THE WAGES OF OTHERIZATION: Are we possibly helping the Others win?


Megan McArdle wonders: Long ago and far away, David French offered some good sound advice.

Actually, it happened on September 30, in this essay for The Atlantic.

Trust but verify, French basically said. Intriguingly, he was prescribing the way we blue tribe or red tribe voters should assess our own reactions and beliefs:

FRENCH (9/30/22): We’re all vulnerable to our own animosities. We’re all far more prone to believe allegations against opponents than we are to believe allegations against allies. What must we do to counter this temptation? I like a rule established by a person who follows me on Twitter: “The more I emotionally like the vibe or content of a tweet,” they wrote, “the less I should trust its veracity.”

This is good practice. Be skeptical of your instincts and desires; they’re tainted by bias... 

"Hatred Makes Fools of Us All," French's headline said. We'll replace "hatred" with a gentler term: 

Strongly-held tribal belief.

Can "strongly-held tribal belief" perhaps make fools of us all? Even after making that adjustment, it seems to us that the answer is yes.

For that reason, we should inspect and question our own reactions, not just those of the Others! French offered that theory at The Atlantic. We'd call it good sound advice.

It's certainly true that our own strong beliefs can blind us to basic realities. We expect to return to Jemele Hill's recent essay for The Atlantic with that basic premise in mind. 

In her own essay for The Atlantic, Hill said she found Herschel Walker's candidacy for the Senate to be "insulting." In yesterday's report, we asked if it's possible that such reactions—however understandable they might be—might even help Walker gain votes.

Why the heck would we think such a thing? In today's Washington Post, Megan McArdle explores a similar possibility.

McArdle had watched Arizona's gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake at a recent rally. After seeing Lake express the ardor of her support for Donald J. Trump, McArdle had this reaction:

MCARDLE (10/12/22): It’s such a fascinating moment, and not just because it so neatly encapsulates the evolution of Republican politics in the Trump era. It also suggests a reason for why that politics is so effective—and why mainstream Washington’s frantic attempts to anathematize the Trumpian style might paradoxically have increased its appeal.

Say what? Had mainstream Washington's frantic attempts to anathematize Trump actually increased his appeal? 

For the record, that's not a new idea. As she continued, McArdle counted herself as a possible part of that possible problem:

MCARDLE (continuing directly): I was part of those mainstream efforts; I spent years arguing that Trump’s impulsivity and his savage attacks on everyone from Gold Star parents to the physically disabled ought to have disqualified him from higher office. Like most of my colleagues in the media, I was astonished to find that this only made his voters love him more. Many observers concluded that this must be because Trump’s voters were simply awful bigots who loved meanness for its own sake. (“The cruelty is the point,” Adam Serwer wrote in 2018 for the Atlantic.)

According to McArdle, "many observers" came to believe—and to express—the worst about Trump's (ten of millions of) voters. 

"Presumably, they’re right in some cases," McArdle said as she continued. "There are bad apples in any large political movement."

That said, are there any "bad apples" within our own tribe's political movement? 

We'd be inclined to stay away from such moral denunciations, but in recent days, the news from Los Angeles has made it clear that people can make mistakes, and betray imperfect attitudes, across the political spectrum.

As she continued, McArdle developed a thesis which strikes us as being perhaps too complex by half. That said, she ended with a sensible assessment of where certain aspects of Blue Tribe Tribal Judgment can only enhance the appeal of candidates like Walker or Trump:

MCARDLE: Trump’s norm violations functioned as what game theorists call a “credible commitment,” enabling voters to trust him even if he wasn’t particularly trustworthy. And ironically, the establishment boosted that signal by proving that we considered him utterly anathema, absolutely beyond the pale. We thought we were helping to minimize the threats Trump posed to the system, but the very vehemence of our rejection might actually have increased his power.

In McArdle's assessment, the vehemence of [blue tribe] rejection might actually have heightened Trump's power and his appeal. Again, this isn't a new speculation. But at this point, as disaster approaches, it's probably worth considering all over again.

