“When I first found out I was going to Amsterdam, I thought I had been there before, even though I hadn’t, because I’m not very good at geography, and I thought Amsterdam was in Belgium. It’s not. It’s in the Netherlands.”
That’s a direct quote from an article that jejune CNN pundit Sally Kohn wrote last year for a travel website. Her honesty about her ignorance is almost charming. But the ignorance itself is so staggering, on the part of somebody in her position, that it totally cancels out the charm.
This is, after all, as we saw yesterday, a commentator who’s been described as one of “the 100 most influential pundits on television” and as “the 35th most influential LGBT person in the media.” Her professional background, as we further observed yesterday, has been entirely in activism and political commentary. As far as we can tell from her CV, she has spent little or no time studying such topics as history or (as she herself admitted in that travel article) geography.
The thing is this: if Kohn didn’t know that Amsterdam is in the Netherlands, imagine how much else she doesn’t know. It’s one thing not to be able to explain the difference between Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, or between Guinea and Guinea-Bissau. But Amsterdam and the Netherlands play a central role in modern history, in Western history, and – indeed – in American history. If she didn’t know that Amsterdam is in the Netherlands, that means that there’s a whole swath of basic Western historical fact that must be a total mystery to her.
Put it this way: if you don’t know that Amsterdam is in the Netherlands, then you can’t possibly have even a vague awareness of the crucial role of the Netherlands in the settling of the New World and the founding of the United States. You can’t possibly be aware of the place of the Dutch Republic in the rise of modern freedom, modern capitalism, and modern commerce – at least not aware enough to deserve a job spouting opinions on CNN. Because if you want to even start to try to understand how the world works today, and why some parts of it work so much better than others, and how things came to be this way, you need to know enough history to be aware, at the very least, that Amsterdam is, in fact, in the Netherlands.
This is not to suggest that Kohn is alone at the top in her woeful ignorance. All too many young (and not so young) reporters and pundits nowadays seem to know remarkably little about what happened in history before they were, say, in high school. (Kohn’s CNN colleague Wolf Blitzer, for example, is a certified buffoon who put in one of the most humiliating performances ever on a dumbed-down celebrity edition of Jeopardy.) But even in this crowd, Kohn seems to be a special kind of ignorant. In July, she tweeted angrily about “white guys with AK-15s conducting mass shootings.” When some of her followers pointed out that there’s no such thing as an AK-15, she insisted it was a typo and doubled down on the ranting.
In May, Kohn wrote an article for Time complaining about what she called the “Bernie Bros” – in other words, male Bernie Sanders enthusiasts who were being unruly at public events. She couldn’t figure out why Bernie boosters, most of whom by definition, in her view, have “a deep commitment to non-violence,” should be conducting themselves in such a barbaric fashion. After all, she argued, it’s the Donald Trump camp that is “not entirely but definitely largely based on implicitly violent denigration of Mexicans and Muslims.”
How can a person in her position be so historically unaware? Before the Sanders campaign fizzled out, Kohn was an all-out supporter of the senator from Vermont – a dyed-in-the-wool socialist who’s repeatedly praised the Castro regime in Cuba, who’s hailed the Chávez and Maduro governments (and refused to comment on their utter destruction of the Venezuelan economy), and who, so deep was his faith, even honeymooned in the Soviet Union. The nature of Sanders’s convictions is, and has been throughout his political journey, crystal clear. But instead of recognizing the simple fact that the tenets of Sanders’s ideology have always been utterly inextricable from the most monstrous kind of violence, Kohn embraced in her Time article the absurd claim – which that ideology has always made for itself – that it is ardently anti-violence.
So ideology-bound is Kohn, in other words, that in her piece for Time she simply couldn’t put leftism and violence together and make it compute. So what did she do? She reached for the closest ideologically acceptable explanation for the violence of the “Bernie Bros,” and attributed it to that comfortable bogeyman, “white male anger.”
Here’s how she put it: “in the past and present of America it is impossible to disentangle white male anger from gender and racial bias and resentment.”
Ah, there we go. How sweet, to feel that tension dissipate! How easy, when you consistently place ideology above reality, to be able to sweep away the plain and simple facts with the same old comforting, reassuring lies!
But we’ve only begun to plumb the depths of Sally Kohn’s superficiality. More tomorrow.