About “Those People” (Political Version)

Long one today…sorry. I’m nervous.

Time Magazine recently published an article exploring recent research on political polarization. It will surprise practically no one to find that the gulf between Republican and Democratic Americans is wide and our mutual animosities bitter, or that we harbor feelings of “distrust, dislike and disdain” for people who belong to the opposing political party.

Researchers point out that at least some of the animosity is based on factual errors: Democrats believe that Republicans are much richer than they really are; Republicans in one study thought that a full third of Democrats were LGBTQ.

The article ended with the usual concerns about the need to dispel the hostility, which the study attributed primarily to three things:  the rise of partisan and social media allowing people to live in information and opinion bubbles (making those with opposing views seem more abnormal); the tendency of political operatives and elites to emphasize “cudgel” social issues, such as abortion or LGBTQ rights, to make members of the other party seem inhumane; and the rise of the political “mega-identity,” where–rather than “big tents”– the parties have become philosophically distinct and internally aligned.

I get all this. We all do. We’ve all seen similar studies, opinion pieces and polls. They all engage in textual hand-wringing: this is an untenable situation, we need to listen to people outside our bubbles, and we need to be less judgmental of those with whom we disagree.

Well and good. But what if there’s another aspect of those current “mega-identities”? One that defies–or at least complicates– those pat admonitions?

Frank Bruni recently wrote a column that summed up my feelings perfectly. It was titled, “After Trump, How Will I Ever Look at America the Same Way?” You really need to read it in its entirety. Here’s his lede:

It’s always assumed that those of us who felt certain of Hillary Clinton’s victory in 2016 were putting too much trust in polls.

I was putting too much trust in Americans.

I’d seen us err. I’d watched us stray. Still I didn’t think that enough of us would indulge a would-be leader as proudly hateful, patently fraudulent and flamboyantly dishonest as Donald Trump.

We had episodes of ugliness, but this? No way. We were better than Trump.

Except, it turned out, we weren’t.

Bruni is struggling with the question that has animated far too many of my posts and your comments over these last four years: how could large numbers of Americans, people I’d always considered open-hearted and possessed of decency and common sense, support this ignorant, hateful, utterly pathetic excuse for a man? Bruni says it was a populace he didn’t recognize, or at least didn’t want to recognize, and I had the same reaction.

In a sane and civil country, of the kind I long thought I lived in, his favorability ratings would have fallen to negative integers, a mathematical impossibility but a moral imperative. In this one, they never changed all that much.

Bruni reminds us that Trump didn’t create the people who support him–instead, he tapped into more pre-existing cynicism and nihilism and conspiratorialism “than this land of boundless tomorrows was supposed to contain.” It was already there, burbling beneath the surface.

He didn’t sire white supremacists. He didn’t script the dark fantasies of QAnon. He didn’t create all the Americans who rebelled against protective masks and mocked those who wore them, a selfish mind-set that helps explain our tragic lot. It just flourished under him.

A number of pundits have attributed continued support of Trump to a burning desire by a segment of the country to “own the libs” no matter how damaging to the country. According to National Review’s Rich Lowry, for many on the Right, Trump is “the only middle finger available.”

In a recent column, David Brooks considered the consequences of Trump’s norm-shattering indecencies:

Today, many Trump opponents look at the moral degradation Trump supporters tolerate, the bigotry they endorse or tolerate, and they conclude that such people are beyond the pale. Simultaneously, many Trump supporters conclude that Trump opponents have such viciously anti-American ideas, that they too lack legitimacy. We’ve long had polarization, but we now have in America a crisis of legitimacy, which is a different creature.

The political chasm, the mutual antagonism, and the threat this situation poses to a democratic system are all too real. But “healing” and mutual respect are hard to come by when the gulf really is moral as well as political.

Americans aren’t arguing about differing tax or trade policies. We are arguing about truly fundamental moral and ethical questions: should skin color or religion or gender privilege one’s civic status? Are poor people entitled to medical care? Is America part of a global community, and if so, what does that membership require? Do we have an obligation to leave our children and grandchildren a livable planet? 

