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The Plague of the Acolytes

acolytes

We need some new verbiage for our changing political climate.

We have long used terminology to try and determine the intent and belief of groups of people. On some inherent level, many of us already know that the terminology of “Democrat” and “Republican” might denote the two major parties, but tells us little about the actual beliefs of those registered or identifying with those terms. As descriptors, terms like “liberal”, “conservative”, “libertarian”, and others are worth far more to the person who uses them to self-identify than to the pundit, pollster, or reporter that tries to use them. Some try to present the groups organized under those headings. The problem is there are few people that completely fit as a monolithic block of like-minded thought.

Those operating under “like faith and order” are far more cliquish than our common descriptors. They are very much protective of what they call themselves, and what others call them. Additionally, it is assumed that those who use a particular label adhere to every aspect of the connotated belief system. The savvy can co-op a term for their own purposes, either as deflection or as cover.

But now we have groups — not new, just louder and more visible — that we should not be labeling with the traditional terms at all. If we do, I propose re-purposing a very old term for this rising class of political beings: the acolytes.

Merriam-Webster breaks down the etymology of the word “Acolyte” thusly:

Follow the etymological path of acolyte back far enough and you’ll arrive at keleuthos, a Greek noun that means “path” and that is itself the parent of akolouthos, an adjective that means “following.” Akolouthos traveled from Greek, leaving offspring in Medieval Latin and Anglo-French, and its descendant, acolyte, emerged in English in the 14th century. Originally, it was exclusively a term for a person who assisted a priest at Mass, but by the 19th century acolyte had acquired additional meanings, among them “attendant body, satellite” (a meaning used in astronomy) and “attendant insect” (a zoological sense), as well as the general meaning assistant or sidekick.

We have ourselves a multitude of folks engaged in the political process right now that fit that mold. They are true believers in the traditional sense, but also are there first and foremost to serve as devoted followers. They did not come to their ideals and convictions by deep thought and study, but by other stimuli such as grievances, anger, victimhood, or injustice, both real and perceived. All these things are internalized, personalized, then radicalized into searching for something to do about it. Often, that something is to support and follow someone like a politician or pundit who can articulate what they are feeling better than they themselves can.

The most hard-core of President Trump’s supporters are an obvious example of the new political acolytes. Pew Research ran some numbers, and among verified Trump voters from the 2016 election, the “Enthusiasts” mostly have held steady while the “converts” have grown in warm feelings for the president. At the same time, the “skeptics” saw their support spike with the election and decline ever since. Now how many of those first two fall into the “5th avenue” level of support is unknown (5th avenue support meaning those that then-candidate Trump referred to as supporters who would still vote for him even if he shot someone in the middle of 5th avenue.) But whatever the number, they certainly fall under our concept of acolyte, serving and assisting in the worship and the cause, more than being their own individual. Attributing traditional labels, even those that prior to Trump would have been accurate descriptors, no longer apply as understood. Their loyalty, commitment, and allegiance to President Trump overrides all other consideration. Appropriately, the group with the rising number is deemed “converts” by Pew, another word like acolyte that finds its origins in describing religious devotion.

So, too, can be the opponents of the president. While many have strong, thought-out convictions about the president, there are the factions that would oppose him no matter what. Even if President Trump was a morally upstanding man with unimpeachable personal qualities there would still be some devoted to the #resist! who would march, protest, and decry with barely any discernible difference than now. The fact that he is not such a person only fuels this dissent, pouring gasoline onto an already burning fire, often with the President himself holding the can and gleefully enjoying the conflagration. Not that his opponents mind, since they can themselves then go to their followers and howl over the dastardly evils of stoking the fire. Keeping the acolytes on task is accomplished by utilizing engagement by enragement, and practitioners know the right buttons to push to engage the faithful.

But it is not just politicians. The rise of “new media” means a rise in the celebrity pundit. The most ardent of these pundits fans are nearly as cult-like as those of the politicians the pundits are covering. Much like the “stans” have infested the fandom of music, movie, and pop culture icons, pundit acolytes spread across social media and immediately ban together to shout down, attack, and defend their avatar’s latest hot take. The acolyte cares not for the substance of the argument, but only that their revered leader is making it, and thus it must be the infallible word of truth.

These types of folks endlessly demand to be debated, but they never really debate, just regurgitate; they are just proselytizing and evangelizing. The former is something that really excites the acolyte; the idea of turning a convert from the darkness of the other side being among their most salivated-over goals. This not only proves the wrongness of the convert’s old argument but the superior nature of the one that converted them. The latter is a function of necessity and vanity, as to the acolyte it is puzzling why anyone would think differently than they themselves do. And their movement and it’s leaders never have enough, always seeking more like-minded elected, more followers, more everything to accomplish their goals. If a political party had 99 Senate seats and 434 House seats, they would relentlessly campaign against those wicked holdouts that refused to bend the knee to the one true party.

The acolytes also tend to distort the overall picture. Because they are the loudest and most fervent of defenders, it leaves the impression that more people are like them than is reality. Political belief is a wide spectrum with endless points between to the hard extremes of left and right, with people increasingly falling at various points along that spectrum, depending on the world surrounding them. The old labels do not fit as neatly as they once did, as people focus on certain issues and ignore others, with each having influences on their lives and affected ideological outlook.

These nuances are not abnormal; they are the majority of people who hold complex viewpoints on many issues. The acolytes’ visibility gives the opposing side the false impression that all who are there are among the most die-hard of supporters. Like observing worshipers leaving a service, you mostly see those that conducted the service, the leaders being prominent, but the congregants are a mass of people blending together. In the exiting throng it is impossible to read the hearts and minds, so easier to assume the acolytes are indicative of the masses. With such blinders they do not see the skeptics, the well-reasoned believers, the well-intentioned, the honestly mistaken, the confused, the ones struggling to find truth; they lump all together with the mindless drones of the acolytes and assume the worse of the opposing side.

The honest among us should not get caught up in the comings and goings of the acolytes. They are not good faith adversaries that can be reasoned with, or an accurate representation of a side, and they certainly are not a majority. They are the smallest and most dedicated of partisan factions and should be treated as such. We should never confuse their keeping of dogma and ritual as reasoned positions. The noise and smoke of their devoted worship to their cause or leader should be kept in perspective. Their path, as the original meaning that we derive acolyte from, is a temporary one that will soon enough require a new object of their devotion. When that happens they will completely reinvent and mold themselves to this new, greater truth they have found. All the more reason for us to never adjust ourselves, our principles, and our pursuit of the truth to them in the first place.


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Born and raised in West Virginia, Andrew has since lived and traveled around the world several times over. Though frequently writing about politics out of a sense of duty and love of country, most of the time he would prefer discussions on history, culture, occasionally nerding on aviation, and his amateur foodie tendencies. He can usually be found misspelling/misusing words on Twitter @four4thefire.

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217 thoughts on “The Plague of the Acolytes

  1. Politics has become about personalities instead of ideas, to the benefit of no one. It speaks to the short attention spans we’ve devolved to have- much easier and quicker to latch onto a figurehead than to actually analyze and consider ideas and come to a learned opinion.
    It’s no longer about what avenue will lead to the best outcome for the people; its about winning and losing, beating the competition, owning the libs/cons.
    Acolytes is a polite term. I would have gone with lemmings.

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    • I don’t agree with the assertion of the first sentence. I think this assumes facts not in evidence. I am not sure whether there was ever a time when politics was about ideas and not personalities. I think the two are mixed together in ways that are probably impossible to untangle and ways in which we wish were not true.

