Citing a little inventory about politics, The Atlantic writer Olga Khazan states that “…the issues that most concern political liberals tend to fall under the category of ‘individualizing’ moral foundations, which have more to do with personal standards: care versus harm, and fairness versus cheating. Political conservatives, meanwhile, tend to be more concerned about group-focused ‘binding’ foundations: loyalty versus betrayal, authority versus subversion, and disgust versus purity.”
“Among the factors that shape such deep-seated political preferences, a prominent one is believed to be fundamental moral beliefs—how someone thinks a good society should function or a decent person should behave,” she points out.
Khazan goes on to point out, interestingly, that perhaps the causal direction should actually be reversed!
To clarify: “In a series of analyses published recently in the American Journal of Political Science, three researchers found that people’s moral codes don’t cause or predict their political ideology; instead, people’s ideology appears to predict their answers on the moral-foundations questionnaire. As Peter Hatemi, one of the study’s authors and a political-science professor at Pennsylvania State University, puts it: ‘We will switch our moral compass depending on how it fits with what we believe politically.’ (LINK to the article)
This is relevant to a series of discussions a friend and I have had. He is pretty politically “on the Right” and I am pretty politically on the Left. He tends to see hypocrisy and hyperbole from the Left, and rarely notices (or at least speaks) that Trump is a massive threat to society. I think we are witnessing a gross enactment of the “Emperor having no clothes” and even some distinct proto-Nazi behavior.
From the Kavanaugh hearing to the Trump impeachment, it is more about Pelosi and Democratic Party maladministration and malfeseance, and I notice what seems like an endless supply of Trump-driven rips at the fabric of our societal institutions. I, too, notice hypocrisy: the latest example would be Trump acting like a jerkoff during the Star-Spangled Banner (LINK) while he lambasted the “take a knee for social justice” movement. There is admittedly something kind of “easily crititiqued” about Colin Kaepernick choosing to sit out the national anthem, but I think it is in the same category of nonviolent social resistance to social injustice that has animated many good-hearted individuals from the Abolitionist movement to the Civil Rights Movement to the “keep God out of our public school classroom” movement of today.
I am not sure what else could explain how a very intelligent and otherwise moral custodial father of two young girls (one of whom is adopted) could witness the goings-on in the last three years and not have much to complain about when it comes to Trump’s behavior. When pressed, he will admit Trump is “a buffoon” but point out that from the time when Democrats voted against Civil Rights legislation to Nancy Pelosi’s actions, the Party is corrupt and pathetic.
Folks who point out minutiae whilst “the Emperor with no clothes” lies and dissembles and cheats and rigs and bullys and denigrates and damages institutions and distracts and distorts all for personal gain are not part of the solution. To not call the Emperor naked is a moral problem for me.
William Wilberforce, an abolitionist, once stated, “You may choose to look the other way, but you can never again say you did not know.” To not offer a full-throated denouncing of Trump and his ways, but to point out how the Democrats misplayed their hand vis-a-vis the impeachment and will suffer in the next election, just strikes me as odd. It is akin to merely be critiquing the food on the Titanic‘s maiden voyage. The Dems may be whatever they are, but let’s put it all into perspective here – our ship is headed for a massive iceberg. Whether it is economic, nuclear, climate-related, or simply the wholesale diminution of our institutions is unclear. And yes, I get that American institutions have always been imperfect, and have even sunk to a new low in recent decades. Our economy is humming along for the well-to-do, but society is rotting.
So for me, I will say it is interesting to consider that maybe my view of politics (which is, believe it or not, somewhat genetic!) might inform my morality. That is, I might see bad behavior in Trump and his Republican co-conspirators very easily, but be blinded to chicanery and malfeseance on the Left.