The vehemence of [blue tribe] rejection of Trump might have increased his appeal? So it may be with certain types of rejection of Candidate Walker. 

When we read Hill's essay in The Atlantic, we had that very thought about Hill's reaction to the fact that Walker may actually end up winning his Senate race. Her reaction may be perfectly understandable, but that doesn't mean that it helps.

Along the way, we've sometimes suggested that liberal partisans should "try a little tenderness" on the rare occasion. Maybe we should even stop assuming, and even saying or suggesting, that the Others are a gang of howling racists / misogynists / homophobes / and everything else that's bad.

Maybe we should try imagining a somewhat different possibility—the possibility that someone can disagree with our own reactions and views without being a howling bigot.

Let's be clear! Hill, a good and decent person, didn't make such unfortunate claims in her recent essay. Still, her essay made us think back to what French had said. 

Especially at tribalized times like these, we're all inclined to have certain instant reactions. We should examine our own beliefs and reactions first, French somewhat wisely said.

Tomorrow: The prophet Maddow's return


  1. Can hardball politics come back to bite you? Obviously yes.
    Is Bob who almost exclusively
    examines one side, and refuses to
    seriously examine the Country
    destroying lawlessness of Donald
    Trump in any position to judge what
    is hardball? Obviously not.
    Bob used to chastise liberals
    who held their fire ( we just sit here
    and take it!!) though he has abandoned this in more recent
    years. My observation is that
    being too tame is not politically
    Effective either. Then there is
    the whole matter of looking
    the other way at running at
    mental defective who terrorized
    his family. OK with Bob, of
    course, But the real question is
    If the Dems are hitting it
    hard enough.


  2. Oh dear. If you, dear Bob, only just now noticed that both the tactics and strategy of your liberal cult is pure hate-mongering, then you're a total fool. And a sucker.

    Just watch Tulsi Gabbard saying: "I can no longer remain in today's Democratic Party that is now under the complete control of an elitist cabal of warmongers driven by cowardly wokeness, who divide us by racialising every issue & stoke anti-white racism, actively work to undermine our God-given freedoms, are hostile to people of faith & spirituality, demonise the police & protect criminals at the expense of law-abiding Americans, believe in open borders, weaponise the national security state to go after political opponents, and above all, dragging us ever closer to nuclear war."

    But hey, we sure hope you're proud of being part of that cabal.

    1. Gabbard's support for an annual defense budget of $100 Million is what has people talking about her as a national candidate.

    2. Mao is an Other.

    3. Mao is a gay man living in an area that rejects the very notion of his existence, so let's cut him some slack.

  3. “Trump posed to the system, but the very vehemence of our rejection might actually have increased his power.”

    Two years later and you can bet that everyone under twenty-five thinks Trump is still the president and has never heard the utterance of the name Biden.

    1. Somerby seems unaware that Trump lost in 2020 and 2016, and only became President with Russia & Comey’s interference, not because of anything Dems did.

    2. Anonymous1:52pm, the entire media is unaware that Trump lost the election.

      Trump is still the predominate focus of…every…freaking…thing.

    3. This is not true.

    4. Exhibit A, Jemele Hill knows Trump lost the election, and she is not talking about him at all.
      Exhibit B, Charles Blow knows Trump lost the election and he is not talking about him at all.
      Need I go on?

    5. Focusing on Trump is a net positive for Dems, electorally-speaking.

      Trump lost by the largest margin in history in 2020, lost with Congress in the 2018 blue wave, etc.

      Somerby asks if anti-Trumpism and woke-ism actually increased his appeal; it is an odd question since Trump keeps losing elections, and look at his rallies, they are becoming tiny. There is no evidence to support Somerby's claim.