      There are non-charismatic people who can and do succeed in politics but politics has always been a place of using rhetoric and charisma to get people to support your ideas. I know there is a certain kind of technocrat who probably yearns for everything to done on white papers without poetry or oral argument but this has never happened. We remember the old Greek and Roman politicians more for their rhetoric than for their ideas.

      Grand debates of ideas are the exception and not the norm.

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  2. I’m not sure I agree.

    Oh, not with the existence of acolytes, who are most certainly a thing.

    But with the rest of it. You say they distort the picture. But… what if they are the picture and we are the weird fringe? We spend so much time talking about the various ideological and social bubbles that can isolate us, but knowing the names of both your Senators, your Congresscritter, and all nine Supreme Court Justices is a bubble unto itself.

    Nor is knowing a lot necessarily a good defense of avoiding falling into the pitfalls of making it about personalities and tribes. A lot of the time it just makes it easier to defend your tribe, your preferred personality, and the like, often while appearing to be open-minded and principled.

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    • Most people aren’t like us, they don’t think broadly or deep about politics. But neither do I believe that they are the acolytes described in the OP. They are people just trying to live their lives. Low information and low effort (because they are probably close the the edge of decision fatigue on a regular basis & politics is one area where they can regularly ignore needing to make a decision about anything).

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      • Yeah, it’s a weird dynamic. The other day I heard a presidential historian say that even after the attacks on Joseph McCarthy drove him from the public eye he still had something like 34% of Americans approval/support. Presumably, most of those people were low information voters, yet their views of him were entrenched. The guy ended up the short historical account by saying, somewhat deflatedly, that it shows 34% of Americans will believe almost anything. The more modern equivalent is the crazification factor, a mere 27% who will believe anything. (And that number is shown by Science!!)

        I think future research of what used to be called “propaganda”, then “public relations” and now “influencing” will focus on how a few acolytes in influential positions can drive public sentiment in low-information voters into supporting (sometimes) obviously false beliefs, but at a minimum, beliefs which serve interests which the influenced-believer has no direct stake in. It’d be sort of like next-gen propaganda analysis, teasing out how that happens and why. And it may be that the mechanism *by which* propaganda takes hold in people’s minds hasn’t changed but the delivery systems have. I dunno, obvs. It just strikes me as strange that even tho most people aren’t political junkies and in many ways could (literally) not care less about political processes and dynamics, they often hold beliefs which can be used as levers to further *other people’s* political goals, often – obviously – at their own expense.

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          • Well (clears throat) propaganda is successful insofar as it appeals to emotions, short-circuiting rationality. If we’re supposing that Trump supporters, or at a minimum Trumpanistas, are victims of propaganda we can’t rule out that it worked by appealing to racism or bigotry.

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            • And, of course, it cuts the other way, and their acceptance and trust of Trump, and pro-Trump propaganda sources, has made them more accepting of racism and bigotry, as they hear more of it from people they accept and trust.

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            • Trumpanistas have, IMHO, guzzled the kool-aid. But that guy who simply voted for Trump… maybe it was racism, or bigotry, or misogyny, or nationalism. Or maybe the deplorable comment stung, or the coal mining comments hurt more than you’d think, or any one of the other mistakes HRC made that lost her votes.

              Or maybe that guy just votes the R party line regardless of who is on the ballot, because he hasn’t the time or energy to think about it.

              I refuse to ascribe to malice what can be explained by stupidity, or laziness, or exhaustion.

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              • Well, they don’t call it the crazification factor for nothing.

                Obama vs. Alan Keyes. Keyes was from out of state, so you can eliminate any established political base; both candidates were black, so you can factor out racism; and Keyes was plainly, obviously, completely crazy. Batshit crazy. Head-trauma crazy. But 27% of the population of Illinois voted for him. They put party identification, personal prejudice, whatever ahead of rational judgement. Hell, even like 5% of Democrats voted for him. That’s crazy behaviour. I think you have to assume a 27% crazification factor in any population.

                If you assume 27% of the country supports Trump because they’re batshit crazy (or because Trump is? hmmm…), that leaves about 13% which isn’t. I don’t know what that means but it seems *important*. :)

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                • Your pep talk is about as helpful as Pillsy’s.

                  But yeah, that 27%, that is the ‘damn near no information, no effort’ voter. Something about the candidate or party tweaks the right button, and they stop thinking about anything else in regard to the candidate/party.

                  I swear this is why there are so many conservatives claiming to be libertarians, when it’s clear after 2 minutes of talking to them they haven’t a damn clue what libertarian philosophy is about.

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              • I refuse to ascribe to malice what can be explained by stupidity, or laziness, or exhaustion.

                Even when malice accounts for the evidence better? Seems like malice is at an unfair disadvantage here in that *just so long as* something can be accounted for by stupidity or laziness you won’t attribute it to malice. That’s a really high bar. :)

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                • Depends on your evidence. When it comes to the evidence of malice vs stupidity, personal bias often weighs the evidence.

                  Sometimes the evidence is concrete. Clear acts or statements that leave little room for doubt. Most times, the weight of the evidence is influenced greatly by our perceptions. When one is always on the lookout for devils, one tends to find evidence of devils in everything.

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                  • I refuse to ascribe to malice what can be explained by stupidity, or laziness, or exhaustion.

                    Re malice, I think that’s the wrong word, and the fact we use it a lot is in itself a problem.

                    Malice implies forethought, planning, a desire to achieve a specific goal. Malice is mustache twirling or Dangerous Liaisons territory. Richard Spencer is malicious. The Trump voter that rants about Mexicans but will hold the door open for a Hispanic woman that is walking into the laundromat is not malicious. He would not spend time thinking about what he, or the government, can do to hurt or make miserable the life of others.

                    What he is is uncomfortable, and vaguely scared. He carries prejudices that he probably isn’t aware of because they reflect how things were. He’s lashing against change. He’s a Luddite.

                    And because we are seeing more change than ever in human history, we are seeing a lot of people that will latch to anyone that will promise to stop the change. To Make Something Something Again. I understand that.

                    The problem is that change is not going to stop anytime soon. The MSSA crowd will never get what they want. They (we) will have to both learn to live with permanent change, and find ways to better distribute the gains and losses of change.

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                    • Yes. I use the word malice because that is my perception (biased as it undoubtedly is) of what some to the left of me want to assume of regular folk.

                      Pundits, bureaucrats, politicians, other power players who perform the acts and blow the whistles of bigotry… they are horrible people who deserve nothing but contempt and scorn. But the guy who has that nameless dread, I try not to hate on him. Find the correct message for him and he’ll heel to port.

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                      • Pundits, bureaucrats, politicians, other power players who perform the acts and blow the whistles of bigotry… they are horrible people who deserve nothing but contempt and scorn.

                        Now I’m confused. Are you attributing malice to *those* people – politicians and pundits? Is the line drawn at the “regular Joe”, where objectionable beliefs are attributed merely to stupidity and laziness?

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                        • The line is, are you assuming malice based upon association, or based upon actual statements and deeds?

                          Pundits, etc. freely give out all the rope one needs to hang them. People who are not public figures and personalities, you have to suss out their true feeling on it by talking to them.

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                          • I’m on board with that. What about this case tho: an anti-immigration Trumpanista who says* children should be taken from parents if they try to enter the US?

                            Malice or ignorance?

                            (I’m inclined towards malice, myself.)

                            *Do you view saying this as an expression of true belief?

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                            • Believes they should? I would lean toward malice.

                              I know some people argue they have to be because that is what the law says, but previous administrations have seen fit to ignore the law, which tells me no one really feels bound by it.

                              Out of that whole disaster, about the only good I might hope to see is that an unjust law is actually changed, rather than just ignored when convenient.

