In This Episode: Whose “fault” is it that the United States is divided like never before? Wait: it’s too easy to point at Donald Trump, or even to the “right” or the “left,” because there is fault all around. By applying the Uncommon Sense of a foreign observer, and without being partisan, let’s explore what both sides can learn from this election so we can move forward.
083: Coming Together
- Help support Uncommon Sense: — yes, $5 helps!
- Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859) studied America and Americans up close, and is especially known for the resulting two-volume study Democracy in America, published in 1835 and 1840, which is considered an early scholarly work of both sociology and political science.
- Australian journalist Jacqueline Maley’s opinion piece: “Why Did So Many People Vote for Trump? Like it or Not, He Is a ‘Safe Space’ for Millions”, is in the 8 November 2020 Sydney Morning Herald.
- I mentioned Episode 68: What Normal?
Welcome to Uncommon Sense, I’m Randy Cassingham.
It’s hard for people — or a people — to see themselves clearly, so it’s smart to look toward informed observers from the outside. Over our history we’ve learned a lot from outsiders, from Alexis de Tocqueville in the early 1800s onward.
So I turned to one of our greatest allies, Australia, for an unflinching outside look, and got an excellent perspective. Jacqueline Maley, Columnist and Senior Journalist at Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald, wrote an opinion piece about us and our election in Sunday’s edition of her newspaper. I’ll link to her essay on the Show Page.
First, what led to Trump’s appeal? “Given his open mendacity, corruption and contempt for democratic norms,” she writes, “Trump’s mass appeal remains incomprehensible to many, particularly to those of us outside the United States.”
“While the world watches and waits [for final election results], the half of Americans who didn’t vote for Trump are trying to understand why the other half doubled down on their support of him, and why he was able to improve his vote by about seven million votes from 2016.”
Part of it, she says, was that he was “tough on economic ‘rivals’ like China, and a booster for the blue collar workers whose socio-economic status is threatened by globalisation.” Also, she writes, he has “been ‘tough’ on borders — an appeal Australian voters know well.”
In other words, we’re far from the only country with divisions and issues, and she knows all too well that solutions are difficult, and can be messy. She certainly doesn’t make the mistake of condemning the entire country for the faults of our leaders.
“When you remember Trump’s route to the White House was via the yellow brick road of American celebrity,” she continues, “the passionate support of his followers makes even more sense. We need our celebrities to live large and be outrageous, and we forgive them everything if we like their style.”
That’s important: “Trumpism is an identity marker,” she says, “a protest against the social forces of liberalism. It is about identity and feeling, having little to do with rational economic forces. Joe Biden has character — he has devoted his life to public service and it is generally agreed he is a man of decency and integrity. But Trump has something better, in the eyes of his supporters — he has style.”
Yeah, I don’t suppose many will accuse Joe Biden of having “style”!
Trump’s style “is mesmerising to watch,” she writes, “and perhaps many millions of people who are happy for him to be that way, because they feel they can’t be that way themselves. Research this year from the Cato Institute found 62 per cent of Americans felt the contemporary political climate prevented them from saying things they believe because others might find them offensive. The fear was stronger in Republicans than others.”
Bingo — again and again and again.
Not that Maley ignores the opinions of Americans entirely. She quoted Sam Harris, an American neuroscientist and philosopher, as to the secret of Trump’s success, and I think this is key: “he is never actually communicating that he is better than you, more enlightened, more decent,” he said in a recent podcast, “because he’s not, and everyone knows it.” And “Because he is never really judging you … he offers a truly safe space for human frailty and hypocrisy and self doubt.”
Maley says, “This appeal makes sense [in Harris’s view], when you juxtapose it with the moral superiority, judgment and sanctimony that many of Trump’s supporters (and others) associate with the left.”
So yeah, like it or not, the left needs to understand that dismissing — or even seeming to dismiss — a huge chunk of Americans isn’t just stupid, it’s counterproductive. You’re mad because Trump heightened the divisions in America? Well guess what: you started it. The hard-working blue-collar workers that Democrats used to embrace felt ignored, so when someone finally paid attention to them, they felt heard, even if that leader didn’t really respect them: they felt kinship with his obvious “human frailty and hypocrisy and self doubt.” There’s a huge lesson in that: your smugness lost you your base.
