Should those in the “resistance” to Trump reconsider their “reflexive denigration of his supporters as bigoted, hateful ‘deplorables?’”
While not altogether surprising it was a bit disconcerting to find my question answered with a resounding “no” when I posed it in a recent facebook posting.
Why should they change their view when the simple fact of the matter, according to one, is that
“You’re dealing with hopelessly-toxic people whose attitudes and viewpoints are completely antithetical to civilization, love, etc…” Moreover, “those people are more consumers than they are humans at this point. It makes sense that all they’re after is loud advertising and the most violent/spectacular/pornographic entertainment available.”
Another referred to “those people’s bottomless rage-a-holism and anarcho-fascist lunacy.”
Whe it was brought to their attention that these utterances effectively constituted hate speech, this was hotly denied. They don’t hate Trump voters. Rather, they “hate their hate, their ignorance.”
But this variant of hate-the-sin-love-the-sinner logic quickly collapsed as the same commenter immediately returned to essentializing Trump voters as
“having nothing left but pride and ignorance . . . liv(ing) inside a value system that actively maximizes all seven of the deadly sins and shits on all of the contrary virtues as ‘weak’.”
In a 1959 interview with the BBC, Bertrand Russell provides what is perhaps the most effective rejoinder to this widespread set of attitudes, namely the three words “Hatred is foolish”.
The then 87 year old philosopher and World War I conscientious objector doesn’t spell out why this is so, though anyone who has operated in politics will have a pretty good idea why. Specifically, politics should not be regarded as a vehicle for expression of any emotional state or moral world view but rather as a mechanism to achieve the best possible outcome within a highly imperfect, indeed corrupt, electoral system.
Given that fact, it is a simple matter of arithmetic that anyone who is serious about removing from power what is objectively a profound threat to survival of the species needs to be exclusively concerned with one thing: reducing votes going to the Republicans while increasing those going to the opposition. That means, by definition, not picking and choosing where the votes come from.
This logic seems straightforward enough. But it is explicitly rejected by many for whom certain votes and voters are irredeemably tainted. According to them, “we shouldn’t hope for votes” coming from those for whom “racism is a core tenet of a person’s beliefs.” Doing so, according to them, makes us “complicit” in racism.
While superficially understandable, this view is based on a confusion which Chomsky and I addressed in our piece on the 2016 election: namely, that “voting should not be seen a form of individual self-expression” but rather “an act to be judged on its likely consequences.” It follows, therefore, that if the consequences of a political act or expressed set of beliefs will result in the victory for a violent racist that action in itself should be seen for what it is, namely, advancing racism.
It may be the case that the act or statement was based on a moral view which vehemently opposes racism, but that is irrelevant. What matters, in particular, what matters to those now suffering from its predations, is that Republican dominance of all branches and levels of government be brought to an end by the only means available: the ballot box.
Some will construe this statement of electoral pragmatism as actively courting the votes of the most regressive elements of society, but the charge is a non-sequitur.
Those wanting to achieve anti-racist ends will necessarily reject entirely any policy which advances a racist agenda no matter where it derives from. Rather than capitulating to the right on policy, those concerned with achieving political outcomes will follow Russell’s suggestion “to learn to put up with the fact that some people say things that we don’t like.” That means rejecting a binary classification of huge masses of people into those whose expressed views we approve of and racist deplorables. More precisely, it means recognizing the complexity and fluidity of attitudes which individuals will express differently in response to a variety of circumstances and social forces.
Here the example of Russell himself is instructive. For, as it turns out, Russell’s views on race relations were by no means enlightened even by the low standards of the day as is apparent from the following passage from his 1929 book Marriage and Morals
“In extreme cases there can be little doubt of the superiority of one race to another. North America, Australia and New Zealand certainly contribute more to the civilization of the world than they would do if they were still peopled by aborigines. It seems on the whole fair to regard negroes as on the average inferior to white men, although for work in the tropics they are indispensable, so that their extermination (apart from questions of humanity) would be highly undesirable.” (1)
While I can find no direct repudiation of these views, it would be hard to imagine that Russell would not come to deplore them. His subsequent activism on behalf of anti-colonialist struggles and his work with W.E.B. du Bois on nuclear proliferation would seem to indicate that would be the case. So too would his praise of SNCC chair Stokely Carmichael (later Kwame Ture) for “his militant and uncompromising leadership of America’s persecuted Negro people” whose imprisonment by the U.S. Justice Department Russell characterized as “a terrorist act by a vicious Government.”
Of course, not every Trump voter is reachable, but as Sanders routinely demonstrates in his red state town hall meetings, surprising numbers of them will see the light when an alternative is presented to them respectfully and non-confrontationally. Conversely, if they are approached with the kind of bitter condescension and contempt which has become reflexive among elements of the left and liberal center, it is a virtual certainty that they will remain loyal. As a Trump supporter observes in this week’s New Yorker “The more (Democrats) hate him, the more I want him to succeed.”
There is a reason why Grover Norquist is on record as “trying to change the tones (of political discourse) toward bitter nastiness and partisanship.”
Rather helping to bring to an end what has been a national nightmare, our aiding Norquist in his efforts will insure that it will have only begun.
(1) I am grateful to Facebook friend Jelle Amsterdam for the reference.