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          • Oscar Gordon: This. It’s why I have always so reluctant to ascribe racism or bigotry to the bulk of Trump voters. I think they just get ensnared in the propaganda.

            Racism and bigotry are the performance enhancing drugs of the Trump coalition, that allowed it to outperform the Mitt coalition. Like PEDs, there are nasty side effects and diminishing returns.

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      • Part of our birthright as humans is the ability to have very strong opinions on subjects about which we know virtually nothing. As we sort more and more into Team Red and Team Blue, people will have more impetus to align with the partisan preferences of their friends, neighbors, family members, and co-religionists.

        They won’t necessarily get better informed.

        Instead, it’ll be heuristics, like, “We gotta stick together,” and, “That other team just sucks,” and, of course, “That guy at the podium is really on our side.”

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  3. I’m of the opinion that the reason our politics have become so intractable is because it isn’t motivated by things which can be argued.

    No one is (really) arguing over fiscal policy, land use, foreign relations, regulation or any other “political” issue.

    White supremacy and identity has completely consumed about a third of our national body, and fuels virtually every point of contention.

    There isn’t some special magic Trump mojo. He isn’t some particularly charismatic Svengali who casts a spell over otherwise reasonable people. He is the figurehead of an inchoate and unspeakable existential fear of loss of privilege and power.

    I know there is a yearning to want to discover some legitimate motivating impulse for his faction. To frame them as somehow suffering from real grievances and policy preferences that can be met halfway and resolved cleanly.

    Like I mentioned in the thread about Jesse Kelly, what, really, do they fear and want to change?

    BLM complains about being shot arbitrarily- What do Trumpists fear?

    #metoo complains about being harassed and raped- What do Trumpists fear?

    Immigrants fear being treated with horrifying cruelty and injustice- What do Trumpists fear?

    Trans people fear being having their identity scorned and rejected- What do Trumpists fear?

    These four issues are the biggest hot button flash points for Trumpists. Yet in none of these issues, do they have anything at stake except a loss of privilege.

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      • Those don’t strike me as above politics, but rather, questioning what the actual political objections are. If anything, liberals don’t suffer from assuming that their position is above politics, but rather it is the assumption that any objection, whether or not it is well articulated, is merely cover for bigotry or misogyny (or some other pathology).

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              • What is your standard for identifying bigotry?

                Or, to use two more specific examples, what explains conservatives simultaneously cheerleading police who execute African-Americans and demanding hands-off treatment of the Bundys? What explains conservatives insisting that the institution of marriage is so important that gays must be kept from it but offering no sanctions of straights who abuse the privilege?

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                • What is your standard for identifying bigotry?

                  “If you flip the races/sexes/genders, do people change sides when it comes to the importance of Principles vs explaining how there are a lot of things that need to be understood before jumping to conclusions.”

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                  • This sounds like it might be useful or insightful, but then it’s so vague sounding it could mean almost anything. It’s almost a Rorschach blot of an analysis tool (as stated here anyway. Those words could describe both a useful analysis tool, or a tool for making disingenuous Gish Gallop ‘gotcha’ arguments)

                    If you flip the races / sexes / genders in Sam’s examples, you go from “what we all collectively experienced yesterday” to “possibly interesting premise for a speculative fiction novel”. Or do you? It entirely depends what it means for the relevant demographics to be “flipped”.

                    Can you give a concrete example of an issue of this sort, including what the race / sex / gender flipped and non-flipped scenarios are, and how one each of a bigoted and non-bigoted conservative would handle each?

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                    • And anyway what does it mean for the relevant demographics to be “flipped”?

                      Instead of telling the story “X shoots Y in incident”, flipping the demographics would be “Y shoots X in incident”.

                      Or “X sexually harasses Y”, flipping the demographics would be “Y sexually harasses X”.

                      Is that enough to make the concrete examples no longer necessary or can you think of no recent examples of a man biting a dog?

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                      • So, instead of “gay couple cannot marry because only opposite sex marriage is legal” it’s “straight couple cannot marry because only same sex marriage is legal”

                        Instead of “black people are a minority of the US population but a majority of is prison population” it’s “white people are a minority of the US population but a majority of its prison population”

                        Instead of “trans man assaulted entering a public men’s lavatory” it’s “cis man assaulted entering a public men’s lavatory”

                        Am I doing this right?

                        Pretty sci fi, hey?

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                        • Oh, I was thinking of stuff like “citizen kills illegal immigrant” vs. “illegal immigrant kills citizen”.

                          Maybe “black male cop shoots white female” vs. “white female cop shoots black male”.

                          If someone told you the story about how a Hispanic Man stalked and killed a woman in a MAGA hat, would you have one reaction? If it turned out that I was deliberately giving bad information and, as it turns out, it was a guy in a MAGA hat who stalked and killed a Hispanic woman, does your immediate take on the story change?

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                  • I mostly agree with Oscar below, but for the record it’s a *lot* safer for some people to assume good intent than for others.

                    Also, I don’t personally assume good intent and bigotry are mutually exclusive. There are plenty of wonderful people running around who are *also* very bigoted. This is just how life is in this country, and in Canada for that matter. Sometimes they rein that in to the point where it doesn’t affect other people much (except those who love them and try to unbigot them), and sometimes they really don’t. Some of my nearest and dearest (not Jaybird people!!!!!) are very bigoted about certain groups of people, in ways that do harm to those people.

                    Mostly said nearest and dearest are in the “old and showing improvement” category, or I wouldn’t be so forgiving – but pretending that their bigotry, where they have it, is NOT bigotry is not doing anyone any favors. Including them. Challenging and containing that bigotry is the *only* way to deal with it morally, in my view.

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                    • I will never not struggle mightily to see the good intent behind somebody who argues that immigrants are contaminating our culture, that 12-year-olds deserve to be executed by the police, or that gay couples are inherently inferior. I don’t know why I am obliged to be any kinder to the individuals voluntarily making those arguments that they are willing to be to anybody else. (And of course, I am being far kinder to those individuals than they are being to anybody else, because I am rarely out there publicly campaigning for them to be punished by the state for simply existing.)

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                      • If you think I *or* Oscar was saying that you have any such obligations, you may want to reread what each of us said a few more times.

                        Those things, as *stated* and not inferred through a few logical leaps – and to be clear there are plenty of people running around stating them explicitly – are the type of evidence of bigotry that Oscar explicitly referred to, IMO. And I reckon his.

                        As for bigotry and good intent coexisting, I wasn’t saying that’s some sort of requirement on the rest of us. I was saying that some people of good intent can be bigoted to the point where it causes harm, and that some incredibly terribly bigoted people on SOME issues can, on other issues, do a lot of good.

                        I wasn’t *advocating* that you be nice to the latter group. Just acknowledging some things that I strongly believe are true about humans in general, and people fighting to maintain position in the kyriarchy in particular.

                        Plenty of people, for a counter-example to the near and dear bigots I *do* keep around, think my step-grandmother is a saint. She has *been* amazingly wonderful in her actions toward many people. She has also taken enough bigoted and downright vicious actions in her life that I refuse to speak to her except at family functions I don’t want to ruin, at which I am barely civil. For another counter-example, my fished up beyond belief or repair father *also* still preserves a reputation among many people as some kind of champion of civil rights, women, back-to-the-landers, etc., and that despite neither myself nor my sister being willing to lie about his abuse of us for more than six years now. I’m not saying EVERY bigot has good intent or that their good intent always matters – neither I nor Oscar (haven’t read every other comment in the thread) came NEAR saying that.

