Part 1—Also, the ways we behave: How do we in our liberal tribe sometimes appear to others?
Yesterday, the New York Times published a set of letters which help us consider this question. Nicholas Kristof had written a column in which he suggested that we should trashing and loathing Trump voters with so much devotion to task.
The Times published eleven reactions to Kristof's column. Mercifully, the letters published by the Times contained an assortment of views. One letter even came from a former county co-chairman for the Trump campaign in Virginia.
Amazingly, the eleven letters the Times chose to publish didn't all say the same things. One liberal even said that we shouldn't hate Trump voters, though she does "expect them to own up to the harm they’ve done our country."
That writer's renunciation of hatred came a basic condition. Another apparent liberal explicitly said that the "left needs to stop demonizing these folks," who are "generally good, hard-working folks," though he said we need to understand "the Trump voter who votes against his or her best interests."
Was that possibly condescending? Another writer went all in on this general approach:
LETTER TO THE NEW YORK TIMES (4/10/17): It might be useful to view such voters as similar to battered wives who excuse their husbands’ violence and cruelty as their fault, or who stay with their abusers out of a twisted sense of loyalty or because they believe they have nowhere else to go. I choose to characterize these voters as suffering from “battered Trump-loyalist syndrome.” Like battered women, these voters need a safe haven, a party that is genuine about having their back.Working hard to understand, he said it might be useful to view those 63 million Trump voters as so many battered wives!
One or two liberals were a bit less passive-aggressive in their defense of Trump voters. One writer even mastered a line of thought which, within our own experience, was once being taught in ninth grade:
LETTER TO THE NEW YORK TIMES: As enlightened intelligent readers of The New York Times we know better than to make sweeping generalizations, equating Islam with terrorism, for example, to justify a Muslim ban. We know how dangerous it is to dehumanize entire groups and make them the “other,” blaming them for our ills and holding ourselves high above them.Much of that letter went unexplained, possibly due to editing. (Why aren't Trump voters "the problem?") But the writer suggested, with admirable skill, that we liberals may be selective in the way we apply our basic principles.
Then why are we treating Trump voters this way? Trump voters are not the problem. They are just an easy target. It has been heartbreaking and disheartening to review reader comments about Trump voters.
All in all, it probably doesn't make sense to issue "sweeping generalizations" about 63 million different people. According to this writer, we liberals observe this general rule in many contexts, but tend to honor it in the breach when it comes to Trump voters.
We tend to "otherize" them, she says. We act like they're all just alike.
A few of the letters gave voice to standard liberal loathing, in which the 63 million were said to be racists and/or misogynists, or were at least said to be in the grip of "racial resentment," apparently with no exceptions. That said, the Times published a varied set of letters, some of which raised interesting questions concerning the reasons for Trump's support last fall.
We expect to return to some of these letters as the week proceeds. For today, let's focus on just one, a letter from Brooklyn, right there in New York.
The writer of this letter expressed a thoroughly standard tribal view, one we've discussed several times in the recent past. You simply can't talk to Those People, he said. Why would anyone try?
LETTER TO THE NEW YORK TIMES: What makes Nicholas Kristof think that Trump supporters can be recruited by the Democratic Party? Can you recruit people who continue to support a president whose legislation if passed would threaten their very existence? Can you recruit people who still believe that President Barack Obama was not born in the United States? Can you recruit people who cannot be persuaded by rational argument and scientific evidence? Can you recruit people who take the most preposterous lies of the right-wing news media as gospel truth?That letter is wonderfully irrational. That said: in its wonderful illogic, it might help us liberals understand a key point about ourselves.
I am afraid that many if not most Trump supporters will stick with the president until the pain he will inflict upon them can no longer be tolerated.
The writer seems to express two points in his two-paragraph letter. As he starts, he suggests it's foolish even to try to recruit Trump voters, given how irrational and stupid they are Over There.
In his second paragraph, he makes a second, apparently contradictory point. He says that many Trump voters—indeed, perhaps most—will stick with their man to the end.
Can you see the problem there? For ourselves, we'd bet the house that many, perhaps even most, Trump voters will stick with their man to the end. But this formulation suggests that many other Trump voters, perhaps even most Trump voters, could in fact be lured away from their man.
According to the writer's assessment of the facts, those other Trump voters are the people who could "be recruited by the Democratic Party." And duh:
In order to flip the national outlook in a major way, Democrats don't have to persuade all Trump voters; they just have to persuade some. If Democrats could have flipped just five percent of Trump's voters last fall, Candidate Clinton would have taken the White House in a walk.
That letter's "logic" comes live and direct from the swamp of "Us and Them." Prehistoric parts of the brain tell us to split into two different tribes, and to think that Those People, the ones Over There, are in fact all alike.
When we succumb to this tribal imperative, we may picture the most loathsome of Those People, the ones Over There. We then persuade ourselves that The Others are all just like that person:
"What's the point of talking to Them?" our lizard brain then commands.
That letter was just two paragraphs long. In that short space, its writer managed to be deeply self-contradictory.
The logic of that letter was dictated by the hounds of Hell and the gods of war. At the present time, those hounds are very active Over Here, within the tents of our deeply self-impressed liberal tribe. That said:
For us Over Here in our liberal tents, that letter may help us see something important. Again and again, We liberals really aren't super-sharp—and many, many other people are fully able to see this.
Our tribe has long been self-impressed; it's a basic part of liberal culture. We constantly assure ourselves that we're the ones who are smart and good—and that the stupid, bad people are found Over There.
That very idea is basically dumb. But the idea is bred in the bone, and it's currently very active within our liberal culture.
This week, we'll look at some of the ways we liberals appear to others.
In various realms, our tribe's behavior has been increasingly strange of late. Other people can see this fact. Everyone sees it but Us.
We liberals! We look extremely good—to ourselves. For reasons which make perfect sense, that's not the way we look to many other people, a certain number of whom decided to vote for Candidate Trump last fall.
Tomorrow: What Petri couldn't hear