As one Republican defector put it, just after voting for Biden,

 I did not vote in this election based on policy. Neither should you. The election of 2020 is about the moral future of the American nation, and so I voted for a good man with whom I have some political disagreements over an evil man with whom I share not a single value as a human being. Trump is the most morally defective human being ever to hold the office of the presidency, worse by every measure than any of the rascals, satyrs or racists who have sat in the Oval Office. This is vastly more important than marginal tax rates or federal judges.

Yes. So–I’m torn.

I do want a country where people respect each other, are kind to each other, give opponents the benefit of the doubt. But I also want a country where most people deserve that respect. Try as I might, I am unable to summon respect for Americans who have lived through the last four years–who have read the tweets, heard the lies, seen the racism, the bizarre behavior, the corruption and ugliness– and still fervently support Donald Trump.

I’ll be worried about how many of those people there are while the votes are being counted.


  1. While I see Democrats doing their oft repeated soul searching, I see nothing similar on the other side. Where are the conservative editorials on “reaching out” or “listening to the other side” ? Has Sean or Rush or Bannon ever looked at what they were doing and asked if maybe they were wrong?
    My point here is that it takes both sides to mend a broken relationship. Liberals can wring their hands and cry over the animosity that permeates the country, but until BOTH sides take a good look at their part in the mess and take responsibility for bringing unity to the country, nothing will be resolved.

  2. “Love your enemies as yourself.” This is a tall order, man. I am struggling. As a Catholic, I was taught that I was a “soldier for Christ,” and someday may be called to stand up and fight for the right. “The Right,” of course, was the church and church teaching. Now I have to face the fact that the church itself is deep into the moral morass. Dolan is in bed with Trump, showering him with accolades. The church is still covering up massive pedophilia and crimes against children and the vulnerable. The church teaches discrimination against LGBTQ people, and is getting brazen in sanctioning and firing gay employees. Even though David Brooks now has “seen the light,” he spent years as an apologist for the GOP as they incrementally launched a slow coup, ending with the takeover of the supreme court. So, ya. I see the issues in starkly moral terms. I am finding it overwhelming to absorb just how much bigotry and intolerance there is. I am terrified at the violence that is brewing. And I am struck that it is often the people who live all around me, the people in the grocery store, the post office, or at church who hold the despicable, morally abhorrent views. They act so polite and friendly! But I now have to think: would they fire my gay friend? Would they condone violence? It is jarring.

  3. I have argued with family and friends regarding Trump. I can’t understand why they like him or why they are going to vote for him again. I dislike Trump immensely. He has torn the fabric of this country apart. Trump is enjoying himself. I argued with a brother in law yesterday. He is a die hard Republican and said that I have closed my eyes and ears to Trump. I told him that the problem is that I DO see and hear Trump and I don’t like what I see and hear. I have always been able to discuss politics. I am 73 years old and don’t like what is happening in my country. Hopefully Trump will lose the election. But how do I get back on speaking terms with family and friends?

  4. Sharon Conway – Not to worry – it’s THEIR job to get back on track with YOU. If they don’t, you have not lost much. Be patient with them. They’re soon going to learn the hard way.
    Enjoy watching the Democrats get moving on Day One. Enjoy watching the unraveling of this embarrassing administration and Biden’s nominations of replacements. The White House will not have all the screwball people operating the revolving doors at the whim of this bratty child president. As a bonus, the Republicans are getting their comeuppance as we drain the Trump sewer.

  5. Well, before you fall victim to righteous indignation, remember this sentence clipped from a republican repulsed by Trump, “I did not vote in this election based on policy.”

    Joe has been a career politician for the four decades nearly all economists point to as the ushering in of neoliberalism, which has crushed the working classes while enriching the oligarchs. These oligarchs own the media and the political class. They’ve been writing bills to enrich themselves, extracting trillions of dollars from our economy.

    I read an article where one public official questioned raising taxes on the wealthy because he said they would flee and move their money offshore or write more tax loopholes to get around paying higher taxes.

    Granted, Joe is a much nicer guy than Don, but let’s not place a crown of morality on his head for what he’s NOT done for the working class. He’s talking a lot of “hope and change,” but that was the same crapola spewed by Barrack in 2008.

