I’ve been struggling for years to understand how it is possible that nearly half of American society admires or at least supports Donald Trump.
How are all the things I find despicable in him not merely things that people are willing to overlook, but reasons in and of themselves why people support him?
That’s what I didn’t understand until this moment.
But I believe I have now solved that mystery.
It’s like one of those magic eye illustrations, where you’re staring at a random dot stereogram forever, and then finally the embedded 3D image just pops out. And this picture of Trump’s appeal is really best understood in comparison with the messaging of his opponents on the left.
So to take the Trump half of this picture:
One thing that Trump never communicates—and cannot possibly communicate—is a sense of his moral superiority. The man is totally without sanctimony. Even when his every utterance is purposed towards self-aggrandizement. Even when he appears to be denigrating his supporters. Even when he’s calling himself a genius—he is never actually communicating that he is better than you. More enlightened. More decent. Because he’s not. And everyone knows it.
The man is just a bundle of sin and gore, and he never pretends to be anything more. Perhaps more importantly, he never even aspires to be anything more. And because of this, because he is never really judging you—he can’t possibly judge you—he offers a truly safe space for human frailty, and hypocrisy, and self-doubt. He offers what no priest can credibly offer: a total expiation of shame.
His personal shamelessness is a kind of spiritual balm.
Trump is fat Jesus. He’s grab-them-by-the-pussy Jesus. He’s I’ll-eat-nothing-but-cheeseburgers-if-I-want-to Jesus. He’s I-wanna-punch-them-in-the-face Jesus. He’s go-back-to-your-shithole-countries Jesus. He’s no-apologies Jesus.
And now consider the other half of this image—what are we getting from the left?
We’re getting exactly the opposite message. Pure sanctimony. Pure judgement.
You are not good enough. You’re guilty, not only for your own sins, but for the sins of your fathers. The crimes of slavery and colonialism are on your head. And if you’re a cis, white, heterosexual male (which we know is the absolute core of Trump’s support) you’re a racist, homophobic, transphobic, Islamaphobic, sexist barbarian. Tear down those statues, and bend the fucking knee.
It’s the juxtaposition of those two messages that is so powerful.
Sam Harris, Making Sense #224, November 2, 2020
I would implore everybody who’s celebrating today to remember, it’s good to be a humble winner. Remember when I was here four years ago? Remember how bad that felt? Remember that half the country right now still feels that way. Please remember that. Remember that for the first time in the history of America, the life expectancy of white people is dropping. Because of heroin, because of suicide. All these white people out there that feel that anguish, that pain. They're mad, because they think nobody cares. And maybe they don’t. Let me tell you something: I know how that feels. I promise you, I know how that feels. You’re a police officer. Every time you put your uniform on, you feel like you’ve got a target on your back. You’re appalled by the ingratitude that people have when you would risk your life to save them. Oh, man. Believe me. Believe me, I know how that feels. Everyone knows how that feels. But here’s the difference between me and you. You guys hate each other for that. And I don’t hate anybody. I just hate that feeling. That’s what I fight through. That’s what I suggest you fight through. You got to find a way to live your life. Got to find a way to forgive each other. Got to find a way to find joy in your existence in spite of that feeling. And if you can’t do that—come get these nigger lessons.
Thank you very much and good night!
[Cheers and applause]
Dave Chappelle, Saturday Night Live, November 2020
All participants are welcome. We do not dehumanize, stereotype, or caricature anyone who seeks our services.
Lack of wholeness is the heartbeat of racism. Another way to think about this is to remember that racism is a form of extremism and extremism breeds in a vacuum. Dr. Maya Angelou's teachings state that dehumanizing a person because of bad behavior—real or perceived—leads to more bad behavior, not less.
More specifically, she teaches that a person cannot develop character unless they are valued. As such, we wholeheartedly reject the corrosive and dangerous teachings embedded in the philosophies of Robin DiAngelo (i.e., 'White Fragility') and others who maintain zero-sum modes of thinking about race. We believe in the principles of restorative justice, reconciliation, and The Beloved Community, as articulated by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Chloé Valdary's Theory of Enchantment
Conversations with Coleman Episode 8, March 2020
In the United States right now, as many people have noticed, we are seeing a huge escalation of our long running culture war. Unfortunately, universities are all right in the heart of that. So the right, and especially right wing media, love to show video clips of students saying outrageous things. They love to say that universities are bastions of political correctness—they've lost their minds.
The left is motivated to say, no, there's not a problem, there's nothing going on, it's just that the right hates ideas, they hate universities. What Greg and I do in the book is we say, "No, we're going to cut through the culture war. Let's just look at what's going on, let's look at what a university should do." And so when we talk about identity politics, which is a controversial topic, we start by saying of course you need identity politics. Identity politics is not a bad thing automatically. Politics can be based on any distinction. It can be based on any group interest. So for gay students or black students or women to organize, that's identity politics, that's perfectly legitimate. The question is, how are they organizing? What's the overarching framework? And we've seen two versions of it in American history. You can do it the way most of the civil rights leaders did it—Martin Luther King in particular—where you draw a larger circle around the group, you emphasize what we have in common and then you say some of our brothers and sisters are being denied equal access, equal opportunity or equal dignity. That works. That has worked historically in much tougher times and zones and that works and will work on college campuses.