                        But pretending that bigots are these other people over there and that ALL those people over there are irredeemable bigots – as *many* on the left do, and often for good reason because redeeming redeemable bigots is fishing exhausting work that not many conservatives seem to be putting in enough effort toward doing once they’ve cleaned their own houses, plus it’s not like we don’t have plenty of “our own” bigots to work on over here on the left anyway — that kind of pretense is endemic in society right now and it’s *just not true*.

                        I get that it’s because people are scared on the left. I’m fricking terrified a lot of the time myself. But I’m not willing to unlearn the lessons I learned in a very difficult way for the past 40 years of my life, in a wash of fear, so I’m fighting hard to keep my head.

                        And my head knows that you can’t divide up the world into sheep and goats, certainly not before you see what each individual person you’re dividing up is actually *doing* in that world.

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                        • For me, the issue is what gets identified as bigotry. There are an awful lot of people, for example, who will continue to claim that it is impossible to know what is in Donald Trump’s heart, which is a hell of a thing, and an even bigger ask. The implication is always that terms like bigotry need to be reserved for only the worst of the worst of the worst, but the modern conservative movement seems deadset on doing its damndest to leave as little light as possible between itself and the worst of the worst of the worst.

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                          • Yeah, this is a key point:

                            There are an awful lot of people, for example, who will continue to claim that it is impossible to know what is in Donald Trump’s heart, which is a hell of a thing, and an even bigger ask.

                            If someone asserts that they aren’t a bigot, sure, you can give them the benefit of the doubt.

                            If they assert Donald Trump isn’t a bigot, it’s much harder to give them the benefit of the doubt, since Trump himself deserves none.

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                            • If they assert Donald Trump isn’t a bigot

                              That alone isn’t (for me) sufficient*, but it does qualify as evidence for the notion that there is something there to be concerned about.

                              *Lots of people refused to acknowledge JFK as a serial philanderer, despite the fact he was admittedly so. Weren’t we just having a discussion over on the Argento post about how weird people get about the failings of powerful people?

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                              • In theory, I can see that.

                                In practice, whenever I’ve pressed further, giving concrete examples of Trump’s racism (usually focusing on his comments about Judge Curiel and his birtherism) they’ll deny that those are racist too.

                                After a few go-arounds like that, both my patience and my capacity to extend the benefit of the doubt were completely exhausted.

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                • I don’t assume bigotry, it’s that simple. I am certainly open to the idea, and readily accept evidence to support that a person is bigoted, but I try to take it on a case by case basis.

                  I don’t ascribe bigotry to a demographic just because they don’t act in a manner that aligns with my ideals.

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                  • I think I will now, and forever, struggle with the concept that I need to afford a kind, gentle, humanistic understanding to somebody who makes the argument that, “Gay couples are inferior to straight couples, and need to be treated as such by state institutions” There was never anything more substantive to social conservative opposition to gay marriage, as evidenced by the fact that social conservatives never proposed to hold straight couples to the same standards that they demanded that gay couples be held to.

                    To put that another way, I do not understand ignoring the voluntarily spoken words (and actions) of another individual.

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                    • People can sincerely believe that gay couples need to be treated differently by the state AND that they aren’t inferior.

                      This is foolish, ridiculous, and probably betrays them not having figured out some shit on a subconscious level, but it is ALSO true. True! Most people are capable of holding two extremely contradictory notions in their heads at once without exploding. There are lots of people holding those two particular contradictory opinions and they are eminently fixable. That’s HOW the country’s opinion of same sex marriage shifted in the first place.

                      And I’ve personally talked at least 5 people out of being in that state of mind and into another one, which as a queer woman fishing matters to me a lot. A LOT.

                      And every time you insist that it makes no sense not to automatically adjoin the “inferior” belief to the “don’t get married” belief, it feels like you do not care one whit about my experiences or those of the rest of the people I know who have similarly effected “conversions”.

                      Not just like you aren’t willing to do it but that you deny that we have.

                      I’m not sure of your own sexuality, so if I’m guessing your straight and you’re not, I apologize for that assumption, but it’s freaking *grating* that you keep using that example over and over. I feel like I need to convert YOU or something.

                      Gnargh.

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                      • We’re going to have to disagree then about that, as I don’t think it is at all possible to argue for different/worse treatment for another person without also believing that they are in some fundamental way different/worse than yourself. I am entirely unconvinced by claims otherwise.

                        This is not to say that people cannot change; of course they can. But saying, “I think the state needs to treat that person differently than the state treats me,” is the clearest possible evidence that I can imagine of bonafide hostility toward an other.

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                      • People can sincerely believe that gay couples need to be treated differently by the state AND that they aren’t inferior.

                        I agree and also think that when we add some historical context to this, things get a bit clearer. Go back ten years and you are in a world where all of the front runners for the Democratic presidential nomination were opposed to gay marriage. Go back a bit further and you’re in a world where almost no one could conceive of the possibility of gay marriage and activists were simply fighting for some kind of legal recognition that allowed for mundane things like visiting partners in the hospital. At a point in time, being in favor of civil unions was the progressive position.

                        But OK. We’ve moved on from that. It’s no longer about the legal benefits of marriage; now it’s all about full equality and acceptance. Great. I am happy that we got here. And I’m sad that some people remain opposed to it.

                        That said, there is something slightly disingenuous about a whole bunch of people changing their minds very recently and then some of them immediately turning around to condemn the people who are were they were coming from. There’s nothing wrong with calling out bigotry, but there is something not quite right about arbitrarily defining bigotry by the standards that make us look best. Unfortunately, this is a common thing in how we talk about politics.

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                        • That said, there is something slightly disingenuous about a whole bunch of people changing their minds very recently and then some of them immediately turning around to condemn the people who are were they were coming from.

                          For a lot of people on the Left, and who are a bit younger, the “changed their minds” thing never happened.

                          I’m probably on the older edge of the wave, but gay marriage was starting to become a live political issue when I was just wrapping up middle school, and it pretty much immediately seemed like it was obviously the correct position. This isn’t even about me being all that enlightened or un-bigoted; I was pretty damn homophobic, freely used anti-gay slurs, et c.

                          But the anti-gay-marriage case was pretty obviously terrible from the outset, and just deteriorated as time went on.

                          I’m entering my 40s now. But as you get younger than me (but are still quite thoroughly ensconced in adulthood!) this becomes more and more typical. More and more of the people who support SSM always supported SSM.

                          So the idea that this is a bunch of people just changing their minds recently is not reflective of my experience, or the experience of many other people on the Left.

                          As for the actual homophobia, yeah, I did cut that out, but it was 20 years ago due to being brainwashed by the campus PC Left into not being casually shitty to people for no reason.

                          Still, it hardly happened yesterday.

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                          • Still, it hardly happened yesterday.

                            Actually, it did

                            I’m not much older than you and yet I remember the VT Domestic Partners law (*) and how that was already a bridge too far, and how Powers of Attorney could provide anything that gay couples might legitimately need.

                            (*) it was not yet 20 years ago, if you are curious, that VT Supreme Court ruled that the protections of marriage had to be extended to same sex couples

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                            • The context for that sentence was me giving up my nasty habit of using homophobic insults, et c.

                              As for the thing that brought the debate into the national spotlight, it was probably the Hawaii Supreme Court decision ruling that the state couldn’t refuse to marry people of the same sex. That’s what provided the impetus behind DOMA, among other things.

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                              • Keep in mind that most people did not have the campus left brainwashing them, nor did they have the benefit of having a gay loved one they could empathize with. Most people had, until very recently, strong community, and stronger church, support for homophobic attitudes.

