The Nice Person Delusion
“Why can’t we all just get along?”
“No one was listening to these people!”
“We need to meet in the middle.”
“Let’s come together to heal.”
Who could object to these statements? They all sound so eminently reasonable. They emanate, of course, from nice middle-class liberal-leaning people across the USA. They are intended to be a response to the violent hate-filled rhetoric being pumped out by Trump and his supporters as the infantile orange moron looks for ever-more-desperate ways to cling onto power.
Well-meaning people are often the very best facilitators of tyranny, largely because they live in a world of idle platitudes and are utterly clueless about the harsh realities of life. Well-meaning people said to themselves about Hitler, “he surely can’t really be as bad as people say!” and said about Stalin, “he surely isn’t responsible for all the bad things that are happening across our wonderful socialist republic!”
Let’s look at the propositions and see why they are so dangerous. To begin, let’s take the much-loved notion that we should “meet in the middle” which is another version of the “give a little, take a little” compromise-oriented approach to difficulties.
This is precisely the approach the British took to Hitler prior to September 3rd 1939. Hitler had made plain his intention to provide “lebensraum” for the German people and so the British, eager and craven appeasers, thought that giving away parts of France, all of Austria, and sacrificing the people of Czechoslovakia was “a decent compromise” that would surely save British skins. But, amazingly, meeting Hitler halfway only stoked his appetite for more.
Who would have thought it! I mean, if we give the playground bully our lunch money on Monday, who could possibly predict he’d come back for more on Tuesday!
Taking the Hitler theme a little further, there is overwhelming documentary evidence that the Nazi regime murdered more than eleven million people (six million Jews, five million other “undesirables”). Would “meeting him halfway” and permitting the murder of five-and-a-half million have been a good idea? After all, progress is built on compromise!
How about we meet Trump supporters halfway, and say that Biden can only have half the Presidency? Sounds like a great compromise to me!
Let’s take another of the platitudes: “no one was listening to them!”
Maybe this is because the mindless noise they were babbling wasn’t worth listening to? Or should we accept bigoted racist lies merely because people are shouting them often enough and loudly enough? Fat old white trash blaming Hispanics for all their failures aren’t saying things any reasonable person could agree with, nor wish to encourage.
Why should we listen to the empty blusterings of people who are simply repeating soundbites they’ve been fed by unscrupulous rabble-rousers? Talk to a Trump supporter (or a Brexit supporter — they’re exactly the same) and all you’ll hear is a repetition of whatever evidence-free nonsense they’ve heard on whatever trash shows they tune into. There is precisely zero thinking inside the head of a Trump supporter. So why would we listen to the mindless and highly offensive noise that spews forth from their open mouths?
Or should we say, “hey, maybe they’re half right, maybe the last election was half-stolen, half illegitimate, despite all evidence to the contrary? After all, we have to listen to these people!”
We could proffer many similar examples but the message is plain: mindless platitudes are an insufficient basis for action.
When simple-minded and profoundly ignorant people are duped by ruthless cynical demagogues, attempting to reason with them or “meet them halfway” is a sure-fire recipe for catastrophe. When we encourage bullies, the bullies learn that bullying is an excellent way to get what they want and naturally they then up the ante.
The BBC News recently published a series of interviews with Trump supporters in a backwater farm town in the US hinterland. Not surprisingly, every single interviewee simply repeated the soundbites they’d been fed by Fox News and the various other ultra-right-wing propaganda outlets that masquerade as “news” organizations. At no point did any one of the Trump supporters express even the vestiges of an original thought nor any notion that was not utterly delusional.
Their attempts at justifying their baseless beliefs would embarrass a four-year-old. One classic example: a Trump supporter affirming that Biden must have stolen the election because he didn’t vote for Biden and nobody he knows in that small backwater town voted for Biden either! This surely proves the election was rigged.
This is precisely the same as the person affirming that because he doesn’t understand calculus and he doesn’t know anyone in town who can use calculus either, it must prove that calculus is a lie and just “fake math.”
