You can hardly get a word in before a rebuttal is being repeated to you, defending Trump’s latest actions. Yet you actually said nothing about Trump, let alone criticized him. You try to start an intellectual, casual conversation about politics, since this gentleman you are talking with seems interested in politics, and yet the only thing he’s capable of speaking about is further regurgitation of the latest alternative news website he’s been reading in defense of Trump. If you’re like me, you may not even have a political party or align with any dichotomous political position. You may enjoy discussing politics in a calm, objective demeanor. You may even support some of Trump’s decisions–like his non-interventionist strategy in the Middle East, trying to end the war in Afghanistan, deescalating America’s involvement in Syria, etc.–but this falls short in the one-way conversation. The Trump supporter is so emotionally invested in defending Trump against his perceived onslaught of attacks against his elected candidate, that his brain is incapable of talking about the nuances of, say, Iraqi, Iranian, or Syrian history for the sake of learning and gaining deeper understanding. His sole interest is in how the topic relates to defending Trump.
Why the intensity? It’s one of the side-effects of demagoguery, which is defined as “political activity or practices that seek support by appealing to the desires and prejudices of ordinary people rather than by using rational argument.” It’s one of the weaknesses of Democracy, per Aristotle.
The main cause of the overthrow of democracies is the outrageous behavior of demagogues. By attacking [rich] property owners they motivate them to band together out of fear, and they also spur on the people [to try to bleed the rich]. In this way democracy has been overthrown at numerous places: Cos, Rhodes, Heracleia, Megara, Cyme. This is more or less the way democracies are destroyed. To win popular support, demagogues propose unjust treatment for the notables and thus force them to band together, by making them give up their property for redivision, or by having them expend their resources on public service, or by slandering them to force confiscations of their property.Aristotle
This sounds a lot like Communism, which is accurately described here. But if you change some of the details, you can easily see the contrast with Trump. I suppose we can agree that Trump, in a certain way, is a form of mild demagogue. You may disagree with my use of the term “mild” here, but if you study folks like Hitler, Hirohito, Mussolini, Stalin, and Mao, who killed tens of millions of people, you may see the mildness in Trump. Of course, he is aware of this–in order to stand up to the “system” like he did and win the election, he felt he needed to choose this path and play on the ignorance of voters. He knows media. He knows how to get attention. And he had a team of only about five people, using his own money, beat out every other candidate and political party.
It hardly takes a moment of scrolling any popular alternative right-wing news outlet headlines, like Breitbart (*shudders*), to see the blatant demagoguery at play. Immigrants are taking your tax dollars, Muslims are up to some kind of violence and tabboo cultural practice that harms the public, and Britain is flooded with foreign workers. You’d think the world is about to explode any moment if you read this every day. It’s like a two-minutes hate. And people who regularly digest this stuff feel like Trump is constantly under attack by the liberal Left media, as well as their personal culture and way of life. Thus, Trump must constantly be defended. Everything he does, from drone striking Qasim Suleimani to whatever is up next, requires a memorized rebuttal to be retorted at every opportunity. They feel like they’re constantly “under siege.”
[Conservatives] need a significant percentage of the poor and middle class to vote against their economic interests and for their individual, social, and religious interests… What they have done is to create, via framing and language, a link between strict father morality in the family and religion on the one hand and conservative politics and business on the other. This conceptual link must be so emotionally strong in those who are not wealthy that it can overcome economic self-interest. Their method for achieving this has been the cultural civil war–a civil war carried out with everything short of live ammunition–pitting Americans with strict father morality (called conservatives) against Americans with nurturant parent morality (the hated liberals), who are portrayed as threatening the way of of life and the cultural, religious, and personal identities of conservatives.
Conservative political and intellectua leaders faced a challenge in carrying out their goals. They represented an economic and political elite, but they were seeking the votes of middle- and lower-class working people. They needed, therefore, to identify conservative ideas as populist and liberal or progressive ideas as elitist–even though the reverse was true. They faced a massive framing problem, a problem that required a change in everyday language and thought. But strict father morality gave them an important advantage: It suggests that the wewalthy have earned their wealth, that they are good people who deserve it–and that those who govern, both in the public and private sphere, should maintain the right moral order in society…
Through language they have branded liberals (whose policies are populist) as effete elitists, unpatriotic spendthrifts–using terms like limousine liberals, latte liberals, tax-and-spend liberals, Hollywood liberals, East Coast liberals, the liberal elite, wishy-washy liberals, and so on. At the same time they have branded conservatives (whose policies favor the economic elite) as populists…from Ronald Reagan’s down-home folksiness to George W. Bush’s John Wayne-style “Bubbaisms,” the language, dialects, body language, and narrative forms have been those of rural populists. Their radio talk show hosts–warriors all–have adopted the style of hellfire preachers. But the message is the same: The hated liberals are threatening American culture and values, and have to be fought vigorously and continuously on every front. It is a threat to the very security of the nation, as well as morality, religion, the family, and everything real Americans hold dear. Their positions on wedge issues–guns, babies, taxes, same-sex marriage, the flag, school prayer–reveal the “treachery” of liberals. The wedge issues are not important in themselves, but are vital in what they represent: a strict father attitude to the world.The All New Don’t Think of An Elephant!: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate (p 133-4)
Nuance is the enemy of the demagogue. Carefully thought-out decisions must be replaced by emotional outrage in order for their tactics to work. If people slowed down, read books, studied history and political science, and consulted experts, the playing field would shift from Pathos to Logos. But too much Logos was what Obama was criticized for in his campaign–he was too “academic,” they said. Finally his slogan was reduced from “Change we can believe” to just a picture of his face with one single word: “Change.” Or “believe.” Or “hope.” Lacking experience in politics, a promise for a better future after two terms of Bush Jr was a strong message.
So the next time you try engaging in deep conversation with an average person, don’t be surprised if the conversation is limited to basically sloganeering and regurgitated political party motifs. America is still experiencing the pains of a Republic (if we can hold on to it). The world isn’t perfect. Ignorance is a common norm throughout human history, and manipulation a repeated theme in politics. Just stay calm and try to help the person grow intellectually with bigger, more general concepts, like reading books, studying history, and not worrying about what the “other” is doing or saying, because they won’t change that. There’s a circle of concern and a circle of control. Wasting time on the constantly changing, daily news cycle won’t help you or anybody develop a deeper understanding. But chipping away at a book certainly can.
One area I’ve personally found success in adding nuance to conservative views is Israel. Granted, the individual has to be open minded in the first place–meaning, they’re willing to consider new ideas and change their opinion, when presented with convincing facts. I gave Weir’s book, “Against Our Better Judgement,” to a politically-active Evangelical Republican, and he did a complete 180 on his views on Israel. Granted, he’s open minded. He’s willing to talk. He’s calm and a bit older and wiser than the average Joe. After finishing it, he told me he had a dilemma: he believes the Bible is inerrant, so how does he reconcile that with Israel being “God’s chosen people?” I told him that God’s covenant has stipulations, and they broke their end of the covenant, not God. He was satisfied with that explanation.
For the hyper-emotional types, you may just want to focus on major concepts, like what it means to be open minded, staying calm, media literacy, and why it’s important to consult experts.
As a finisher, I’ll leave you with a few personal book recommendations on politics and foreign policy.