What Trump is accused of is no piddling transgression, and it’s the culmination of so much bad behavior — and such rank dishonesty — that you can’t turn away from it. That’s an abdication of responsible citizenship. That’s an insult to the democracy that we’re privileged to live in. ~ Frank Bruni
Now, I think a case can be rationally supported that Adam Schiff and Nancy Pelosi were not only not pro-impeachment from Day 1 (a claim made by my friend), but that they were loathe to use the Nuclear Option on the Fraud in the White House for political reasons. Trump cheated again – the day after the Mueller Report came out, astonishingly! – this time with Ukraine. Then he asked China to investigate his main political ally. Why all this skullduggery? He was afraid of Biden, and his ego cannot take being relieved of a job for the first time in life. He is a walking, talking wrecking ball to American institutions. I don’t see any cheating on the part of the House impeachment managers, and have been deeply impressed by Adam Schiff. Whether that is objectively true, I don’t know. I think a lot of folks in the journalism business (called “the enemy of the people” by Trump) would agree that history will vindicate my view. History has vindicated the North in the Civil War, as well. I suppose time will tell.
George Lakoff is a good source for those interested in how psychology interfaces with politics. “A dark cloud of authoritarianism looms over the nation,” he wrote in his book Thinking Points, A Progressive’s Handbook. ”Radical conservatives have taken over the reins of government and have been controlling the terms of the political debate for many years.”
That statement by Lakoff is so unequivocal that it raises the fair question: Is the political Right just totally out of control and extreme now that the Republican Party of our parents has been effectively destroyed by Trumpism, or are folks in the mainstream and progressive media just blinded by rage or victims of unconscious biases? When Rudy Giuliani participates in State Department business as the President’s lawyer, but isn’t even employed by the United States government, and when Pat Cippolone, the White House Counsel, is also the President’s impeachment defense attorney (paid for by the taxpayer), something is apparently very rotten in Denmark, as the saying goes.
I just cannot believe that all the historians and the Constitutional scholars and the experienced journalists and the political science professors and millions of good people on the Left all have their heads up their asses. Are we really to believe that when Hitler was appointed (yes, he was appointed) and began to make alarming changes to German government and society at large, that those who saw him and were frightened were fools who were merely “crying wolf”?
One of the clearest rebuttals to the angles my friend takes in our discussions comes from Jim Ewel: “Too often, our mainstream media engages in false equivalency. They report that one side did something, which is bad, but of course the other side also did bad things. While I believe that if you look across the spectrum of issues, there are plenty of things that both sides could improve upon, when you look at individual issues or individual acts (Trumps tweets in this case,) there isn’t always equivalency. …President Trump’s language, telling four American citizens to go back to the ‘broken and crime infested places from which they came’ was racist, xenophobic and not in the spirit of our history as the land of opportunity for immigrants. It wasn’t an attack on the ideas or policies of the squad, but on them personally. It was wrong. No amount of discussion of white liberal soft racism is going to change that.”
There is a thing that those on the Right claim. They point to “Trump Derangement Syndrome” (LINK). I think it’s a pernicious thing to do (to label anger at the government as a mere psychological artifact). It’s about as galling as when Giuliani, the man at the center of the President’s treacherous activities of late, utters – and I am not exaggerating here – “Truth is not truth!” That bullshit is straight out of Orwell’s haunting political drama, 1984. It feels very alarming to me, and I don’t think it is me having mental illness. I think it is a proper reaction to trauma. The trauma of seeing some amazingly dastardly stuff happen both in secret meetings, conspiracy-style. It’s shockingly Nixonian. Roman. Often, right before our very eyes! (LINK)
In response, the anger is very serious, almost palpable. Some will poke fun at those of us who see a clear and present danger, say “Ohh, the sky is falling, the sky is falling!”, or call us “snowflakes.” I believe those who see Trumpism and the death of our parents’ Republican values in exchange for cheating, Orwellianism, and deceit are definitely in the right. The evidence is on our side. There is too much at stake to be weak-willed or ambivalent at a time such as this. “Despair is worth discussing, because it’s something that organizers and Democratic candidates should be addressing head on. Left to fester, it can lead to apathy and withdrawal. …Democracy grief isn’t like regular grief. Acceptance isn’t how you move on from it. Acceptance is itself a kind of death,” New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg believes. I too think we must “rage, rage against the dying of the light” as Dylan Thomas put it in the 1940s. If those on the extreme Right laugh at us, so be it. We all grew up with schoolyard bullies, and many of us have read Orwell’s 1984. And we remember the Niebuhr poem featuring the haunting line, “First they came for the Communists….”