The other way you do it, which is growing on college campuses, is common-enemy identity politics. It's based on the Bedouin notion: "Me against my brother, me and my brother against our cousin, me my brother and cousin against the stranger." It's a very general principle of social psychology. If you try to unite people: "Let's all unite against them. They're the bad people. They're the cause of the problems. Let's all stick together." That's a really dangerous thing to do in a multiethnic society, especially in a university where we're actually all trying to work together to solve the problem.
We have to work on our speech climate. In the business world it's called speak up culture. In the academic world it's called just basic openness to ideas.
When you put people together and you want them to talk, of course people have a lot of different goals and fears. Nobody wants to say something stupid, nobody wants to say something that will get them into trouble. If you can create a really trusting environment in which we're all in this together, contribute your ideas. If someone says something you think is wrong, say so. That's going to lead to more innovation. That's going to lead to more progress.
But what if you have an environment in which if I say something that offends anyone they can report me anonymously to HR or some other entity. I'm going to think three times before I speak up. That's what we have on campus. In the bathrooms at my university there are signs telling students how to report me anonymously if I say anything that offends them. So I don't feel free to speak up when I'm on campus. I can speak more openly off-campus, but on campus I have to watch myself. As one student said to a friend of mine, "My motto is silence is safer. Just shut up and you won't get in trouble." Now this is a terrible speech climate. A university cannot function if people are defensive in this way. So in universities, in organizations that value innovation we have to not just encourage people to speak, we have to assure them that they're not going to be shamed, humiliated or punished for sharing an opinion in good faith.
We have a culture war raging all around us. It's very easy to take offense. People are understandably angry. Here within these walls we have to put that aside. We have to trust each other. We have to give each other the benefit of the doubt. And it's going to be good for all of us to do that.
Jonathan Haidt, Big Think, December 2018
For activists seeking reform, the lesson is to find common ground. Marches and rallies are good for energizing your “team,” but as Columbia University professor of humanities Mark Lilla points out in his book The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics, they are not enough to bring about lasting change. You have to win elections to do that, and to win elections, you have to draw in very large numbers of people from diverse groups. Lilla argues that the left did that successfully from the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt through the Great Society era of the 1960s, but then it took a wrong turn into a new, more divisive, and less successful kind of politics:
Instead they threw themselves into the movement politics of identity, losing a sense of what we share as citizens and what binds us as a nation. An image for Roosevelt liberalism and the unions that supported it was that of two hands shaking. A recurring image of identity liberalism is that of a prism refracting a single beam of light into its constituent colors, producing a rainbow. This says it all.
Yet appeals to common humanity still work just as well today as when Dr. King made them. On September 16, 2017, on the National Mall in Washington, DC, a group of Trump supporters organized a rally they called “the Mother of All Rallies Patriot Unification Gathering.” Counterprotesters from Black Lives Matter (BLM) showed up and shouted at the Trump supporters. The Trump supporters shouted back. Someone onstage told the Trump supporters to pay no attention to the counterprotesters: “They don’t exist,” he said. Hawk Newsome, the leader of the BLM counterprotesters, later said that he expected to “stand there with [his] fist in the air in a very militant way and to exchange insults.” Tensions mounted, and onlookers recorded video of the potentially explosive situation. Then the Trump rally organizer, who goes by the name Tommy Gunn, took the stage. “It’s about freedom of speech,” he said. And in an unexpected move, he invited Newsome and other BLM supporters onto the stage. “We’re going to give you two minutes of our platform to put your message out,” Gunn told Newsome. “Now, whether they disagree or agree with your message is irrelevant. It’s the fact that you have the right to have the message.”
Newsome took the stage. “I am an American,” he began, and the crowd cheered. “And the beauty of America is that when you see something broke in your country, you can mobilize to fix it.” But then, as he spoke about a black man being killed by police, the crowd began to turn on him. They booed. “Shut up! That was a criminal!” a woman shouted. Newsome explained, “We are not anti-cop!” “Yes, you are!” people shouted. “We’re anti–bad cop!” Newsome insisted. He still seemed to be losing them. “We don’t want handouts,” he told the crowd. “We don’t want anything that is yours. We want our God-given right to freedom, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Now they were coming back around. People cheered. Someone in the crowd shouted, “All lives matter!” which is usually intended as a rebuke to those who say that “black lives matter.” But Newsome responded in the tradition of Pauli Murray, by drawing a larger circle around everyone in the crowd: “You’re right, my brother, you’re right. You are so right. All lives matter, right? But when a black life is lost, we get no justice. That is why we say ‘black lives matter.’ ... If we really want to make America great, we do it together.”
The crowd cheered and chanted “USA-USA ... ” In an instant, the two groups were no longer “us” and “them.” Their ideological differences remained, but within that larger circle around them, their enmity melted away. And, at least for a short while, they interacted as fellow human beings and fellow Americans. “It kind of restored my faith,” Newsome said when interviewed afterward. “Two sides that never listen to each other actually made progress today.” One of the leaders of Bikers for Trump came up to Newsome afterward and shook his hand. The two men talked and then posed for a photo together, with Newsome holding the other man’s young son cradled in his arm.
Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure