by Robert Gressis
I suspect that there’s a displaced desire for conflict animating a lot of political junkies: we can’t very well go and raid another tribe anymore, so we settle for destroying them in discourse. This is a rather preferable arrangement: both sides can leave a political debate telling themselves they have destroyed the other guy, whereas with plunder, it’s clear who the winners and losers are.
But of course, even this benign political strife creates a lot of losers. To the extent that politics sublimates our desire for murder, political discussions become more fraught. People are quick to judge each other’s character based on their stated political beliefs. I think that by and large, this is dumb. Just as judging a waiter to be a rude person because he was rude to me today is an instance of what psychologists call “the fundamental attribution error,” so too is judging a person to be evil because he supports Trump; an instance of getting ahead of your skis. Even if voting for Trump were an evil act — I don’t think it is but bear with me — it wouldn’t follow that a person who votes for Trump is an evil person.
Part of the reason for this is that it’s very difficult to know what a vote expresses. Jason Brennan made this point in his book, Against Democracy:
In the  US presidential election, I voted for a certain candidate, regarding him as the lesser of two warmongering, corporatist, paternalistic, plutocratic evils. A colleague voted for that same candidate, regarding him as a truly positive change he could believe in. Suppose someone else voted for that same candidate because they wanted to fit in with their friends. Suppose a fourth person cynically voted for that candidate because they wanted to hasten their country’s demise. What did any of our votes express to others? Just by knowing whom someone voted for, you cannot infer what someone meant to express. (Brennan, 135-36)
Let’s say, though, that someone voted for Trump because she thinks he’s a great man who has, when unfettered, done a great job, and that Biden is both demented and in thrall to radical, America-hating socialists. This certainly tells you something about her, namely: what world she lives in.
What’s the world of the enthusiastic Trump-voter like? Though there are a lot of different kinds of enthusiastic Trump-voters, I think most of them have the following views.
First, they distrust and hate “the media” (by which I will mean the non-right-wing media; it’s worth noting that there is a large, powerful right-wing media). I chose that word order deliberately: I think the distrust preceded and caused the hate. There were too many times when major media outlets (New York Times and CNN seem to the main sources of ire) framed a story in a misleading way, proved overly credulous, were overly cautious, or left out crucial details. Because these – well, let’s just call them goofs – are so frequent, not only do several Trump supporters think that the media is biased against Trump, they think that it literally fabricates stories about him. In other words, they think that elite organizations – whose purpose, remember, is to provide the common facts around which political debate is supposed to revolve – will stop at basically nothing to harm one side and help the other. That’s why they hate the media. And I don’t think “hate” is an exaggeration.
Second, they either don’t see Trump as a liar or they think his lying is justified (some, of course, believe both). The reason some don’t see him as a liar is that claims that he lies come from the press, whom they think of as liars. If Jim, a liar, says that Donald is a liar, you don’t believe Jim—especially if you know that Jim hates Donald. But some of them will admit he’s a liar; it’s just that they think it’s justified. After all, when the press lies as much about Trump as they do, then they’ve made it clear that they’ll play dirty. So it’s ok for Trump to play dirty too. They started it.
Third, they don’t just see the media as liars. They also see academics as liars. Not just liars, but liars paid by tax-dollars to spew anti-American propaganda at Trump-voters’ children. This matters, because it means they’re highly distrustful and fearful of expert opinion, whether those experts are professors of international relations, public health officials, or climate scientists. It also gives them a persecution complex. And it makes them hate media-dubbed “experts,” too.
Finally, there is a kind of intellectual coherence to their views as well. Basically, their worldview is this: there are a bunch of well-heeled, well-educated people who travel in the same circles and who want the same things: free trade, more immigration, more environmental regulation, more social liberalization, and more restrictions on business. The reason this group of people—the “elites”—want these things is that they, personally, benefit. Business people benefit from free trade and the cheaper labor provided by unskilled immigrants; universities benefit from the tuition dollars that immigrants provide; rich tech bros and finance types in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, New York City, and Washington, DC benefit from having cheap housekeepers, gardeners, and produce; big business can absorb the costs of more environmental regulation in a way that small businesses can’t, and upper-middle-class liberals can afford environmentally friendly cars without worrying that environmental regulations will kill their own industries; and social liberals want to indulge in sexual experimentation without sanction while condemning evangelical Christians and rust-belt laborers for their benighted social views.
In short, the worldview of the elites, according to Trump supporters, is: we hate you, we’re better than you, we’re going to destroy what you care about, and we’re going to make you pay for the privilege of our doing this. And, they hate Trump above all. So that means Trump is great.
I regale you with all this, not because I accept it, but because I think someone who accepts it isn’t necessarily a bad person for accepting it. I think large portions of it are false — I think the media very rarely fabricates, I think most experts really do have genuine expertise, I think Trump is incompetent and malevolent, and I think a lot of the policies that the neoliberal elite favor are good policies, arrived at only partly out of motivated reasoning. But I can totally get how someone can end up in this world, just as I can understand how someone could end up in the alternative, social justice world.
The problem is these worlds are getting bigger. The world I’m living in – my world – is getting smaller. And the people on these other worlds enjoy warfare in a way that I don’t. I try to understand them; I don’t think they try to understand me, because it seems that Trump voters think I am a rich, upper-middle-class liberal with no allegiance to America who wants to corrupt their children, while social justice types think I’m blinded by my privilege and dangerous to the extent that I don’t make actively resisting my own privilege my central life-policy. In other words, Trump-types think I’m evil, and social justice types think I’m willfully ignorant. Both think I’m dangerous. So, it feels like it’s only a matter of time before one or both groups try to destroy me.
But thinking that way amounts to falling into the same trap I’ve said they fall into. I’m catastrophizing. I’m engaging in all-or-nothing thinking. I’m painting myself as someone who’s nobly above the fray while describing people worried about disloyal cosmopolitans or white supremacy as beneath me, carried away by forces they can’t even see. In other words, exposure to these worlds infects you: the more people you meet who think that life is a Manichean struggle, the more you begin to think that life, really is a Manichean struggle, namely, between crazy Trumpkins and SJWs, on the one side, and normies on the other.
The sad fact is, I can’t deny it. I really do see people at the extremes as, well, nuts. As living in completely different worlds from me. This is the political problem, of which Trump is a symptom: I think people really are getting crazier. And I can’t help but feel like I’m sane. And yet, thinking you’re sane while thinking that everyone around you is getting crazy is a telltale sign of insanity.
This is why politics is so fraught. When you feel that two-thirds of the political world has gone insane, two responses come to mind: treat them as equals, in which case you’ll repeatedly end up upbraiding them for their failings; or treat them as lost souls, in which case you will pity them as mental cases.
My own solution is just to cut the Gordian knot: I have withdrawn. I’m trying to keep myself as ignorant of politics as possible, partly for my mental health. Hearing about our current political scene is deeply disturbing. It reminds me people are not handling each other well, which scares me; “when is someone coming for me?” is a question that abides after spelunking into the caverns of politics.
But I’m also doing it for my moral health: a lot of times, learning about people’s reactions to politics makes it almost impossible for me to see them in the same way. I lose respect for them. I fall into the fundamental attribution error: I judge them as evil, demented, or dangerous because of the things they say in the one sphere of our lives where we can feel like we’re part of a conquering horde, where we can crush our enemies, see them driven before us, and hear the lamentations of their women.
My withdrawal, then, comes from my own personal failings. It’s too hard for me to be a mensch to you when I see you being so unmenschlich. If I were a better person, I’d talk more about politics. But I avoid it when I can, because I don’t want to be a worse person.
 For example, numerous graphics or stories that talk about how right-wing terrorists have killed more people from September 12, 2001 on than Islamists have. Huh. I wonder why they started at September 12, 2001?
 See, among numerous other possibilities, journalists’ reactions to the Covington Catholic video, the Jussi Smollett hoax, or Deborah Ramirez’s gang-rape allegations against Brett Kavanaugh.
 Witness some journalists’ hesitancy to describe Omar Mateen, the Pulse nightclub shooter, as an Islamist terrorist, preferring instead to see him as a self-hating gay. This despite the fact that during his 9-1-1 call during his shooting, Mateen swore allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
 Writing in an essay for the New York Times, Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly uncovered a hither unknown sexual harassment allegation against Brett Kavanaugh. They failed to mention that the woman on whose behalf they offered the allegation denied the allegation, nor did they mention that she had several friends who also denied that she made the allegation.