    As I said from the beginning, Don isn’t a polished politician. He also isn’t remotely self-aware, which has proved to be a big problem for him. My god, his psychological projection, is getting him in so much trouble. Anyway, he has brought these people to the forefront because he’s given them a voice. Now we know. They aren’t hiding or meeting in barns late at night. Many of them are serving the public in government positions.

    C.G. Jung said if you don’t address the ugliness inside you, it becomes your shadow. It doesn’t go away. It guides many of your decisions every single day at the level of your subconscious. America has an ugly past, which we haven’t reconciled. We keep whitewashing it or glossing over it. As a result, it goes into the shadows, just waiting for someone to tap into it.

    We need to clean up the wreckage of our past, including the last 40 years, while Joe has been in office, and then move forward ASAP.

  6. One of your best Professor and I’m with you ?. The question that keeps coming back to me is: Can I forgive these people for their dalliance with nihilism and a totalitarian wannabe if I don’t hear an apology? Or a hint of contrition? Or even a suggestion of recognition that they were wrong?

    I’m going with no even though Jesus commands me to do otherwise. And the reason is, among many others, US House Rep Jim Banks of our 3rd District. You will find a no more arrogant politician who consistently and openly disrespects and spews disdain for the political minority than him and his chief of staff is worse. He may not win by a 30-point margin in this election, but he will still win by a wide one. And so will our state-wide enabler-in-chief Eric Holcomb, our nice-guy frat-boy Governor who still basks in popularity mostly because he’s not Pence as he presides of explosive growth in Covid infections, hospitalizations and deaths, 92% of which affected 60+ seniors like me.

    I don’t believe we can afford to let our guard down against what will continue to be a very safe, albeit smaller hopefully, Republican majority in both houses of our General Assembly. Until that body can be rebalanced to check their power and put the brakes on the RTBM (Race To Become Mississippi) there is no time to rest, accommodate, compromise, cuddle or even listen to the fascist-leaning elements of the Republican Party. And that includes the crowd screaming for the criminalization of abortion under all circumstances. ☮️

  7. I was in DC for a board meeting in November 2008. Everybody had a bit of a spring in their step. The people who worked in the Capitol were nearly jubilant and by people I mean the janitors and the food service workers. I asked why and was told that when the Dems ran things they were treated like human beings. ‘Nuff said!

  8. Having read Shelby Foote’s magnificent work on the Civil War, it strikes me that our current discord, divisiveness and tribalism is very much like 1859-60. At the root of both times of unrest is our original sin, racism.

    The bubbling up of this death cult started shooting geysers of hate into the air when Barack Obama ran for President. Trump tapped into that ingrained, culturally-based and institutionalized racism, and the sheep bleated obediently even as the cult leader led them to the edge of the cliff.

    What all this proved was that when voters stay home (92+ million of those in 2016) it allows the nose of fascism, hate and bigotry to slip under the tent. Now we are faced with most of the camel in the tent of civility and it is leaving great piles of dung on the floor of our democracy. Sorry for the metaphor, but it smells the same as what I describe.

    The death cult of Trump has subsumed the GOP and pulled back the curtain on what they’ve always been… at least since Lincoln was shot. Teddy Roosevelt saw it in the earliest years of the 20th century and quit the party. A political party that is beholden to the most basal instincts of greed, avarice and graft has no place in a democracy. These, among so many other reasons, are why we need to VOTE IN EVERY ELECTION, LOCAL OR NATIONAL. If we fail that basic civic duty we will indeed become a banana republic led by the worst angels of our nature.

    Trump personifies that evil of those angels. The cult will be forced to go back under their rocks until the next lapse in what responsible citizens must do every year. VOTE.

  9. Today is a day to rise one’s thoughts/hopes to 250,000 feet. The “disease” we are discussing seems to be nearly everywhere in the developed world. Perhaps, a bit lesser in Canada and New Zealand, but not much else. Move? Or try to turn the USA Titanic?

