Sunday, June 05, 2016

The Most or the Best?

For some time, one of my guiding principles of discourse was that one should engage the best arguments against one's position rather than the worst, even if there were prominent examples of the worst arguments or the worst arguments were providing the opposition with most of its energy.

So, while it may be true that some people opposed President Obama's policies because they were racist and would never accept the leadership of a black president, or because they thought he was a Kenyan anti-colonialist, or wasn't born in the country, it was at best a waste of time addressing these types of arguments. At worst, it raised the profile of these types of people and convinced oneself and others on your own side that the only people opposed to you are morons. This doesn't seem healthy.

The Trump phenomenon has led me to reconsider that position.

It is apparent that many people identified as Republicans or supported conservative policies for reasons other than a product of rigorous intellectual examination of the alternatives. Naked self-interest probably qualifies as one of the more noble reasons for this.  There is a disconnect between the intellectual reasoning for a policy position, and the reason people actually support it.

I follow a number of right-of-center writers on Twitter. Not one of them has endorsed Trump, even now that he is the presumptive GOP nominee, and most are in fact explicitly #neverTrump.  Perhaps I've enclosed myself in a bubble of sorts, but I think it also reveals something about the divided nature of the right.

I do not think at someone like Paul Ryan is a racist. Though it may be the case that some of his proposed policies have a disproportionate negative impact on people of color. I think that for Ryan, this is a bug, but for many of the people who identify as Republicans, this is a feature.

The way opposition to same sex marriage collapsed should have offered a clue that this was happening. Not that it happened, but the speed with which it did, and the reasons people gave for it. Often, it was that they had come to know gays and lesbians, either personally or through positive media portrayals, and could no longer imagine withholding marriage from them. I suppose this empathy is good, but it's also revealing that their previous position was based on bigotry rather than a thoughtful consideration of what marriage is and should be. Those type of principles don't change just because one meets a nice gay couple.

The cold reality seems to be that there is not sufficient intellectual support for conservative ideas to support a viable political party. This was countered by folding in racists and bigots, but that is no longer a viable strategy.

And I suspect a similar dynamic is true on the left, only that President Obama has been an effective enough leader to hold  everyone together, and doesn't over-promise what he can't deliver.

I'm not sure how to respond to this reality. I'm sure some of the most important political changes in history have drawn significant support from people for bad reasons. Certainly, politicians who knowingly play to our worst impulses should be condemned for doing so. And I still think our public debates are better focused on issues other than how awful the worst people who agree with you are.

But the Trump campaign has made this reality impossible to ignore. Much of the energy and votes for the Republican party were motivated by hatred.
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