      Somerby as usual does not bother to provide any evidence for his nonsense claim, but curiously quotes an opinion piece which counters his claim, quote:

      "I was astonished to find that this only made his voters love him more"

      Who cares if his voters love him more, they are already his voters. Duh! Also there is no way to know this, no way to measure this, but whatever.

      Evidence indicates that Dems need to focus on motivating their own voters through notions like identity politics, calling out right wingers for their various oppressions, being woke, and fighting against right wing interference that inhibits voting.

    6. Also, Dems need to support abortion rights (choice), immigration reform to reduce the atrocities and reinstate the Dream program for kids brought to the USA by parents at a young age, support our struggling schools by helping them address covid disruptions and hire more teachers, protect medicare and social security from cuts promised if Republicans gain a majority, and support Biden in his efforts to deal with climate change, Ian relief, lowering gas prices and inflation, and helping people still affected by covid.

      Democrats have lots of policy issues and programs we can discuss that will motivate voters. Trump is a distraction.

    7. Blow and Hill are relentlessly talking about Trump and the dangers he poses. So are French and McArdle.

      Here’s another tip- Blow was calling DeSantis a racist.

    8. McArdle does talk about Trump but Blow talks about DiSantis and Hill talks about Walker. McArdle wasn’t listed as an exhibit.

    9. trump motivates Dems to vote, focusing on trump is effective for Dems

      sorry this upsets some of you

    10. Anonymouse 10:37pm, is the media supposed to be involved in getting out the vote for Democrats?

      What intrigues me is that Trump is still the single most valuable figure in the country.

      He gets out the vote for Democrats and coalesces them against a villain.

      He makes money for the media as an endless source of strong emotions and interest.

      He is a touchstone to conservatives as to how alienated we are from every power base and are played by leaders in our party.

      It’s astounding that this flawed man is a Rorschach test for the country’s national life.

      He will influence politics and campaigns for years to come as he remains one sort of symbol or another.

      There’s not a cross, stake or silver bullet that will stop this now, trials and investigations will add to the momentum. That’s why it’s going to all out war for years to come.

      What’s happened with Trump is the equivalent of several 9/11s.

  4. Hill apparently didn’t do or say anything hateful but Somerby has been talking about her negatively for days. Why single her out? We all know, but according to Somerby, we aren’t allowed to say without electing both Walker and Trump. That must be the power of Dem words! Wish it worked the same way when MAGAs spew hate at us. All our candidates should be winning. But that isn’t how it works. So why would Somerby urge us to let up on campaigning against Walker?

    I’ll tell you who is untrustworthy around here. Hint: it isn’t our instincts about MAGA candidates.

    1. Because what Hill said about Walker’s candidacy ties in with David French’s piece on partisan animosity and Megan McArdle’s piece on the possible consequence of such a political environment.


    2. Just because Somerby talks about all three doesn’t mean they are actually linked.

    3. Somerby "links" Bob Dylan's Pity the poor immigrant with Donald Trump. That doesn't mean there is any connection between them. He has what are termed "loose associations," which means things are linked without any connection beyond some personal meaning asigned by Somerby himself, and never explained. When you follow him blindly down his rabbit hole, you are not exercising any critical thought whatsoever. This is how people become supporters of Q or Trump, by accepting what they say at face value, without thinking about it. Don't be that guy, Cecelia.

    4. Anonymouse7:12pm, this is such nonsense. You never agree with anything blogged here. That’s not your purpose.

      This is a blog by a person who is not a professional commentator. He expresses his thoughts and his feelings in the way that he thinks and feels them. With all the associations that are meaningful to him.

      Some people are actually informed and/or entertained by TDH. They ‘re happy to walk down whatever mental path the blogger is traveling. They’re interested whether they agree with his sentiments and conclusions or think that he’s out in the bushes.

      You’re not able to do this. At one point you may have been free, but the self-image that you base upon social morality and the imperatives that come from this ethos of public goodness, have made you too fervent and vehement to tolerate it now. You can’t assent to a non-programmed psychological amble with this blogger, strolling thru his impressions and concerns. Hearing his take on things, rather than THE correct take.

