How NOT to talk to a Trump supporter

From “29 celebrities who endorse Donald Trump”, Business Insider October 2016

“With every ‘I told you so’ and demand that they apologize to you, personally, for the sin of being wrong, you are hardening [them] against the possibility of changing their minds. I know you may feel that you cannot be happy until they apologize, admit they were wrong, that they were stupid, that everything they ever believed about the war was in error. They know it too… [But] they don’t want to make you happy. Frankly, you haven’t given them any reason to.” Megan McArdle, The Atlantic, writing in 2008, about why so many people still refused to admit that the 2003 invasion of Iraq had led to disaster, and even persisted in believing in the face of the evidence that Saddam Hussein really had had weapons of mass destruction.

Now think how this applies to Trump supporters, as they get more and more opportunities to see what was really meant by “getting rid of Obamacare” or by “cutting taxes” or by “draining the swamp” or by “Make America Great Again”, or by “crooked” or by having someone of Trump’s moral and intellectual calibre in the White House.

Dark green shows where Trump vs Clinton outperformed Romney vs Obama. See New York Times here for key and commentary

Of course, with a little bit of effort you can do even worse than that. You can insult them. Ignore that many of them had voted for Obama (see map on right). Ignore the long slow steady slide of Democratic support in Middle America. Ignore how six decades of business as usual had done nothing or less than nothing for small town rural America. Ignore the loss of American (and other!) lives in undeclared wars that most Americans hadn’t even heard of. Ignore that the alternative to Trump was someone who saw nothing wrong in taking six-figure speaking fees from Goldman Sachs (“that’s what they offered“). Just remind them how stupid you think they are. Call them bigots too, if you like. Or deplorables. Works every time.

The McArdle quotation is from a long and thoughtful essay entitled Anger Management, on the importance of bridge-building, originally written during Iraq’s descent into chaos, but now more relevant than ever. I came across it through  Being Wrong, Kathryn Schultz’s splendid account of how we are all more or less wrong (even you and me, dear reader) most of the time, how essential this is to our growth, and how difficult it is for all of us to admit it. Especially when the Other Lot are self-righteously asking us to do so.

A final quote from McArdle: “I as well as anyone know the delights of unloading one’s accumulated venom on richly deserving targets… But I also understand that unloading, while making me feel better, does not usually advance my cause.”

Venom is not, and should not be, enough to win elections.

About Paul Braterman

Science writer, former chemistry professor; committee member British Centre for Science Education; board member and science adviser Scottish Secular Society; former member editorial board, Origins of Life, and associate, NASA Astrobiology Insitute; first popsci book, From Stars to Stalagmites 2012

Posted on November 1, 2017, in Politics and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Yep. It’s embarassing for these people, and we should not forget that.

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  2. Venom is way beyond criticism and nearly always attacks the individual and not what they say. It’s used in a satirical way by many comedians and we love it . It is especially welcome in the form of cartoons making a mockery of what we don’t like and who we don’t like. The opinions of our enemies become a laughing stock and we delight in proving them stupid.
    The trouble with all this is often they are far from stupid and they cannot believe that we are stupid enough not to see their point.
    When this gets way out of hand we accuse our opponents of being sub-human and this makes despicable acts easy to carry out . The duel and the vendetta are still very much alive and kicking.
    I’m 75 and looking back I’ve been wrong just as often as I’ve been right, I’ve been stupid just as often as I been sensible but there is a wise old saying you can’t put an old head on young shoulders.

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    • I am very doubtful that one statement you made is correct, just above. I would bet you have been right far more than wrong!

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      • Well there is much we can’t remember going back all those years. My pride was high in my youthful years and my expectations large ; overall I a much better man these days but I would rather err on the side of modesty

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