It’s an idea I hit on hard in my public speaking. I often speak to Mensans — at “gatherings” of members of the international “High I.Q.” society, and I warn about this very thing. Let me give you an excerpt:
“Just because we are intelligent does not mean we all have common sense. We don’t necessarily succeed in life. We’re intelligent, but that doesn’t mean we’re street smart. And more to the point, as I like to say, ‘We’re all stupid sometimes.’ Because I don’t believe that everyone I write about in This is True has low I.Q.s. In fact, I’m absolutely sure many of them are Mensa qualified, if not actual members. We’re all stupid sometimes because we all forget to think sometimes: reacting first, or making mistakes in our assumptions, and that’s what I’m talking about when I say we need more thinking in the world.”
Mensans “may be the top 2 percent I.Q.-wise, and that’s great. That doesn’t mean we can coast. All of us have to work to ensure we don’t get fooled by our own biases, that we don’t rest on our laurels, that we don’t get too smug about our test scores. And yes, I absolutely am one of the people that are stupid sometimes.”
I take great pains in This is True to ensure I don’t make fun of people because of their social class, their occupation, their political party, their national heritage, their name, their race, or whatever box anyone thinks they might fit into, but rather for their thought process or, usually more accurately, their lack of one. To go back to a different part of my speech, I say, “When I talk about ‘obliviots’ I don’t mean people who simply lack intelligence. Most are very often enough self-aware that they try hard to make up for their slower processing power. That’s something to be applauded! And if they can’t try harder, then it’s time for forgiveness and compassion. No, obliviots are those who are oblivious and proud of it.”
And to stay with the theme of this episode: I see that sort of person on both sides of the political spectrum. And when I call them out, Republicans whine when the obliviot I write about is on the right, and Democrats whine when the obliviot is on the left.
So when it comes to embracing division, that’s what Trump did. You condemn that? Then don’t be like that. It’s time for the left to reach out to the right, to actually listen: their ideas are definitely not all bad. Maybe, if you’re sincere enough, they’ll find ways to work with you. Because if you don’t, then someone else will come along to make them feel heard, now that they’ve seen how well that worked for Trump.
At the same time, the right has a lot of damage to fix: they whole-heartedly embraced Trump for slapping down the left in ways that violated their own stated principles. They want a man of God who embraces family values? They didn’t get a Christian at all: they got a “grab ’em by the pussy” womanizer who cheated on his first wife, cheated on his second wife, and famously cheated on his third wife — and then paid that porn star six figures to keep quiet. The man and his family stole millions from a charity and used it for their own political gain, and to pay off business debts. He had people on the street tear-gassed so he could pose in front of a church holding a Bible — upside down — and locked children in cages. It’s going to be a long, long time before the religious right can push for traditional values from the other side, which is now led by a devout Catholic with actual family values.
The right wanted a strong leader against our communist adversaries? He may have been tough on China, but he embraced meddling by the Russians, and fawned over Putin, who directed the effort. The Russians?! They’re not our friends. I submit that we’re already well into a new cold war, this time not with the threat of “mutual assured destruction” from a bilateral exchange of nuclear missiles, but rather in a true cyber war that’s been escalating throughout Trump’s term. Meanwhile, in recent years Trump paid more in taxes to China than to his own country.
The right wants a strong and effective military? Trump looked the other way when he learned that Russia was paying bounties to Afghan militants for the deaths of American servicemen and -women, and then had the gall to call those same people who serve our country “losers and suckers.”
The right wanted an entrepreneurial leader? Wait until the rest of his tax returns are released. We already know the man couldn’t even run a casino without going bankrupt. A casino!
Yet “half the country,” as Aussie journalist Jacqueline Maley put it, supported him anyway. You gave up your ideals and professed morals to whole-heartedly back a man who you knew didn’t believe in them. You gave up your right to be outraged by the left.
So yeah, there’s a lot of blame on both sides, and both sides need to have a little humility, and pledge to unite the country so that perhaps it really will become “great again.”
“When you think about it,” I said in “What Normal”? (Episode 68), “you have to come to the conclusion that neither the body called the Democrats, nor the body called the Republicans, is evil. I’ll say that again: neither party is evil! Both of those bodies love their country and want to make a ‘more perfect union’.”
We have a lot of work to do, so let’s get to work — together.
The Show Page for this episode is thisistrue.com/podcast83, which has links and a place to comment.
I’m Randy Cassingham … and I’ll talk at you later.
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