Trump supporters swallow whatever lies they’re fed, no matter how implausible the lies are or how clearly reality contradicts those lies. Trump supporters believe their flabby orange hero is “a great businessman” because, well, because that’s what he tells them. Plus, they’ve seen him on a trash TV show where the producers presented him as a great businessman.
Which is no different from believing that the actor who portrays Superman in the movies can really fly. Hey, it must be true, because they’ve seen it with their own eyes! The guy just looks up and whoosh! There he goes!
According to recent polls 88% of Trump voters believe, on the basis of no evidence whatsoever, that Trump “really” won the recent election. They are encouraged in this delusional belief by cynical opportunists who want to exploit the poor dupes for their own personal gain. It would never occur to a single Trump supporter to look for real-world facts. It’s so much easier just to believe whatever nonsense they’re fed by ultra-right-wing propaganda organizations and lunatic conspiracy theory bloggers.
Worse yet, some ardent Trump supporters — those eager to wage literal war against baby-eating god-hating gun-grabbing socialist lib’ruls — are the very people Trump continuously demonizes. One fascist militia group, the Proud Boys, is led by Enrique Tarrio. The psychological motivation is obvious: just as with the Stockholm Syndrome, weak vulnerable people seek to identify with their tormentors in an attempt to ingratiate themselves and thus avoid being victimized. It’s the same phenomenon as all the self-loathing closet homosexual Republican politicians and evangelicals who demonize homosexuality. It’s the same phenomenon as the European Jews who ardently supported Hitler in the mistaken belief this would protect them — a strategy notable for its total failure. But as nobody ever learns anything from history it’s not surprising to see quite a few Hispanics (and some African-Americans) desperately supporting Trump in the mistaken belief it will put them safely on the beneficial side when the mass slaughter commences.
Should we really be listening to such people? Meeting them halfway?
The hard fact is that populism is the most toxic threat we face today.
By ceding to the demands of demagogues we merely speed their rise to power. By pretending that vile nonsense deserves to be heard we merely encourage more extreme forms of hatred and bigotry. By pretending that outrageous behavior is part of the political process we merely defeat reason and decency.
Trump and nearly every Republican politician active today are abhorrent violators of the most basic norms. They are cynical manipulators of the simple-minded, gaining power from the intellectual incapacity of those they so easily dupe. We can pretend “it’s all just politics” or we can face the facts and recognize that populism is eating away at everything we value.
When confronted with bad behavior the only effective response is to oppose it with maximum force and defeat it completely. Anything less merely lets it fester and grow more powerful.
Remember: people who vote Republican vote for tearing terrified infants from the arms of their parents and throwing them into cages. People who vote Republican vote for lies and the destruction of political process. People who vote Republican vote to give trillions to the ultra-rich and large corporations and thereby burden everyone else with a deficit that will never be repaid. People who vote Republican believe women should be denied authority over their own bodies and instead be made subject to the whims of religious extremists. People who vote Republican believe that one set of laws should apply to privileged white people and a very different set of laws should apply to people of darker skin hues.
It’s no good pretending these are “only political differences.” That’s the same as saying, “hey, you know, the Holocaust was just a difference of political opinion.”
Lies have consequences. If we don’t oppose lies with every ounce of strength we have, we permit them to conquer.
Hitler used lies to dominate Germany. Stalin used lies to dominate the Soviet Union. Mao used lies to dominate China. Yamamoto used lies to dominate Japan. PolPot used lies to dominate Cambodia. Mugabe used lies to dominate Zimbabwe and Mobutu used lies to dominate Zaire. Lies are very often a highly effective strategy.
Trump has used blatant childish lies his entire privileged life, to great success. The Republican Party has used blatant lies since the Nixon campaign of 1968, to great success.
Is this really a path we want to continue to tread?
There is only one answer to lies: total eradication.
Anything else ensures their ultimate victory.