The Polarizing Rhetoric of the Left is Scary
We are living in a world of mistakes, and we must let people atone
Of all the things that fill me with fear about the future, it is the language of those who share my underlying philosophies that worry me the most.
[A]s others have pointed out, every Trump supporter has heard his rhetoric about people of color and women and decided that that is acceptable on some level. So yes, you’re all racist and sexist. Every last one of you.
Hillary Clinton may have been unwise to say half of Donald Trump’s supporters are racists and other “deplorables.” But she wasn’t wrong.
There’s a mistaken belief that hate is the new normal and we on the left will just have to get used to it.
Good luck with that.
There is a liberal push to demonize Trump supporters. While a certain segment of the population has been radicalized by his election (a section of the population Trump has openly spoken out against, incidentally) the liberal blogosphere has seized on the actions of a few to condemn almost half of America.
The argument typically goes “even if supporters didn’t vote for Trump for racist/sexist reasons, they were willing to vote in a racist and misogynist which makes them equally culpable.” The thing is, we don’t really know why people voted for Trump. Liberals and conservatives get very different messaging in their news; we don’t actually know what information people were getting, and we don’t actually know the reasoning behind their votes.
My father, who lives in Virginia where you encounter Trump supporters in the wild, was talking to his hairdresser about the election. She believed Bill and Hillary Clinton were responsible for the deaths of 33 people.
“You can’t actually believe that?” my father said to her, but she did. You can call her wrong, you can call her ignorant, you can call her whatever you want. But, if you believed — if you really believed — that Hillary Clinton and her husband had killed 33 people, wouldn’t that crime be far worse than anything Trump had ever done?
If you thought you were picking between a racist and a murderer, who would you choose?
There exist things are worst than verbal racism and there exist things that are worse than grabbing pussies. Silently “disappearing” your political opponents is one of them. Many people who knew of Trump’s racism and misogyny may have legitimately believed that Clinton was capable of things that were worse. Now, this is highly unfortunate because I don’t think the Clintons did any of those things. (They just knew so many people, some of them were bound to die in weird circumstances.) But, I can think of reasons why someone who is not racist and sexist might vote for Trump.
I’m not saying that no Trump supporters are racist/sexist/whatever; I’m saying that voting for Trump does not necessarily make you so. However, many liberals are trying to cast Trump supporters as a homogenous group of “deplorable” human beings.
And, that is very disturbing for reasons that go beyond simple failure of imagination.
This is the language of people who are preparing for violence. When reading about self defense (after receiving some threatening communications) I was learning how to predict if someone will be violent with you. In his book The Gift of Fear, Gavin de Becker defines the “JACA” framework for predicting if someone will become violent. JACA stands for:
Essentially, for someone to get violent they have to 1. justify to themselves why someone deserves punishment, 2. have no alternative that can move them towards their desired goal, 3. be willing to tolerate the believed consequences that will come with using violence and 4. have the ability to deliver such violence.
I view this liberal rhetoric demonizing Trump supporters to be step 1, or the justification step, that will potentially clear the way for the later steps to be taken. And, as it turns out, many Trump supporters have been beaten up. When the justification rhetoric is widely disseminated in the media, this is an additional step that does not have to be taken by individuals who may want to commit violence. It leads to increased incidents of violence among people who have the ability to take the later 3 steps themselves.
Now, many people might retort “well, Trump and his supporters spread a similar justification rhetoric against minorities” to which I’d say yes. Yes some of them have, with similarly violent consequences. However, responding to such rhetoric with similar rhetoric will only escalate the situation.
When the Washington Post describes the tactics Russia uses to influence foreign elections (and the tactics they anticipate it will use on Germany,) they point out Russia uses not only uses hacking and dissemination of false news stories. It also financially supports BOTH far right and far left groups.
Not that hacking is the only tactic. Earlier this year, Russian media and pro-Russian trolls helped to create online hysteria by promoting a fake story of a Russian girl allegedy raped by a Syrian immigrant. Russia has also offered financial and moral support to Germany’s far-right and far-left parties, just as it does in France, Italy and elsewhere in Europe.
It’s notable that Russia, when choosing to sow disorder, does not choose one group over the other. Rather, by supporting both the far right AND the far left, Russia weakens a country by destroying unity. And, I don’t know of Russia’s involvement in the US, but this is happening right here right now. America’s right and left have pulled so far apart that they America has become divided, and as it is divided, it is also weakened.
So, what can we do?
Well, the first step, is Americans have to stop turning against other Americans. While you can condemn the behavior of another person, you should not condemn the person. Condemning a person, marking them as “the other” or “less than,” sets the stage for violence against that person. However, condemning someone’s behavior without marking them as “bad” allows them chance for reform. If you explain why the behavior someone is doing is counterproductive, they may reform it.
If you demonize someone as terrible they will (correctly) perceive that you are setting the stage for violence against them and they will fight you. When people believe they are in danger they will become radicalized. Far from neutralizing the threat of racially motivated violence, the polarizing rhetoric of the left actually increases the likelihood of it because this rhetoric itself will be used by the right to justify violence against the left.
As you can see, this is a self perpetuating cycle we are currently caught in. It will require people from both sides coming together to stop it. “Hate the sin, love the sinner” as the Christians say. Keep any critique of your opponents restricted to their behavior with the underlying assumption that they are good people who got turned around somewhere along the way.
It may not be true of all people in all situations, but the assumption of the inherent goodness of your opponent sets the stage for healing. The man who sexually assaulted me was not a bad person. He was a lonely person. He was a sad person. He was a person who, in different circumstances, would never have done what he did.
I want to create a world where sad, lonely men have somewhere to take their pain that isn’t the vaginas of unwilling women. I want to create a world where the circumstances that produce racism no longer exist. I want to create a world where people who voted for Trump aren’t seen as “deplorable” anymore.
And who knows? Maybe one day, it will be you who gets turned around, and if that time comes, I hope you’ll be allowed to atone for your mistakes.