                                A good number of churches are starting to take a softer, more tolerant tack, but there are still a lot out there that preach the fire and brimstone.

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                                • OK, but I’m just saying not everybody recently changed their mind about SSM or gay rights in general. Acting like we’re all going after people disingenuously is… simply out of line with our experiences.

                                  It’s one thing to suggest that we walk in someone else’s shoes; it’s another to describe what it’s like to walk in out shoes without walking in them yourself.

                                  And the “brainwashing” was meant as a bit of a wry joke, though the social conservatives at the time certainly described it as such. It’s just one of the many reasons I find it so hard to take the ongoing moral panic about the “authoritarian campus Left” seriously.

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                                  • But it’s instructive to know where the person is coming from. Are they older, like my dad, and just so mired in the thinking of the past they can’t get where you want them to go? Are they coming from a lifetime of harsh social and/or religious indoctrination regarding LGBT, and they are going to need patience and time to come unstuck from that kind of thinking?

                                    Or are the just bigoted asshats?

                                    And I knew you were joking about the brainwashing, I went to college too (UW-Madison has a healthy leftist streak).

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                    • Because I listened to my very own father tell me he was against gay marriage, but otherwise perfectly fine with full rights & civil unions. That is not the same as saying they are inferior to straight couples, only that marriage should be reserved for heterosexual couples.

                      It’s a dichotomy I don’t grok, to be honest, but he seemed OK with it. And my old man was a progressive, pot smoking hippie witch (among other things), but he couldn’t get past that, and as far as I know he held that belief until he died.

                      People don’t fit into nice neat boxes, and they can and so very often do hold onto ideas which are heavily in conflict with each other, and that does not make them bad people.

                      I refuse to “Other” a person, or a demographic, based upon my limited perceptions of the views they hold. I may think they are wrong, or ill-informed, or even lazy, but that doesn’t make them bad, or bigots, or whatever other negative descriptor you’d like. It makes them people who have a whole myriad of reasons for acting the way they do, and only a small subset of those reasons are equivalent to, “They are a shitty person.”

                      I am personally aware of more than enough actual ‘shitty people’ in this world, I have no desire to imagine more just because they don’t share my politics or ideals.

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                      • I was opposed to SSM for a long time, not because I had problems with gays but because I was concerned about what like would be like for their children. Once I got to know some people in person and through OT and realized there was no way they could not be awesome parents, my objections went away.

                        My point here is, I never wanted less for same-sex couples, I never thought of them as less than me, and I was constantly searching for a justification to support same-sex marriage. During that period of Doubt however, I was accused of trolling and bigotry by many people. I’m sure some would say I was but I know what was in my heart. Because of that, I let those insults roll off my back, but I could imagine a lot of people hardening their stance in the other direction based on feeling attacked. Obviously that’s why I have so much trouble with people who always assume the worst of intentions from those with contrary opinions.

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                      • @oscar-gordon To be clear about what you’re saying, would it be fair to say that your father advocated for separate but equal institutions? That, to me, strikes me as very less than ideal – for very obvious reasons – but very different from the “No gay marriage today, no gay marriage tomorrow, no gay marriage ever!” brigade that I am referring to when referencing social conservatives.

                        I’m the past week, we’ve seen the same people who were, and remain, opposed to gay marriage insisting that the Catholic Church abuse scandal is the fault of gay priests. Would you describe comparing gay men to pedophiles as bigotry, or simply as a difference of opinion, or as something else? I know how I would describe it and I have an extremely difficult time believing people making this argument are also compartmentalizing their political beliefs in such a way as to seal one off from the other.

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                        • He wanted separate but equal, yes. I mean, he met my wife’s aunt and her partner and was perfectly at ease with them, so it wasn’t about being gay, it was about marriage.

                          But that is my point, it is essential to suss that distinction out. Not everyone opposed to gay marriage was of the opinion that gay people are less deserving of rights and they do not deserve to be lumped into that group merely because they happen to share a common policy goal with people who do.

                          Now comparing gay men to pedophiles is something I would call beyond the pale (my own MIL has that attitude about her own sister, the aforementioned aunt – it’s one of the many reasons we have nothing to do with that woman). But again, that is something I need to hear or see, it’s not an assumption* I would make about a person simply because the hold some other view.

                          *I take the immortal words of Mitch Henessey to heart.

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                          • It is not an assumption I make about other people either, based solely on the stated view. But as soon as that view starts getting explored, either through stated belief about the view, or through voluntarily taken action, I don’t think it is then unreasonable to start deciding that I know where this is going to end up.

                            Take the example from above, for example, the one in which it was first assumed that gay people should be denied access to marriage because it might hurt children. (This, for the record, has nothing to do with that author, but rather, with the broader argument itself.)

                            That was a view that was widely used as a battering ram against gay marriage, one that is still trotted out to this day by social conservatives who insist that gay couples make for substandard parents. We were meant then to take it very seriously, and our dismissal of it was often turned against us as evidence that we did not care about children.

                            But here’s the thing about that: straight parents hurt children constantly. It happens literally all the time, every day. And by pain, I don’t mean emotional – although emotional pain is bad enough – but literal, physical pain. So at the point at which I see the argument, “But what about the children?” I can’t help but immediately think of all of the straight parents who are literally hurting their children. Is marriage to be denied to abusive parents? How about parents who were just bad at it? How about being denied to any straight parents at all? Well, if those were proposals, I certainly never saw them.

                            And in fact what we always learned is that these extremely insistent issues that gay marriage advocates had to account for never really mattered when it came to straight couples. Over and over and over again, arguments against gay marriage were predicated upon a wildly different set of standards for gay couples than ever existed for straight ones.

                            So the question becomes, why were the rules and the standards and the expectations different? I think bigotry is an awfully good explanation as to why. And I don’t think it is at all unreasonable to forward bigotry as an explanation.

                            Other people do. They think it is wildly unfair to label somebody as a bigot, just because of the things they say and do, and especially if they claim that they are not bigoted. On this, I imagine we might have to agree to disagree, although you seem to be willing to identify too, but in fewer circumstances.

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                            • Again, it depends.

                              I know the argument you are referencing, as I’ve argued the exact same thing you have (that straight parents hurt far greater numbers than gay parents possibly could, even if every gay parent was atrocious; also, that’s an argument against gay adoption, or allowing gay women to have children, not against gay marriage).

                              Sometimes, when I’ve argued against that position the person has seen the flaw and retreated to rethink it. Other times, they’ve failed (or refused) to see the flaw, and insist that the argument is valid. And lastly, they accept the flaw and insist that it still shouldn’t be allowed for other reasons.

                              Regardless of how the discussion ended, I had the discussion before I felt it was OK to judge the person. Sometimes, I had the discussion with a lot of people (in forums like this), and a whole bunch of people got judged at once, but the judgement was based upon the arguments and statements made, not upon association or the holding of a given position.

                              And that judgement, even if it settles on the idea that the person is bigoted towards LGBT, does not snap over to, “This is a bad person.” It could very well be a person who is very generous and giving in all other aspects of their life, even to members of the LGBT community, but only up to that limit. Which just tells me, they have room to grow, and hopefully someday they will.

                              Throughout this discussion, I have gotten the feeling from you that I should just be writing off the lot of them, rather than trying to suss out the nuance and limits of their positions. I’ve had enough people do that with me, I’m not going to do it to others.

                              Now Trump is a proven shitheel and a bully. He revels in it. If he has any redeemable qualities as a human, they are dwarfed by his awfulness. People who defend him and his actions… yes, they truly test my limits, but I try to grant them the benefit of the doubt until I’ve heard their arguments.

                              Then I may write them off.