    Given the blind support of nearly the whole current GOP to what is going on and that we are potentially having a close election, the rot is large and deep. Perhaps, it may be the unthinkable of divide…

    It is too bad the nice weather of the Sun Belt is already bright red. It is sad that the lovely West Coast is run by Libertarians and semi-anarchists. And the Northeast corridor is owned by Wall Street.

    We need to form a new tribe and get a reservation and declare it a state!

  10. I am a small church pastor in a small southern Indiana town, and I am worried. What will it mean for my congregation, and for me, if Trump is re-elected?

    This time it is a moral fight. It is between right and wrong. The best choice is Biden. Not a perfect choice but Biden is the right one for our country right now.

    My first pastorate was in 1985. I’ve served as a pastor in every size church. And I’ve never been so amazed at the power of the cult of personality as I have with this president.

    What will I do if Trump is re-elected?

    I am fighting the urge to leave the ministry and run away to a cabin in the woods. Or the actually leave this country if 45 continues as president. My family has roots in America since 1635. Many Ancestors fought for freedom and independence from Great Britain.

    But my goodness, folks, how can we rebuild this broken country? I wonder if it is possible. If Trump wins a second term, civility will be completely gone from public discourse, the hatred from the angry right will only increase.

    I pray the populace will wake up.

  11. AA considers resentment one of the most if not the most dangerous trigger of relapse for alcoholics. I learned this quote from them in my practice as a substance use counselor “Resentment is like drinking poison and expecting someone else to die.”

    Trump is a glaring symptom of this great divide in America over the civil rights of people of color, the LGBTQ community, immigration, and abortion. He has the kind of personality that is skilled at pitting people against one another. In a country of religous and racial diversity, conflict over abortion, immigration, and LGBTQ rights, and global warming, it is easy to fuel divisiveness. We call that “splitting” in mental health therapy.

    He has forced us to see that many in our country see the changes in civil rights and legalizing abortion as an existential threat. They see the immigration of Latinex, Mexicans, Hindus and Muslims as a threat to a white Christian nation.The people in small towns, the men who worked in coal mining and manufacturing are existentially threatened by robotics and artificial intelligence. Their suicide rate has markedly increased and many have become addicted to opiates. I grew up in small towns in a time when they had easier access to health care, secure jobs, family farms. I am saddened to see them dwindling, to see people being uprooted, to see their hospitals and schools dying. They took great pride in their small towns and had a strong work ethic and civic engagement. The small towns I grew up in knew better than to believe in the macho stance of rugged individualism. We had to help each other through blizzards, tornadoes, kids that had died in car wrecks and other tragedies. Churches and social organizations like the Lion’s Club, Boy scouts and Girl Scouts helped to knit the social fabric. There was a homogenous set of values that shaped these small towns.

    They were not perfect. There was segregation from people of color and an unwillingness to change, there was stigma against people with mental health and substance use disorders and the LGBTQ community. Many bought into the feminine mystique. Women who were not codependent with their spouses were called ugly names when they were rightly assertive. They often saw poor people as lazy who depended on a free hand out from the government including my paternal grandfather who was Union County’s trustee. They felt threatened by change and believed in the falsehood that staying the same creates security.

    One of the hardest things for us to do is to listen beneath the anger to the unspoken fear. Rugged individualism leads us to avoid the vulnerabilty of sharing pain and fear and to fail to ask for help when we need it. I often was able to deescalate agitated people by getting them to open up about their fears and their painful losses which their anger covered up. Even strong men would open up to me because they felt less threatened by a woman.

    When I think about Trump’s base, I turn to Martin Luther King and Clara Barton to inspire me to move beyond my anger, to move from compassion so that I can hold true to my spiritual vow “In an age of indifference, I vow to practice compassion.”

    If Biden wins, he will have to show us by example how to heal the nation. Maybe he should have weekly fireside chats like FDR did. But the other thing he will have to do is to address the fears and losses of those who feel left behind. The only question is can each one of us do that as well , can we move beyond our fear of the “other” which is now Trump’s base ?

  12. Frank Bruni via Sheila’s post:
    “Today, many Trump opponents look at the moral degradation Trump supporters tolerate, the bigotry they endorse or tolerate, and they conclude that such people are beyond the pale.” This evaluation of our differences is too mild, too wild-eyed and innocent.

