A couple of weeks ago I published a blog criticizing Christian support of President Donald Trump. I expected some of my conservative Christians friends to let me have it and indeed a couple did when I posted it on my facebook page. But surprisingly, on the blog page, I received more hostility from progressives than from conservatives. You see for them I did not go far enough because I did not call Christians racist, bigoted and greedy. And we all know how well it works to convince people that they are wrong by calling them dehumanizing names. Yeah right, try that at home with your spouse and see how far you get.
But what really fired up my critics was when I pointed out that I really do not think that progressives care more for other people than conservatives. They seem to be angry that I do not see my progressive critics as virtuous and conservatives as just one step up from Nazis. Well two weeks ago I was still in the middle of final exam grading and I did not feel like getting into the spitting contests with them. Last week I had a post already planned and the article was fairly timely, so I did not want to deviate from that. So guess what I am going to blog about this week. Yep. I am going to infuriate more of my progressive critics.
Let me focus on my claim that I do not see progressives as caring more than conservatives in our society. Two weeks ago I did not spend time explaining why I have come to that conclusion. It is clearly not because I am a conservative because I made the statement IN A BLOG POST WHERE I WAS CRITICIZING SUPPORT FOR TRUMP!!!! No, my statement comes from being a political moderate who is turned off by both political factions. The type of tribalism exhibited by many of my critics is one of the reasons why I do not commit to either group. But let’s be clear. I am not saying that there are not certain individuals that progressives care more about than conservatives. Indeed, my precise statement is that they tend to care for different populations than conservatives. In my opinion the overall level they care about others is not different, simply who they tend to care about. In short, for both conservatives and progressives there is a tendency to care more about groups one has sympathy for rather than globally caring for everybody equally.
So what are the groups that progressives do not tend to care about? The obvious low hanging fruit is of course the unborn. Hard to make a case that you care about someone when you allow them to be killed. But I know that many progressives refuse to define the unborn as truly a human person and I prefer not to jump into the abortion debate right now. So I will shift the focus off the unborn and still make my case that progressives merely care for different populations than conservatives, rather than more than conservatives.
However, even if we do not want to consider the unborn, it is still not hard to find the people progressives tend to not to care about. It is just about as easy as listing the people progressives do care about: racial minorities, sexual minorities, immigrants, Muslims etc. I agree that progressives care about those groups more than conservatives. But how do we characterize those they do not care about as much conservatives care about them? One word. Deplorable.
Individuals who can be seen as being bigots, racists, homophobes etc. are those that political progressives feel comfortable rejecting. It seems natural to not care about individuals with such awful traits, right? When Clinton used the term, she stated that she was referring to half of Trump’s voters. That would probably be about 20 percent of the country. Some of my critics seem to imply that all of Trumps supporters are racist which would raise it to 40 percent of the country.
So who are some of these nameless Trump supporters that some progressives are quite comfortable calling Nazis? Quite clearly many conservative Christians, and I have been working to confront them on that support, also are Trump supporters. I have no doubt that many progressives also see them as deplorable. Other possible deplorables live in rural areas and in the South. White men and married white women also seem to be important to Trump’s support and I see at risk as being labeled deplorables. I suggest that these are all groups that progressives do not particularly care. It is not that progressives do not care about people in general. It is that they, like conservatives, do not care about certain types of people and have found reasons to justify their nonsupport.
Before someone says that I cannot use a single throwaway line to characterize all progressives, I will say you are right. I cannot say that every single progressive envisions members of those groups as not worth caring about. But listen to her deliver this line and listen to the laughter and applause it gets. The line did not fail with her supporters. It resonated with them. I think the line failed later on because it touched on a truth. That truth is that a non-trivial percentage of progressive do see other Americans as deplorable and are to be demonized when it suits their purposes. Such Americans are not to be cared about. They are to be mocked.
Among politicians, this attitude is not always stated as clearly as Clinton did at that talk. Let’s face facts; Clinton was a terrible campaigner who did not recognize that there are certain ideas that she should not openly state. However, this dehumanizing of certain groups can come out in nonpolitical ways. I remember having the misfortunate of watching the movie “The Waterboy.” I do not remember the exact circumstances. I like to think I was stuck somewhere and could not change the channel, but there is the possibility that I was curious about how bad a movie could become. One thought struck me as I watched that movie “Hollywood really hates Southerners.” Please do not look for that movie and view it. I could not forgive myself if you watched that movie because of what I wrote. But it was clear that this movie was having a good time drudging up demeaning stereotypes about Southerners and essentially laughing at those Southerners.
Hollywood is famous for its leftist politics. Is there any doubt that if today’s Hollywood made a movie like “The Waterboy” about blacks that they would be branded as racist? Of if they did this to sexual minorities can one imagine the outcry? I know that one can find scenes and even characters in movies that can be seen as racist or homophobic but “The Waterboy” was one unfunny, unrelenting stereotype about southerners after another. No way could I watch that movie and not come away with the conclusion that the makers of that movie cared about southerners as human beings. Southerners were merely one dimensioned figures who could be insulted.
I know that some individuals will argue that they care about the rural poor and Southerners but that such individuals are voting against their own best interests. Is that not pretty paternalistic? I mean should we tell African-Americans how to vote or is that command only reserved for whites living in small towns and the highly religious? Little wonder some of the “deplorable” populations do not think that progressives care about them. I suspect that if we told racial minorities or Muslims how they need to vote, they would not feel the love either.
Some of my progressive critics brought up the fate of the little girl who died at the border as evidence of the uncaring nature of conservatives. After all, this shows that conservatives are heartless and do not care when kids die right? If that is true, then what do we make about Kate Steinle? She was killed by an undocumented immigrant in the sanctuary city of San Francisco. Are those supporting sanctuary cities showing that they do not care if Americans are murdered? Oh it gets worse. Her killer was acquitted on the charges. So why could not conservatives argue that not only do progressives not care if Americans are being murdered but, given that her killer’s trial was in the progressive city of San Francisco, that they do not even want those killers punished?
Now personally I think it is silly to argue that progressives do not care about people being murdered. But that is the same logic some of my critics are using to argue that conservatives do not care if kids are killed. And so I equally think it is silly to argue that conservatives do not care if little kids are killed. This is why using isolated incidents to generalize to the effects of a larger public policy is largely frowned upon in the social sciences. Whether we are talking about border security or sanctuary cities, we are discussing a complicated public policy issue. It is better to recognize that whether we agree with certain policies or not, there are consequences to them that we have to take into account. It is not a matter of finding a perfect public policy, but rather finding one that has more benefits relative to the potential damage that may come from it. Mature individuals understand this and thus are able to make arguments for their desired policy without demonizing their political opponents.
It has been my experience that while I have been criticized by conservatives, they have not asked me to demonize progressives in the way some of the progressive critics asked me to do two weeks ago. This is not to say that my conservative critics do not demonize progressives, because, well just look at our president and his defenders. But they do not seem to need me to demonize them as well. Of course I should be careful about automatically generalizing about my experience with conservative and progressive critics. But there is reason to believe that perhaps progressives do have a harder time treating those they disagree with in a respectful manner.
Jonathan Haidt’s moral foundation theory suggests political progressives center their foundation in the idea that they care about others. Even if, as clearly shown in this blog, I disagree that they truly care, in a global sense, about others more than their conservative counterparts, the fact that they believe that they do may, ironically, make it more likely that they do not care about certain groups. After all if one believes that his or her moral assertions are based on kindness and nurturance then any other moral assertions must be the opposite of that. It is not hard to see how such a belief can lead to the notion that one’s political opponents must be resisted at all costs – even if it means dehumanizing them. Given that Haidt has found that political conservatives understand the perspectives of progressives better than vice versa, I am inclined to believe that these differences in how we construct our morality may account for the difference I have noticed between my conservative and progressive critics.
Finally, let me just state that pressures to dehumanize others backfire when used against me. An important reason I am a political moderate is I reject the socially constructed nature of our political ideology. Thus there are issues that I am anywhere from left to left of center (tax policy, death penalty, race relations, military spending etc), and those where I am anywhere from right to right of center (abortion, religious freedom, school choice etc.). I have never sat down and figured out if there are more issues where I am progressive or conservative, but off the top of my head, I think there are more issues where I am progressive than where I am conservative. Indeed, earlier in my life, I would have characterized myself as being somewhat liberal.
But much of the mindset I have seen on the left, such as this seeming need to demonize all disagreement, has turned me off progressive politics. Not enough for me to become a conservative, especially in an age of Trump, but enough that I am hesitant to take progressive stands if I think I am going to be lumped in with the “resist” mentality. As someone who wants to fight against the polarization I see in our society, I cannot support progressive politics if that type of political activism is making our polarization worse.
I know in the past that shaming techniques have worked in American politics. Most people do not want to be called a bigot and may vote to avoid that charge. But we may be coming to a time where they are no longer very effective. I think some of the vote for Trump was a vote against this type of politics. I remain an enemy of Trump, but I will not capitulate to efforts to “shame” people into voting one way or another.
I would love to see a vibrant debate on issues rather than name calling. The mindset of some of my critics actually makes me want to write more against their political interests to show that I will not be intimidated by these shaming attempts. (Indeed, it has led to this particular blog.) I probably have my most powerful effect when addressing conservative Christians since I know that audience the best. So the next time I criticize my fellow conservative Christians, perhaps the smartest thing my progressive critics can do is just get out of the way and do not ask me to demonize my Christian friends in ways that I know will only bring up more resistance to my appeals to them. Just something to consider.