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                      • It’s a dichotomy I don’t grok, to be honest, but he seemed OK with it. And my old man was a progressive, pot smoking hippie witch (among other things), but he couldn’t get past that, and as far as I know he held that belief until he died.

                        This is one of the limitations of ITTs. Sometimes people’s reasons for believing things are… not really “reasons” at all.

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        • I think that’s right, Oscar. Colbert wasn’t wrong when he said reality has a liberal bias. And it’s an accurate description not because liberals have manifested their goals in objective reality, but because conservatives have retreated from that reality. As an example, part of that dynamic is revealed by (eg) the belief that gay people have the same fundamental rights as straight people and because of that they *should* be allowed to marry. This idea follows almost trivially from the idea that gay people are, first and foremost, persons who do (or should… :) possess all the rights accorded to other persons. I think this idea strikes most (not all) liberals as objectively true. (It strikes me that way.) So the failure of conservatives to accept what liberals view as a *bare fact* about gay people often leads them to ascribe an ulterior motive for rejecting it.

          Pinky might say that liberals presumption that gay people are persons accorded or holding the full suite of rights is itself a political belief. Well, sure. But only because other people deny it.

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          • I would say that the presumption that all people are accorded the same rights is an ideological or philosophical belief, and that the changing of the meaning of marriage to include same-sex couples is a political position. I’m also not 100% on board with the use of my fake name in the construction of arguments I wouldn’t make.

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          • So the failure of conservatives to accept what liberals view as a *bare fact* about gay people often leads them to ascribe an ulterior motive for rejecting it.

            Excellent example! Now, I’ve run across plenty of people who do think that gays people should be 2nd class citizens and not deserving of full rights. But many more of the people I’ve run across people are seriously hung up on the whole ‘marriage’ thing being something reserved for heterosexual pairings.

            Personally, I never understood that hang up, but those same people also never struck me as being bigoted, just afflicted with a weird hang up that they couldn’t get past. It would be unfair to assume that they hate gay people, or want them to be 2nd class citizens. And yes, some bigots use that for cover, but should we be damning all for the sins of a few? Making the shortcut to “they’re all bigots” is a great way to permanently lose people who could be won over.

            But shortcuts are shortcuts. Costs be damned.

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          • You’re treating “right to marry” as a natural kind. That doesn’t carve out the moral conceptual landscape any better than “right to marry someone of the same sex” and “right to marry someone of the opposite sex” does. Saying that everyone has the same rights does not settle which rights everyone has.

            Any argument worth its salt will give you the same result regardless of framing or provide a really good reason to adopt that framing. You want a good argument to track reality, to spell out the connections between the way things are (regardless of whether you are talking about natural stuff or moral stuff, stuff is still stuff).

            Social conservatives want to ban gay marriage because they believe that a) gay sex is wrong and b) The fact that an act is immoral is good reason to legally prohibit it. I think liberals would be better off arguing against b), because arguing against a) can take you to a really illiberal place.

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            • Saying that everyone has the same rights does not settle which rights everyone has.

              Correct. That’s why I said “gay people are, first and foremost, persons who do (or should… :) possess all the rights accorded to other persons.”

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              • Maybe I’m missing something.

                The fact that gay people are persons who have (or ought to have) the same rights as everyone else does not settle what rights gay people have or ought to have. Because there is a significant question as to exactly what rights everyone else has or ought to have.

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                • The fact that gay people are persons who have (or ought to have) the same rights as everyone else does not settle what rights gay people have or ought to have.

                  Yeah, it does. They should have the same rights as everyone else.

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                  • Yeah but what rights are those?

                    That’s kind of like saying that the fact that we should act rightly settles what we must do: act rightly

                    When people are asking what we should do or what rights we ought to have, we are looking for a fairly rigid designation, not an empty placeholder.

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                      • rights that are actually attributed or rights that ought to be attributed. If the former, then attributed by who? Because conservatives attributed the narrower right to marry a member of the opposite sex while progressives and liberals attributed a broader right to marry simpliciter. Before Obergefell, the legal consensus as per DOMA was that everyone else only had the right to marry a member of the opposite sex.

                        If the latter, then you need arguments for why people have these rights and not those others.

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                        • Murali, you’re offering a good description of the political debate surrounding SSM. My comment above is that for many liberals, it’s just a bare fact that gay people, being persons, should be accorded all the rights accruing to persons, including the right to marry.

                          Obviously people disagree about that. Maybe you’re one of them. But it seems crystal clear *to me* that the burden of proof falls squarely on someone arguing that gay people are not fully persons and therefore shouldn’t be accorded the full suite of rights non-gay people have. I’ve yet to hear a remotely convincing argument for that.

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                          • For the record, I’m a public reason liberal. I am pro SSM because I think that no opposition to SSM can be publicly justified.

                            I’m a libertarian because very little* apart from a minimal state can be publicly justified.

                            *infrastructure, some externalities, some social safety net but not necessarily a particularly extensive welfare state or any significant paternalism or any enforcement of a thick progressive egalitarian ethos.

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                          • You still seem to be sidestepping Murali’s point here.

                            You can argue that proposition A:
                            “Marriage is properly and immutably defined as the union of two consenting adults of opposite (birth) sex”
                            is equivalent to proposition B:
                            “Gay people are not fully persons and therefore shouldn’t be accorded the full suite of rights non-gay people have”

                            But you have to actually argue that, in the same way that someone arguing that the two propositions are different would have to actually argue it.

                            I happen to think the two propositions are equivalent, or at least very nearly so.

                            But just seeing proposition B and going “why do you believe proposition A?” is begging the question.

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                            • Not sure I understand that. I gave an example of a belief which liberals view as objectively true – that gay people, being persons, should be accorded the same rights as other people (ie., the right to marry) – without offering any argument or evidence as to why liberals believe that. The purpose was to provide an example of beliefs liberals hold and conservatives reject which incline liberals to attribute nefarious motives to conservatives.

                              So, I haven’t offered an argument for it. (Are you asking me to make that argument? Don’t we all know that argument?) And I don’t think A and B are equivalent. Tho I think for lots of people something like B is a premise in an argument for something like A. :)

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                              • Some conservatives I’m sure believe that gay people are less than fully human or deserving of human rights.

                                Others at least manage to tell themselves that their beliefs encompass both:
                                1) that gay people are fully human and fully deserving of human rights including the right to marry, and
                                2) that marriage is properly and immutably defined as the union of two consenting adults of opposite sex

                                The corollary being “well, I guess just as apolitical people have but choose not to exercise the right to vote, gay people have but choose not to exercise the right to marry”

                                So just saying “Why don’t you believe gay people deserve the same rights as everyone else?” isn’t going to communicate what you’re hoping to communicate. Because they reject the premise.

                                Like, are you in favour of restricting marriage to monogamous unions? Do you believe polyamorous people are fully human and deserving of human rights?

                                If you answer yes to both, I might try to argue to you that your first ‘yes’ answer implies an infringement of my and my loved ones’ right to marriage, and therefore you ought to reconsider it in light of your second ‘yes’ answer – but I’m not just going to boldly assert that you reject my equal humanity on the basis of your first answer, and you must be lying in your second one.

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                      • You’re going around in circles and it’s silly because neither of you is stupid.

                        Let’s come out and say it.

                        The right to marry a consenting adult
                        vs.
                        The right to marry a consenting adult of the opposite sex
                        vs.
                        The right to marry one or more consenting adults

                        These are different things.

                        I’m straight, cisgender, and polyamorous, thus constrained in my ability to marry whomever I would like to, in ways that are different from a monogamous straight cisgender person, from a monogamous gay cisgender person in the US pre-Obergefell, from a monogamous straight transgender person in a US state that insisted that their sex was their birth sex pre-Obergefell, etc.