    Cutting through Bruni’s gutless academic aphorisms, the “Moral degradation” that he uses is far too sweet a term for the traitorous unAmerican condition of being in love with all the forces and policies that will intimidate, injure and kill fellow Americans. All political policies incite opposing contentions, which is a fight that a Democratic Republic is designed to referee. But some policies foment existential threats, as well as all the proper reactions to brutal life-threatening agendas, which is a fight that only military force is designed to handle.

    Cutting through another spineless academic aphorism, the “bigotry they enforce or tolerate” is ducky, peachy wording that cloaks their actual solemn mission to end the existence of entire American minority populations, all means–expulsion, ghettos, disappearances, prison, murder–being on the chopping block.

    What we have here in the USA is not polarization–my God what a cowardly word–but a warring assault from the right that must be repelled. When your life depends on the outcome it is craven to call it polarization.

  13. The wisdom of the Age of Enlightenment was captured in the words of the founders of these United States in the documents that survived them but those words were so aspirational in their times. What the founders could create of the promise of their words was almost nothing. It’s taken 250 years of constant sacrifice to even come close to attaining their dreams.

    There were never any guarantees that those lofty ideas were in fact attainable. That liberal democracy was an effective and practical means to govern has never been proven but we are an experiment in the possibility that democracy and freedom for all is available as an option for humanity.

    We who always thought that we the people living free and equal was the only rational way to govern have been “woke” to the struggle it takes to live that way that has been underway since day one. We thought that we were lucky enough to live post struggle. We lived an illusion. We are part of the struggle. We didn’t get a free pass to live comfortably thanks to the struggle of others.

    Maybe it will never be over.

  14. At least in my lifetime, although I did not understand him much at the time Joe McCarthy began the National Mudslinging. Mudslinging did not begin with McCarthy, with television he had a first a National audience.

    The Trumpet has amplified mudslinging – not just mud – Toxic Waste. As long as Trump benefits his various triangulated Cult followers all the toxic waste is ignored.

    The GOP has for sometime given up on issues, except some whining about deficits and then we have Trumpet cheerfully cutting taxes. The Trump Cult has made their issues the social and cultural issues. Trump and the GOP are running against a non-existent Democratic Party. The Trumpet has tried and his Cult followers believe the Democrats are a party of godless, communists out to take away your guns, bibles and big screen TV’s.

    My hope is a complete total rout of the GOP.

    I read a very interesting article about the Trump Cult Memes constantly posted in social media and a brilliant retort.


  15. Brooks defined the problem nicely with his polarization vs. legitimacy contrast. As for the two sides today, we will get along with one another in time just as southerners and Yankees have done. Trump is toast, and with his gradual disappearance from the scene, his backers will have no central speaker for their animosities, especially if their erstwhile speaker is in Cell Block A.

    So, as in a similar era of Reconstruction Days following the Civil War and the formation of the KKK, I choose to believe that we will come together in a unity of sorts when confronted with more serious and universal problems than domestic dissension, like climate and population control, climate refugees, global dictators, wage and wealth inequality, the effects of AI etc. We have seen in history how dissenters come to agreement when common obstacles present themselves, and I think that will help bring unity to the fore, especially with a Biden rather than a Trump in place, a Biden who is already urging that we come together.

    To do: Weather the storm, restore our democratic processes, and be patient as normalcy reasserts itself. Perhaps after we have access to the vaccine, who knows? Perhaps we’ll invite our Trump-voting neighbors over for a back yard cookout.

  16. Trump’s greatest contribution to our country is his alerting us to the absurdity of American exceptionalism. For example, his profound racism has helped us question and understand our own racism at deeper levels. His rejection of accomplishment based on a questioning mind and strong morals has re-taught us that the values we learned as children are the foundation for meaningful adult achievement. His divisiveness has shown us, as never before, that it’s impossible to move forward if half the population is pulling in the opposite direction. He has illustrated, as no one else could, that making fun of others because of some perceived deficiency is the bitterest way of expressing a general hatred for all.