Much of this has to do with longing for values we all know are right: truth, fairness, character, and decency. House impeachment manager Adam Schiff, who has been very impressive – almost Lincolnian – pleaded in vain with the 51 Republican Senators who decided America’s fate on February 5th to put patriotism before party: “America believes in a thing called Truth. She does not believe that we are entitled to our own alternate facts. She recoils at those who spread pernicious falsehoods. There is nothing more corrosive to a democracy than the idea that there is no truth. America also believes that there is a difference between right and wrong, and right matters. But there is more: truth matters, justice matters, but there is also decency. Decency matters.”
Think about that. Trump cheats repeatedly to throw an election, and millions of Americans and 51 Senators do not see the situation realistically. It’s shocking. I know Schiff loses sleep over this state of affairs; you can tell from his soaring and persuasive rhetoric on the floor of the so-called greatest deliberative body in the world: “We must say enough — enough! He has betrayed our national security, and he will do so again. He has compromised our elections, and he will do so again. You will not change him. You cannot constrain him. He is who he is. Truth matters little to him. What’s right matters even less, and decency matters not at all. You are decent. He is not who you are.”
Schiff also succinctly said, “If the truth doesn’t matter, we’re lost. Framers couldn’t protect us from ourselves, if right and truth don’t matter.”
I have news for a lot of the conservatives out there: like many times throughout America’s history, the liberals are the ones wearing the white hats. Citing the utter Orwellianism underlying this noxious nightmare we are all living, Michelle Goldberg writes: “The nemeses of the Trumpist movement are liberals — in both the classical and American sense of the world — not America’s traditional geopolitical foes. This is something new in our lifetime. Despite right-wing persecution fantasies about Barack Obama, we’ve never before had a president who treats half the country like enemies, subjecting them to an unending barrage of dehumanization and hostile propaganda. Opponents in a liberal political system share at least some overlapping language. They have some shared values to orient debates. With those things gone, words lose their meaning and political exchange becomes impossible and irrelevant.”
“Donald Trump is a traitor,” former Republican Congressman and former fringe talk radio host turned presidential candidate, Joe Walsh, said. He continued (on Jake Tapper): “Now, I know there is a lot of talk about treason, people on both sides have been irresponsible using that word ‘treason.’ I’m not accusing this president of treason. Our founders were very specific about what treason means. But when you look at ‘traitor’ more broadly defined, this president betrayed our country again this week and it’s not the first time he did it.” Now that is some truth-telling.
“We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.”
Perhaps I digress. Back to process, to psychology. Jonathan Haidt is very popular right now in this space. “Haidt agrees that there’s a lot of motivated reasoning that goes on in politics,” Khazan notes. “If you ‘know’ you’re a Democrat, you might find ways to make your values seem Democratic. The same goes for Republicans. And when it comes time to decide who to vote for, ‘tribal loyalty will trump everything else,’ even morals, Haidt says (no presidential pun intended).” Haidt also cogently has said, “When it comes to moral judgments, we think we are scientists discovering the truth, but actually we are lawyers arguing for positions we arrived at by other means.”
“Morality binds and blinds,” Jonathan Haidt cautions. “It binds us into ideological teams that fight each other as though the fate of the world depended on our side winning each battle. It blinds us to the fact that each team is composed of good people who have something important to say.”
Political tribalism and bias are serious. Polarization is real. Psychology definitely underlies politics, polarization, tribalism, and morality. Ezra Klein’s new book is the latest and greatest as of this writing. Dan Hopkins reviews it thusly:
“Klein’s book starts with the psychological underpinnings of polarization, and then looks at ways that today’s media landscape and political institutions generate feedback loops that amplify it. In this view, polarization is self-reinforcing. Political elites divide over a question, and then citizens, picking up on those divisions, follow the natural grooves of human psychology by dividing themselves into increasingly meaningful groups. Those emerging divisions, in turn, heighten politicians’ incentives to accentuate their divisions. Thick with insight, the book is especially compelling on how today’s media environment fosters identity-infused content.”