                        Or, you could say all of these people have the same constraints on their ability to marry: they must choose exactly one consenting adult with a birth sex opposite to their own birth sex because that’s what marriage is, and changing how marriage is defined would affect everyone’s rights equally even if not everyone is equally interested in availing themselves of all rights.

                        Either of those propositions could use first expressing fully and then defending.

                        Again – this is about where you stand with respect to the observation “In its majestic equality, the law forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets and steal loaves of bread.” Does that mean everyone has the same rights, or does it not?

                        Let us now stop refusing to say these things for whatever reason, and rather say things in order that they might be examined. If this is not what you meant by “the rights attributed to persons,” and/or please correct me.

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                        • My argument simply was that we have to do the hard work of spelling out what rights we attribute or ought to attribute to persons because we cannot just say whatever everyone else has.

                          You said it better than me the law forbidding everyone from sleeping under bridges, begging in the streets and stealing a loaf of bread still involves everyone having equal rights under one description but not under another. And our moral arguments cannot be susceptible to such facile changes in framing.

                          See my response to Stillwater above for my actual position on SSM

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                          • My argument simply was that we have to do the hard work of spelling out what rights we attribute or ought to attribute to persons because we cannot just say whatever everyone else has.

                            But we *KNOW* the right everyone else has in this case: the right to marry. Gay people and their advocates believe that right should be extended to them. What other rights comprise the set which those persons hold is, in my mind, irrelevant to the example I provided upthread. The argument turns on an existing right that gay people are denied.

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                        • ( I say this with ALL fondness and hoping it will be taken so by both and :

                          They’re not going around in circles because they’re being silly, they’re going around in circles because they’re both philosophers. :D )

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            • “Social conservatives want to ban gay marriage because they believe that a) gay sex is wrong and b) The fact that an act is immoral is good reason to legally prohibit it.”

              I’d bet that less than 10% of social conservatives would agree with (b).

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              • Opposition to the legal recognition of SSM which does not involve b) does not make sense.

                I’m not saying that conservatives think that conservatives do not have any defeaters to the criminalisation of moral wrongs, only that wrongness is a strong reason to criminalise and in the absence of any strong countervailing considerations, it wins out.

                That seems to be my best attempt at steelmanning opposition to SSM. Do you have a stronger case?

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                • I keep typing up replies to this and deleting them. I’m floundering particularly because of what Will just wrote about commenting. I don’t want to be a nuisance around here (or nothing more than a nuisance). So I’m just going to quote from Bishop Robert Barron in his interview on Dave Rubin’s show, then skip out on the subthread. I hope it’s understood that I’m posting this for the sake of clarity, and then retreating for the sake of amity.

                  “If something is so fundamental to the right ordering of society, that legislating against it is called for, then by all means. If it would cause a problem so enormous on the other side, well then prudence dictates that you shouldn’t legislate against it.”

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                  • The Barron quote seems compatible with the following principle:

                    b*) The fact that an act is wrong is a potentially defeasible reason to forbid it; the strength of the reason being proportional to the gravity of the wrong.

                    It is compatible because being fundamental to the right ordering of society just means being seriously wrong (or right depending on the context).

                    Granted, it is slightly more nuanced than the version I originally gave, but not too different to my mind. Are you happier with b*?

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                    • Only a little happier. Let’s try this:

                      a) Gay marriage is harmful to society. (I just typed “Gary” instead of “Gay”, but out of respect for Gary I corrected it.)

                      b) That which is harmful to society should be illegal, if the consequences of its prohibition are not more harmful to society.

                      Note that morality isn’t part of the argument. Note also that (b) is something that liberals would agree with, as would libertarians, since they believe that nearly every regulation is more harmful to society than those things which are regulated.

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                      • I’ll lay my cards out on the table. I don’t know what exactly you mean by harm, for all I know it might even be things that I consider harms.

                        I suspect, however, that the harm involved in a) is the harm of being led to a “disordered” lifestyle or something along those lines. i.e. it assumes an Aristotelian/Thomistic account of well-being according to which living a moral life is a key part of living a good/flourishing life (i.e. eudaimonia).

                        At this point the disagreement is semantic. If harms supervene on immorality, the harm principle amounts to legal moralism (the view that something being wrong is some reason to legislate against it).

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          • I think there’s an element of locked thinking going on. Like, marriage being defined in law as the legal union of two people of opposite sex, a conservative might go “hey, gay people have the same rights as everyone else – they just aren’t interested in marriage because that’s a thing straight people do.” The idea of changing what “marriage” is, is just – unthinkable.

            A less (but probably still somewhat) right/left issue where I’ve observed this is in conversation about “Idaho stop” laws – there are variations but generally the idea is that when you’re riding a bike, you treat stop signals as one “less” than when you’re driving a car (e.g. you must always stop at a red light, but if you’re in a car you must wait for the green, whereas if you’re on a bike you may proceed again if there’s no cross traffic, as when driving up to a stop sign; you must always stop at a stop sign in the presence of cross traffic, but in a car you must also stop in its absence whereas if you’re on a bike you may proceed without stopping in the absence of cross traffic, as when driving up to a yield sign).

            There are people who just can’t get past this – they go “You can’t let people do that – it’s illegal!” Which, well, of course it’s illegal now – the whole point is that this is a proposal to change traffic laws. That’s how changes in laws work, they make what was formerly illegal, legal, or vice versa.

            Same goes for legalizing drugs – there’s a certain mentality that just can’t help but see that as “letting people break the law”. Makes no sense but there you go.

            Contemplating “In its majestic equality, the law forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets and steal loaves of bread,” where do you go from there?

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          • I keep waiting for those intrepid reporters who risk life and limb to interview Trump supporters in the dark heart of Trump Country to ask them what they think the goal of (eg) Trump’s pain-inflicting tariffs actually is. “To MAGA!” “Right. But what does that phrase actually *mean* to you ….?”

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            • A few days ago a reformed conservative expressed what struck me as the best distillation of Trumpism I’ve yet heard. He said that after 8 years of Namby Obambi and PCism-run-amok what conservatives wanted more than anything was for America, and conservatives!, to become a bully again. They wanted an unapologetic pussygrabber in chief. That means someone who’ll unflinchingly break shit, who won’t back down, yadayadaetc. FWIW anyway.

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            • I had a self-described libertarian [1] Trump supporter defending tariffs to me the other evening. He seemed to be very happy that Trump was sticking it to China, because China was bad.

              He really didn’t seem to have any answer about why we should be slapping other countries with tariffs, though.

              [1] Complete with very libertarianish defenses of capitalism, complaints about regulation, et c.

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          • The best possible defense that I as a liberal can come up with is that conservatives believe that liberals are causing imbalance in the force. Nearly all forms of conservatism from the American variety to Political Islam postulate that there is a natural order to the world. Even if this natural order seems to result in injustice, by saying be down on transsexual rights or women wanting to enter the corridors of power, attempts to rectify the injustice will only make things worse. Another aspect of conservatism is that people need structure in their lives and this structure should be imposed from external forces in order to keep society operating.

            Incidentally, everybody should listen to Slate’s recent podcast on the politics of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure.

