Last Friday, the Fraternal Order of Police offered their endorsement to Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump. This is a loss for Democrats, since socially – despite recent evidence to the contrary – we hold public servants in high regard. There is something inherently selfless to individuals who risk their own personal safety to protect the security of others. As such, this endorsement will be paraded around by Republicans as indicative of a moral high ground in the race for the presidency. “See,” they’ll say, “Donald Trump represents the common man.” And yet, amidst a sea of explanations of how and why this endorsement might have happened, one thing remains true: this endorsement constitutes a tragic loss of an opportunity to build bridges between Republicans and Democrats – and the fault rests squarely on the shoulder of Democrats.
As Democrats – many of our social policies are based on building a collective. We promote programs like welfare, family leave, unemployment, and socialized medicine, under the auspices that society progresses more when we progress together. It’s one ideology, and I like to believe it’s a good ideology. But it’s an ideology that creates certain obligations for those of us who subscribe to it. Because true community cannot exist when the will of some is imposed on others, we need to campaign for outreach, understanding, and compassion actively. Yet, as we work to prevent Donald Trump from assuming the presidency, building community is an endeavor that seems long been forgotten in favor of degradation, exclusion, and dehumanization. The loss of the police union endorsement may finally beg the question: what have liberals done to destroy community with conservatives?
Degradation. A YouTube video was being passed around Facebook recently. In it, Bill Maher tears into Trump supporters with, “I can’t even begin to understand the average Trump supporter…possibly because my mother didn’t drink while she was pregnant.” Cue laugh track, and yet I didn’t find myself laughing. Partially because I don’t find Bill Maher that funny, but also because so many things about that statement typify the contentious, elitist, liberal snobbery that is at least half-responsible for the current political climate. This is not to say that I am not baffled by choice Donald Trump to represent the right-wing, religious, conservative party when not 20 years ago Donald Trump was truly the antithesis of family values.
Skipping over the most obvious offense – that Trump supporters are developmentally delayed simply because they do not subscribe to the same ideologies – the statement belies sexism, able-ism, and snobbery. Gone are the days of hurling insults like “retard” – but we give ourselves permission have a good laugh when we communicate that same message by replacing “retard” with “fetal alcohol syndrome.” Moreover, the “your mama” joke is a hallmark of playground tomfoolery but hardly seems acceptable even among the basest political comedians. The harsh snobbery that has become the trademark of Stephen Colbert, John Oliver, John Stewart, and Bill Maher fails to build bridges between Republicans and Democrats. The mocking actively works to destroy them, by communicating to liberals, that not only do we have the moral high ground but that we are smarter than they are.
Exclusion. Also, liberals have come to rely on over-simplified slogans that communicate group membership more than they communicate political ideology. When liberals hashtag “Black Lives Matter” on social media, it doesn’t lend to any new understanding of why black lives matter, nor of the social climate that would necessitate the proclamation that black lives, in particular, matter. And then, when conservatives retort with, “Sure. Why not? Don’t all lives matter?” They’re billed as clueless, or worse: racists who lack sympathy for the struggle of people of color.
And yet, like slogans that came before it (“we are the 99%”) “black lives matter” fails to convey any actual information. It does not clue people into a cause but is rather a call to action for those already folded into the fray. In social sciences, this phenomenon is referred to as communicating “in group” status. What makes this potentially damaging is that, according to social psychology theory, groups define themselves very much in reference to an external, non-group membership. So in other words, liberals do not define themselves exclusively as liberals – but also as non-conservatives. Add to that; studies have demonstrated that – even in the most synthetic of groups (individuals randomly assigned into two groups, for example) subjects will allocate more resources to their own randomly assigned group – than to a non-member. This means that we advocate for those we see as being more like ourselves. Or liberals advocate for other liberals.
Dehumanization. The final tool in our liberal arsenal is the art of dehumanization. In many respects, it is not enough to agree to disagree – dissension must be squashed using liberals’ weapons of choice: ostracizing and exile. Several years ago, I came across a website devoted to getting racists fired. The website posts tweets or other public comments, along with personal information about the originators in an attempt to get the offender fired. For some liberals this might be seen as a sort of online vigilantism – protecting the vulnerable from the vile hate speech of online aggressors. However, it begs the question: beyond schadenfreude, what benefit comes of this? Does it make us feel better when people who say awful things can no longer support their families? Can no longer eat?
Similarly, political positions that are tied to religious doctrine are not, in and of themselves, less logic-based. In fact, research shows that the majority of us make rather emotional decisions and back in the logic that we use to justify them. Nevertheless, as liberals, we think of ourselves as guided by logic and enlightenment and discount anything based in religious doctrine as backward – lacking in any discernible logical underpinnings. When confronted with religion, we arrogantly point to passages of the Old Testament that are not followed to the letter, as though the Bible, religion, and perspective aren’t permitted to adapt to convey the values of the groups that adheres to them. We launch accusations about religious oppression like “homophobe” and cite the separation of church and state to substantiate again our moral high ground and superior logic – instead of reaching out in the language of other Christian values like love and charity.
I grew up in a very conservative community – and have since moved into a much more liberal one. In making that transition, I have been dismayed at how quickly the conservative counterpoints are dismissed as backward, racist, bigoted or illogical. Conversations in academics become “preaching to the choir” rather than academic evaluations of relative merits. We no longer worry about conveying to dissidents that raising the minimum wage has wide-reaching economic and social benefit – and as such, many of us have lost the habit of communicating to people with different ideas. In light of this inability to communicate across political boundaries, the loss of the police union endorsement is wholly unsurprising. We have come to rely on tools like degrading, excluding, and dehumanizing people with differing political opinions – but then point our finger at Donald Trump for ruining American politics. What we fail to realize is that our extended hand is the one bearing the torch rather than the olive branch.
(Weekly conference calls with like-minded people who want to stop a candidate who is racist, sexist, bigoted, incites violence and is demonstrating no competence for the job at hand.)
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