      Of course you don’t accept any of this blog at face value. It doesn’t have your face stamped on it. Doesn’t have your gold star of what to think. It doesn’t speak of you and your great goodness.

    5. Nice try, but what you’ve written is word salad. I don’t follow lying bigots trying to subvert liberal politics. I perhaps cannot save you but I don’t have to leave your ignorant remarks uncorrected. If you suspend your critical faculty you get taken in, by Somerby and by Trump. Use your brain.

    6. They are not linked, no one has proof they are linked, the evidence suggests just the opposite.

      In the multiverse, all possibilities occur, but here on Earth, that is not the case, and you can't make a credible case on "possible consequences".

      2:06 makes a crucial point, if you follow Somerby's logic, Republicans are constantly empowering Dems and causing voters to switch to Dems.

      Somerby and his fanboys, they are all laughable.

  5. Emotions are not the same as strongly held beliefs. There is little to be gained by confusing them, as Somerby does today.

  6. Yes, Trump supporters are dissuaded by no arguments and they love him more when he is attacked, no matter what claim about him.

    But we Dems didn't convince these Trump supporters to support Trump. They didn't become supporters because of what we said about Trump or anything we did. That is where Somerby and McArdle get lost in their own ideas. Dems don't create Trump voters by campaigning on their own issues and platform, for our own candidates. Nor do we make Trump supporters out of independents or undecideds when we criticize Trump.

    People become Trump supporters because they have always been Republicans, or they have a conversion experience at a rally much like evangelicals at tent meetings, or they watch Fox News and absorb the lies about Democrats and thus feel they have no choice. But none of that involving Democrats pushing them into Trump's arms. This is Somerby's attempt to keep Democrats from getting out the vote right before a crucial election. Don't be fooled.

    1. I appreciate your comments but can you back up these claims with data? Focus groups with voters contradict may of the claims you've made here. Eg. "these voters wanted to change the status quo and had skeptical views of Congressional Republicans and their proposals. The same focus groups also indicated that these voters hoped then-President Trump would help reduce health care costs for working-class Americans, and that they were anxious about some immigrant groups."

    2. Try this:

      Focus groups with voters tell you what the voters themselves believe about their choices, but that may not be why they are doing what they do. No one will say, for example, I voted for Trump because I am a huge racist and Trump makes that OK to be. They will say, I think Trump will be good for business. It is important to combine focus group info with other forms of research into why voters make decisions.

    3. I see that I forgot to mention that some Trump supporters have social resentments that Trump allows them to express, and like it when he is blunt, aggressive and "owns the libs".

    4. “ these voters hoped then-President Trump would help reduce health care costs for working-class Americans”

      How’d that work out? LOL.

    5. Your link doesn't present any data.

    6. This article is all about Trump making economic appeals to working class voters who feel left behind when HRC did not.

    7. "when HRC did not"
      You probably don't remember her making that argument, because the "liberal media", which is owned by corporations, relies on the the ad dollars they make from privately funded elections and the tax breaks they get from Republicans was so in the bag for her, they instead showed an empty podium awaiting Trump when she made her speech.
      Funny that a media criticism blog doesn't mention this more.

    8. brother, please, you are bringing a butter knife to a gunfight?

      A focus group? that is laughable, and not credible evidence, certainly not "data"

      at best, interview polls indicate that a tiny percent of voters change their party registration, but that says nothing about how they have voted

      furthermore, focus groups, interview polls and surveys all have methodioogical issues that make their "data" not reliable

      there is no credible evidence that persuasion plays any role in electoral politics

    9. Trump spoke to rural voter's values and insecurities, and Hillary Clinton didn’t.

    10. Trump made promises he couldn’t keep and Hillary didn’t.

    11. Trump voters are still insecure about black peoples votes being counted in elections. Trump's Presidency did nothing to change that.

    12. Next time Clinton should actually visit the states she wants to win.