Here is a link to an article about political tribalism and how it is deeply unpatriotic.
Writer Thomas Corbett puts my feelings into words pretty nicely: “At 75 years of age, how do I feel about the country of my birth? I have long ceased to admire it. I certainly no longer salute it. Today, I can barely look upon its symbols absent feelings of extreme disgust. We have abandoned the last vestiges of democratic principles. We have become a rogue nation aligning ourselves with the worst authoritarians around the globe while abandoning the fight for peace, for the environment, for a sustainable climate, for equality and opportunity, and for the future and for our own children. Today, we represent all that is despicable among good men and women…compassion, civility, and community. We reject science, rationality, participatory governance, and every other principle of an advanced society. I am a man without a country.”
Either Mr. Corbett and a few millions others (and I) are seeing the forest for the trees, and have the wisdom to gauge the threat to American institutions and our social fabric that Trump represents. I think that threat is far graver from this PR genius playing at President than the so-called “Deep State” or a gaggle of rabid Democrats unfairly investigating and impeaching a good man (actually, Robert Mueller was a fairly conservative man, and he was appointed by Trump’s own Attorney General). I think there is plenty of evidence to support the fact that Trump is taking America’s cultural divisions and stoking those flames for personal benefit. Nothing could be more unpatriotic or treacherous.
I believe whether you see Trump as a narcissistic, self-serving con-artist or a man who is “real” and “speaks truth to power” does have a lot to do with your politics, which has a lot to do with your psychology. I will accept that I might be somewhat off in my estimation of Trump; as my friend put it, “Everyone isn’t always wrong if they don’t 100% agree with your positions, there are shades of gray to an open mind.” Everyone isn’t wrong, and grey does exist. But let’s call a spade a spade, as it were. This man has pulled the wool over the eyes of half the population – no part of which is more surprising than the Christian evangelicals who tolerate his reprehensible behavior in exchange for some points in the Culture Wars.
Jamelle Bouie puts the threat this way: “The president could do far more than solicit dirt from foreign governments. He could have his political opponents arrested or he could promise pardons to supporters who physically intimidated Democratic voters. ‘To protect my reelection and thus the national interest, I am ordering the National Guard to occupy and shutdown Democratic precincts in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, as well as Arizona and North Carolina.’”
I get that there are some complexities involved with politics, especially in the age of political partisanship, and a narcissistic con-man being ushered into the Oval Office, both for justifiable reasons and for nefarious ones. To explain, I do think that Clinton was a very flawed candidate, and a lot of folks just couldn’t sign on for more business as usual. Over a million voters who took a chance on Obama went with Trump. But by the same token, one of the snappiest, nastiest things I have heard that explains how it is that Trump has rock-solid support, even after all these abhorrent things he has done and said, before and after taking office, and that is: “Many Trump voters voted for him because he hates the same people they hate.” That is psychology vis-a-vis politics big-time. Ω
Transcript of Schiff’s speech on the Senate floor.
Here is a blog I wrote on a similar topic, and so is the following:
I will leave you with a dozen quotations about politics, morality, truth, and bias:
“When we think of tribalism, we tend to focus on the primal pull of race, religion, or ethnicity. But partisan political loyalties can become tribal too. When they do, they can be as destructive as any other allegiance. The Founders understood this. In 1780, John Adams wrote that the ‘greatest political evil’ to be feared under a democratic constitution was the emergence of ‘two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other.’ George Washington, in his farewell address, described the ‘spirit of party’ as democracy’s ‘worst enemy.’ It ‘agitates the Community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection.’” ~ Amy Chua and Jed Rosenfeld
“The president could do far more than solicit dirt from foreign governments. He could have his political opponents arrested or he could promise pardons to supporters who physically intimidated Democratic voters. ‘To protect my reelection and thus the national interest, I am ordering the National Guard to occupy and shutdown Democratic precincts in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, as well as Arizona and North Carolina.’” ~ Jamelle Bouie
“At any given moment, public opinion is a chaos of superstition, misinformation and prejudice.”
