New York Times Op-Ed Columnist Nicholas Krystof indulged in a bit of rank heresy this morning, suggesting in a short piece that perhaps the time had come for The Resistance to offer an olive branch and — gasp! — be nice to Trump voters. Not make peace exactly, but at least restrain themselves from expressions of overt hatred and contempt; even, perhaps, politely interact; possibly even open up a dialogue, in which they might amiably explain Trump’s manifest worthlessness to the rabble, rather than toss out the popular baby with the Presidential bathwater.
I’m loathe to fault such a line of thought — the fact that such a suggestion is appearing in the Times at all is a wondrous sign to ponder. Dialogue is a good thing, and the current trend toward polarization deadly. An exchange of views in which both sides genuinely tried to see things from the other’s perspective would be a very good thing. One that might even eventually come about. But little in the Krystof piece suggests it will.
“Nothing I’ve written since the election has engendered more anger from people who usually agree with me than my periodic assertions that Trump voters are human, too,” notes Krystof, and the commentary he cites is not lactate with the milk of human kindness. ““I hate these people. They are stupid and selfish. Screw them. Lose your jobs, sit home and die,” tweets one. “I absolutely despise these people,” tweets another. “Truly the worst of humanity. To hell with every one of them.” Still another: ““ALL Trump voters are racist and deplorable.”
Why drives this reaction? It’s tempting to ascribe it to the barrage of over a year of relentless invective streaming from the mainstream media. That pre-formed framework of interpretation is almost supernaturally adept at taking any possible item concerning Trump and giving it an acrid twist. Melania frowns? Proof positive of patriarchal brutalities too obscene to mention (though not to suggest). No Presidential dog? Sure mark of a Nazi lack of empathy, and vicious disdain for “lesser” species.
How many people know that Trump was a lifelong Democrat till 2009, even contributing $100,000 to Hillary’s 2008 campaign? Such items are stuff for the Orwellian Memory Hole. Trump according to media fiat is so ultraconservative as to be beyond fascist. Oh, he’s morally squalid too — racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, etc.– but his morals like his politics are not abstract topics to explore but a shofar sounded to inflame the tribe not to prayer but to ever more frothing levels of detestation and hatred. Though the metaphor should be reversed: the main function of both is to present a perfect caricature of the wholly unacceptable Other: Trump as the Eternal Jew on which all believers’ hatred and frustrations may be dumped.
I’d like to say this is mere cynical manipulation on the part of Democrats, but I regret to say it more and more strikes me as some sociological phenomenon probably related to diversity; the more societies experience the latter, the more sub-groups crystallize a tendency to demonize other such groups. Easy enough to see this in others. But experience it personally, and the Demonic twists into the Angelic with the smoothness of fine cream. Nazi hatred of The Jew is vile and base; Puritan hatred of The Witch is mad and perverted; Klan hatred of The Nigger is despicable and psychopathic; ah, but liberal hatred of The Donald is righteous, sweet and just — provided you give yourself up to it whole-heartedly and regularly affirm your faith before nodding fellow brethren in the enchanted circle. One or two of the brethren may not give themselves up quite so entirely, but the virus suffuses mainstream media like alien spores permeate Invasion Of The Body Snatchers. When the message streams forth from the Times in the morning, NPR at lunch, the BBC at dinner, and CNN at night, you hesitate: the bubble of information is so tightly enclosed, so uniform, so seamless, what else can one think?
Krystof, regrettably, is of the Pod People too. The revelatory line is: “To win over Trump voters isn’t normalizing extremism, but a strategy to combat it.” In short: an attempt at manipulation, not understanding. Not that this is necessarily to be despised. To put your policies into effect you either need to win over others or stamp on them with a jackboot. The longing for jackboots, like Lucas’ The Force, is strong among the the liberal left at the moment, but they are the liberal left, after all, and much more inclined to merely toss around revolutionary verbiage and write letters to Congresswomen who vote left anyway, than follow through with Molotov cocktails; on top of which they simply don’t have the Army, Navy, Marines, police, gun owners, etc. That leaves only persuasion. And you can’t persuade people you regularly insult. One must gird oneself; one must approach them and… smile.
The problem is, the author inadvertently shows how tough even this is to do when he goes on to say things like, “Trump’s craziness is proving infectious, making Democrats crazy with rage that actually impedes a progressive agenda,” and “Trump won working-class voters — because he at least faked empathy for struggling workers.” Crazy old Trump may be able to fake empathy, but sane Times editorialists can’t quite manage it: apparently the parent-to-child talk with benighted Trumpistas is to begin by reassuring all concerned that Trump is insane and without human feeling. That really sets things up for a friendly discussion, doesn’t it? The author rightly says that “The vilification of these voters is a gift to Trump,” but can’t even grasp that the vilification of Trump is no gift to them.
Sad omen, but prophetic. To ask the opponents of Trump to restrain themselves from such vilification is to ask too much; lips flecked with spittle, bawling Ahab’s last words to Moby Dick — “… from hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee” – they would rather the entire ship go down than not throw one last spear into the White Nationalist Whale.
So… nice sentiment, Nicholas, but the Great Liberal Crack-Up continues to loom; the only question is whether Bernie’s socialists go down with the ship too, or, like Ishmael, bob up to the surface afterwards, and swim to newer shores.