are able, please support The Smoky Mountain News.

The Smoky Mountain News is a wholly private corporation. Reader contributions support the journalistic mission of SMN to remain independent. Your support of SMN does not constitute a charitable donation. If you have a question about contributing to SMN, please contact us.