“At 75 years of age, how do I feel about the country of my birth? I have long ceased to admire it. I certainly no longer salute it. Today, I can barely look upon its symbols absent feelings of extreme disgust. We have abandoned the last vestiges of democratic principles. We have become a rogue nation aligning ourselves with the worst authoritarians around the globe while abandoning the fight for peace, for the environment, for a sustainable climate, for equality and opportunity, and for the future and for our own children. Today, we represent all that is despicable among good men and women…compassion, civility, and community. We reject science, rationality, participatory governance, and every other principle of an advanced society. I am a man without a country.” ~ Thomas Corbett
“Alternative facts are not facts, they’re falsehoods.” ~ Chuck Todd
“He was impeached on only two counts, but President Trump has violated his oath of office in so many other ways as well — lying constantly, obstructing justice, encouraging criminal behavior, corruptly profiting off his office, refusing to defend the United States against foreign attacks and more. What did congressional Republicans have to say in response yesterday, as they voted unanimously against impeachment? It was like bad satire; they compared Trump’s impeachment both to Jesus Christ’s crucifixion and to the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor that killed more than 2,400 Americans.” ~ David Leonhardt
“It used to be right vs. left, or liberal vs. conservative; now it’s truth vs. lies.” ~ Gary Kasparov
“The United States is one country, but Americans are living in two separate worlds. In one version of America, the country is headed in the totally wrong direction. Billionaires control politics. Foreign governments meddle in elections. And not enough people vote to demand a change. In the other America, things are looking up, particularly with a good president in office. But some civic functions are still broken—especially the media, which is politically biased against certain candidates.”
“The U.S. Congress is a national embarrassment, except that no one is embarrassed.”
“‘When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them with another.’ With those words, our founders courageously began our Declaration of Independence from an oppressive monarch, for among other grievances the king’s refusal to follow rightfully passed laws. In the course of today’s events, it becomes necessary for us to address, among other grievances, the president’s failure to faithfully execute the law. When crafting the Constitution, the founders feared the return of a monarchy in America. And having just fought a war of independence, they specifically feared the prospect of a king-president corrupted by foreign influence.” ~ Nancy Pelosi
“I think it’s important for the American people to be thoughtful consumers of information; to think about the sources of information, and the support and predication for what they hear. And I think that part of us being well-protected against malign foreign influence is to build, together, an American public that is resilient and has appropriate media literacy and that takes its information with a grain of salt.” ~ Christopher Wray
“One of the biggest fears of the founding fathers was that the new nation might fall under the sway of foreign powers. That’s what had happened in Europe over the years, where one nation or another had fallen prey to bribes, treaties and ill-advised royal marriages from other nations. So those who gathered in Philadelphia to write the Constitution included a number of provisions to guard against foreign intrusion in American democracy. One was the emoluments clause, barring international payments or gifts to a president or other federal elected official. The framers of the Constitution worried that without this provision, a president might be bribed by a foreign power to betray America.” ~ Robert Reich
“No cause is left but the most ancient of all, the one, in fact, that from the beginning of our history has determined the very existence of politics, the cause of freedom versus tyranny.”
“Trump’s evangelical supporters have pointed to his Supreme Court nominees, his defense of religious liberty, and his stewardship of the economy, among other things, as achievements that justify their support of the president. We believe the impeachment hearings have made it absolutely clear, in a way the Mueller investigation did not, that President Trump has abused his authority for personal gain and betrayed his constitutional oath. The impeachment hearings have illuminated the president’s moral deficiencies for all to see. This damages the institution of the presidency, damages the reputation of our country, and damages both the spirit and the future of our people. None of the president’s positives can balance the moral and political danger we face under a leader of such grossly immoral character.” ~ Mark Galli
“Can we be confident that he will not continue to try to cheat in [this] very election? Can we be confident that Americans and not foreign powers will get to decide, and that the president will shun any further foreign interference in our Democratic affairs? The short, plain, sad, incontestable answer is ‘No, you can’t.’ You can’t trust this president to do the right thing. Not for one minute, not for one election, not for the sake of our country. You just can’t. He will not change and you know it.” ~ Adam Schiff
“Is there any meaningful difference between Donald Trump evangelists who are at war with climate and evolutionary scientists, and anti-vax identity folks who are at war with epidemiology and immunology scientists? They are all anti-science tribalists, although at opposite ends of the political spectrum.”
