The Left Gaslights Us on San Francisco’s Problems

Primitive projection has become all too frequently a substitute for political debate in this country.

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Elon Musk lived in San Francisco until late 2021, when California’s lockdown policies, a serious uptick in crime rates, and a general decline in the quality of life prompted him to move Tesla to Texas.

He hasn’t regretted the decision. He recently commented on a Twitter feed about eleven major San Francisco retailers, including Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Whole Foods, closing their stores this year alone. “So many stores shuttered in downtown SF. Feels post-apocalyptic,” he tweeted. “The philosophy that led to this bleak outcome will be the end of civilization if extended to the world.”

Musk’s comments have prompted a backlash from progressives, who claim he has it all wrong about San Francisco. Last month, in the wake of the murder of Cash App founder Bob Lee, it was discovered that he was killed by someone he knew, not as part of a random act of violence. Miguel Almaguer, the local correspondent for NBC, reported that “San Francisco leaders fired back at Musk,” insisting that “the tragedy that unfolded could have happened anywhere.”

Indeed, San Francisco district attorney Brooke Jenkins lashed out at Musk for calling the city’s crime “horrific.” She said Musk’s tweets were “reckless and irresponsible” and “served to mislead the world and their perceptions of San Francisco.”

Just for the record: San Francisco lost 7.5 percent of its population between April 2020 and July 2022, a rate of decline unprecedented among major U.S. cities, including Detroit in its worst days.

Lee Ohanian, an economist at Stanford’s Hoover Institution, has calculated that San Franciscans face about a 1-in-16 chance each year of being a victim of property or violent crime. That makes it “more dangerous than 98 percent of US cities, both small and large. To put this in perspective, Compton, California, the infamous home of drug gang turf wars, and which today remains more dangerous than 90 percent of all US cities, is almost twice as safe as San Francisco.”

If that doesn’t sound like civilization being threatened, I don’t know what does.

Because of this record, the Left is pulling out all the stops in trying to distract attention from the damage San Francisco’s progressive policies have caused. Keith Humphreys, a professor of psychiatry at Stanford University, had the gall to author last year in the San Francisco Chronicle an article headlined “Soft-on-crime liberalism isn’t fueling San Francisco’s drug crisis. Libertarianism is.”

This is what is called the politics of projection — accusing others of one’s own flaws — and it’s being used by the Left everywhere, from explaining how inequality has grown under President Biden to accusing Republicans of opposing energy development by voting against the Green New Deal.

A 2019 study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that projection confuses virtually every aspect of our politics. It makes us assume a greater degree of consensus on the big moral questions than there really is. When that consensus is shown to be an illusion, it generates more hostility as “people project their own polarization onto others.”

Sadly, the more radical someone’s politics are, the more radical they imagine everybody else’s politics to be.

Of course, projection is practiced on both the left and right sides of the spectrum. Donald Trump’s penchant for attacking his opponents by projecting onto them his own personal attributes and self-assessments has been a consistent trope of his rhetoric.

Michelle Goldberg of the New York Times calls Trump a “master of projection” and noted that many Trumpian projections were uncannily predictive of his future actions as president. Examples include his roundly criticizing Mitt Romney for failing to release his tax returns and berating Barack Obama for watching too much TV in the White House and playing too much golf.

“Trump tells other people that they are what he is,” Lance Dodes, a retired assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, noted in 2019. “It’s a common enough defense mechanism in early childhood, but as an adult, using it all the time, it is what we would call primitive.”

Primitive projection has become all too frequently a substitute for political debate in this country. When I began appearing on cable TV shows in the 1990s, most guests debated me by trying to make logical arguments. Over the years, the amount of commentary of the “insult comic” variety grew. There also grew to be fewer debates — almost all cable shows now feature only one guest at a time or a completely like-minded panel.

These trends have gone hand in hand with a collapse of confidence in the media. Edelman, the world’s largest public-relations firm, conducts an annual survey on trust and credibility. In 2021, it found that less than half of Americans said they trusted the mainstream media, and 56 percent of Americans said they agreed with the following statement: “Journalists and reporters are purposely trying to mislead people by saying things they know are false or gross exaggerations.”

Click here to read the full article in the National Review


  1. And they still vote Democrat!

  2. A classic example of what you vote for you deserve. Wake up, San Franshitsco, or go woke and go broke.

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