    Single handedly he has demonstrated that a charismatic demagogue can torpedo democracy and exploit vulnerabilities and bend the Constitution to his will – a danger we will forever be forced to reckon with. He has shown that the greatest fears we can imagine fall short of the horror that is possible and must be opposed by eternal vigilance. He has taught us – me at least – that hate is sometimes a more powerful political weapon than nation-strengthening policies, and that the number of voters receptive to that emotion is incalculable. Then, in the person of the Senate, he showed us up close how Hitler achieved the obedience he needed to doom his country. Finally, he taught us that an entire political party will willingly surrender all of its beloved values if giving them up promises more power.

    America has been so full of hot air for so long that it desperately needed puncturing. He gets credit for one thing and one thing only – puncturing our self-illusions.

  17. Monotonous L. It actually began with Tricky Dick and the House UnAmerican Activities Committee in 1947. That’s how he made his name a household word and went on to fame and fortune and burglary and the rest.

  18. Hate and blame and anger are easy commodities to sell to a large but apparently still minority part of our population and that’s probably always been true. It’s only lately that it’s been mined for political purposes so effectively.

    The reasons that people so readily buy that commodity is as a substitute for solving difficult problems which is not a business that they have experience doing.

  19. Yesterday’s comment by “L” left me wondering why she was talking about Kamala being a President and that Trump would be better. It left me a little confused because I thought everyone knew that the ticket is Biden for President and Harris for VP.

    Talking to another poor soul today that has been sucked into the right wing misinformation sphere, I found out the reason “L” made this statement. In typical Trump fashion there is an element of projection, but the newest “fact” is that Biden is too old and frail to handle being President, and as soon as he is elected he is going to resign and Harris will be President. Apparently this “fact” is known to all loyal Trump supporters. It is a very clever piece of misinformation. If you were a 2016 Trump voter that is one the fence in 2020, and now there is a possibility that voting for the other party would mean electing a black women to the white house.

    It is sad that there are so many people who could be manipulated in such a way. To bad L assumed that this was a real fact just assumed we all knew what she was talking about. Talk about being in two different worlds!

  20. I have to amplify on Larry’s comment.
    Charlotte – “There were good people on both sides.” Really?
    Polarization is a nice word to avoid taking sides, but let’s get real.

    The Republican Party has increasingly relied upon racist dog whistles and red baiting since Nixon. As they moved further to the right, many people quit or were forced out. Now, they embrace racism and authoritarianism. No more whispers.

    The Democratic Party did not move to the left. If anything, they moved to the right. They are still a “big tent” party with fiscal conservatives and people like Evan Bayh (enough said). The most radical Democrats, like AOC, have policies that are just an extension of FDR (their rhetoric, not so much).

    The Weathermen don’t exist, neither does SDS nor a number of other “far left” organizations. The extreme right-wing organizations are alive and well.

    Polarization – balderdash. The Republicans ran ever closer to the edge, and the Democrats followed and the media said “it’s the same on both sides”. That’s how we got here. Increasingly, we normalized dog whistles, spoken words, and finally racist rants. The extreme right wing has crawled out from under their rocks, and people have just accepted it as normal because “if there is extreme right, there MUST be extreme left, so all is even.”

    Polarization – balderdash.

    I cannot know what is “in the hearts” of Trump supporters, but I judge people on their words and their actions. When you hear evil words or see evil actions, you must speak up, or you are condoning it. Until they examine their hearts and “turn away”, I don’t have to have respect for them, nor do I have to compromise with them.

  21. I am unable to communicate with the Trump supporter. I am starting to suspect it’s just not possible; we’re living in completely different universes. Are we even the same species? There’s no way to know.

    After four years of horror, more people are voting for Trump now than 2016.

    Even if Biden wins–and I desperately hope he does–it’s clear: America is broken.

  22. John H; how many millions were spent working up to going nowhere and accomplishing nothing. We are still marching in place and waiting to learn the results of one possible change of the face in the White House, that of the Electoral College decision on the president. Again NOT the popular vote. If it is Biden; we will then begin marching backwards, if not in full retreat, to the Obama administration being locked in place by Mitch McConnell and the Senate. We need to continue stocking up on toilet paper.

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