“Donald Trump is a person of bad character, does a lot of bad things, and did something that’s clearly impeachable. He did something that commonsense demonstrates is so, if you’re being intellectually honest it’s pretty obvious. So many evangelicals have bowed down to Donald Trump and have refused to tell the truth and be intellectually honest and consistent.” ~ Matt Lewis
“The way of truth is one and artless; the way of private gain and success in such affairs as we are entrusted with is double, uneven, and fortuitous.”
“This impeachment process has become the grandest test yet of how fully and successfully President Trump can corrupt our discourse with fiction and persuade a consequential share of Americans that no such corruption has taken place. He will almost certainly be acquitted in the Senate, because his approval rating among Republican voters is still well above 80 percent in many polls, and that’s a signal to the party’s leaders that they admonish him at their peril. So they validate his fantasies and his conspiracy theories. They sing the same loopy song.” ~ Frank Bruni
“It is never too late to give up your prejudices.”
“My disappointment is in the lack of Republicans who condemn Trump for this rhetoric, and instead choose to remain silent or say some version of ‘both sides are at fault.’ Contrast this with John McCain’s behavior in the 2008 election cycle. John McCain had the moral decency that when people at his town halls called Obama an ‘Arab’ and a supporter of domestic terrorism, he spoke up and said ‘He’s a decent family man.’ McCain and Obama may have had disagreements on the issues, but McCain rejected the kind of rhetoric that demonizes opponents and portrays them as anti-American.”
“An unconscious people, an indoctrinated people, a people fed only partisan information and opinion that confirm their own bias, a people made morbidly obese in mind and spirit by the junk food of propaganda is less inclined to put up a fight – ask questions and be skeptical.”
“A respect for objective truth is apt to operate as a brake on the illusions of unlimited power that spring from the subjectivist bias.”
“The causes of America’s resurgent tribalism are many. They include seismic demographic change, which has led to predictions that whites will lose their majority status within a few decades; declining social mobility and a growing class divide; and media that reward expressions of outrage. All of this has contributed to a climate in which every group in America—minorities and whites; conservatives and liberals; the working class and elites—feels under attack, pitted against the others not just for jobs and spoils, but for the right to define the nation’s identity. In these conditions, democracy devolves into a zero-sum competition, one in which parties succeed by stoking voters’ fears and appealing to their ugliest us-versus-them instincts.” ~ Amy Chua and Jed Rosenfeld
“A reasonable man knows, or tries to know, his own emotional, intellectual, and moral predilections and makes a conscientious effort to take them into account in weighing the merits of any question. He is not unaware of the influences of prejudice and bias even in his most sincere efforts to annul them….”
“Yes, even intelligent and educated individuals, often due to cultural and institutional influences, can sometimes carry racist biases. But critically-thinking individuals recognize racism as wrong and undesirable, even if they aren’t yet able to eliminate every morsel of bias from their own psyches or from social institutions. An anti-intellectual society, however, will have large swaths of people who are motivated by fear, susceptible to tribalism and simplistic explanations, incapable of emotional maturity, and prone to violent solutions.”
“[Seeking dirt on a political opponent by bribing or extorting an ally on behalf of Russia] is unconstitutional, and because it’s unconstitutional, it’s almost by nature immoral because the President is forsaking something he promised to uphold. But my argument that Trump is of grossly immoral character is larger than that: about his behavior on Twitter, about people he has around him, about his attitude toward women and other things he has done. [Trump’s behavior has amounted to] a cumulative effect over months and years….” ~ Mark Galli
“Everyone is a prisoner of his own experiences. No one can eliminate prejudices – just recognize them.”
“Trump claims he will protect those with preexisting conditions, while trying to take away their coverage. He says he is taking on the drug companies, but does nothing to lower prescription drug costs. There is a word for those who say one thing and do another. Today, that word is President.” ~ Adam Schiff
“Most men when they think they are thinking are simply rearranging their prejudices.”