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            • Yeah, my dad is one of those super angry conservatives and I want to ask him, “What the fish are you so damn mad at?” He has a good retirement from the Teamsters (before 65), he’s survived multiple heart surgeries and leukemia, and except for child support, he didn’t have to do the bulk of raising his kids.
              I know part of the problem is he’s a fox parrot: the last time we visited him, he was watching them 24/7. He doesn’t like being called a racist, but he called Obama the n-word and frequently uses the slur “beaner” despite having Hispanic grand-daughters. He also tried to preach about gay marriage to me until I reminded him that adultery was a big old testament sin, too–he’s been married four times. I suspect there are plenty of conservatives (certainly not all) like him: old, middle-class retired, casually but not KKK racist, who don’t like changes in the world.

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              • Part of why I am sympathetic is that I truly remember being so casually racist and bigoted, because that was what I grew up in. My parents weren’t (as I said, progressive hippies), but everyone around me was, so it seeped in. Telling racist and bigoted jokes, etc.

                It wasn’t until boot camp that I started having that burned out of me. That and having a First Class Boatswains Mate for a boss, who was a full on raging racist. Having him denigrate guys I worked with, and lived with, whom I had come to like and respect (and whose friendship and respect I had earned in turn)…

                But then, not everyone has had the opportunities I have had for personal growth… I try to remember that, just as I try to remember that not every poor person has had the opportunities to improve their lot in life, thus they are still deserving of my charity.

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                • Yeah, I’m similar–I had the same attitudes, but boot camp and serving in the Marines helped me grow up.
                  I can sympathize with people resisting change, even if I see the change as good, but I have a hard time sympathizing with their anger, especially when their anger is so irrational. But I’ve always been suspicious of partisan anger, as I’ve seen plenty of it from left-leaning folks at my job.

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        • I read your framing of it to say that we weren’t talking about political issues any more, but were talking about identity group issues. I saw that as treating identity group issues as something above politics. Was I wrong?

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          • I don’t think having a clear policy objective which influences your politics is somehow above politics. We wouldn’t say wanting more welfare spending, or lower taxes, or more funding for roads is “above politics”…?

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            • Would you say wanting the teachers of our children to make enough money to eat and make rent is merely political or above politics? Would you say that wanting children to not die of preventable diseases is merely political or above politics? Would you say that not wanting doctors in thrall to big pharma to inject infants with mercury and vaccines that cause autism is merely political or would you say that it’s above politics? Would you say that wanting our African-American friends and loved ones to not have to worry about being shot in the back by a police officer is merely political or is it above politics?

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                  • Why not? The desire is not universal (and is much less universal historically). And even when the desire itself is not controversial, the argument about how it should be prioritized over other desires is one that is a recurring theme of our politics.

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                  • If wanting children to not die is political, I’m not sure what is gained by the pointing out that something is political.

                    Wanting children not to die, or wanting blacks not to be killed by cops, is an empty proposition, like wanting cities not be destroyed by hurricanes.

                    The next step, how far are we going to go to protect children, or cities, is political. Alfie Evans was a child. Should he had been kept alive ‘till today? Enough billions would keep Galveston/Houston or New Orleans safe from hurricanes. Should we pay those billions because no one wants cities destroyed by hurricanes?

                    So yes, once you move one step removed from total generality, the question becomes political.

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              • Would you say wanting the teachers of our children to make enough money to eat and make rent is merely political or above politics?

                This is silly. An issue, state of affairs, even a fact is political IF someone rejects it for political purposes. Orwell about this. :) So did Dostoevsky, a bit…

                If I say 2+2=4 and someone *uses that claim against me and mine*, that necessarily true statement is political, hence, not above politics.

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              • It often gets political from the framing. Some conservatives would reply “Would you say that wanting children to not die of a heinous medical procedure is merely political or above politics?”

                I saw an interesting paper recently that was rethinking the many-decades old psychological assumptions about conservatives versus liberals, the authoritarian/whatever scales that we’re all familiar with. It turns out that the results flip when you change the framing of the questions and the groups and organizations mentioned. Swap EPA for NRA and the once-authoritarians become libertarians and the once-libertarians become authoritarians. It turns out that the psychologists have probably just been mismeasuring tribal politics this whole time and presenting their results as “science.”

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    • I don’t know that I agree that Trump’s core supporters are ruled by fear. I think they are ruled by anger. There was a really good article last year (which I cannot find at the moment) which talked about how much anger there was in places like Appalachia. There it isn’t whites being fearful of minorities. It’s ‘responsible’ whites being mad at their ‘irresponsible’ neighbors. The meth problem, lack of employment, etc has the people who have played by the rules fired up about the people in their own communities that look just like them.

      Respectfully, I think that calling what you see from the Right ‘fear’ somewhat belittles their opinions and paints them as irrational. While we could certainly argue that anger can also be irrational, I think there’s less unknown there. Often they have seen something themselves and are mad about it. I have always said Trump’s power was harnessing all of that anger, not playing on fears.

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      • Fear leads to hate.
        Hate leads to the dark side.

        You’re right, it is an anger, a sense that there is an injustice going on, a collapse of some rightful ordering of things.

        But this rightful order is just another way of saying cultural hegemony, where rural white Christian culture is the respected norm, and everything else is an exotic minority to be tolerated.

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        • “But this rightful order is just another way of saying cultural hegemony, where rural white Christian culture is the respected norm, and everything else is an exotic minority to be tolerated.”

          That’s a pretty uncharitable position. When you talk about Appalachia the ‘ordering of things’ is law-abiding and employed citizens vs. unemployed meth addicts. While I certainly view drug addiction as a sickness, there is a lot of theft and dependence on the government that comes with it. When you contend that these people are afraid that their white Christian values are being lost, you’re making the classic liberal mistake of assuming it’s just fear of losing power.

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            • If I could find that article… there were a lot of interviews with locals. They weren’t afraid. They were pissed off. They knew who the people were in their communities that were addicts, petty criminals and living on welfare. They weren’t losing anything. they were mad that those people weren’t pulling their weight. To put it another way, when i had a lot of employees from other countries they would occasionally talk about immigration and they were surprisingly in favor of Trump taking a hard stand. When I poked a bit, they told me they came here legally and went through the whole process and they resented other people not doing the same thing. All of it boils down to a sense of injustice and fairness. They are angry when someone is perceived to be doing less and the government allowing or actively helping to stay that way.

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              • When I poked a bit, they told me they came here legally and went through the whole process and they resented other people not doing the same thing.

                Off thread, but for a brief time this was an issue openly discussed among liberals who were surprised to realize that the recently-immigrated portion of their base were not “pro immigrant” in the liberal vernacular* of the time. They wanted immigration enforcement, or at least Dem rhetoric, to be more aggressive precisely because they came here legally. It became a bit of a wedge issue which conservatives exploited.

                Ahh, how the times have changed. For the early part of my political life Dems were the party of immigration restriction and enforcement and the GOP was all about bringing cheap labor in. Then identity politics happened, and the conservative base had enough of GOP lies, and, well, here we are.

                * the language used by white, college educated, political operative types

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              • They weren’t afraid. They were pissed off.

                When you are afraid and feel powerless to address the fear, you tend to replace that fear with anger.

                People hate feeling afraid, but being angry can be useful.

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                      • All men are mortals. This fern is mortal. Therefore this fern is a man.

                        When we are afraid and feel powerless, a common reaction to it is to substitute anger. There are also other things whose common reaction is anger that are not fear combined with powerlessness…

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                      • Oscar: All men are mortal

                        Mike: This fern is mortal. Is the fern then a man?

                        A common reaction to fear and powerlessness is to substitute anger. There are other things whose common reaction is anger, which are not fear and powerlessness.

                        I’ll note that this anger reaction to fear and powerlessness is to probably to some extent a male gendered one – because we’ve learned that men are supposed to be powerful and capable, and that anger is one of the few unhappy emotions acceptable for men. Being vulnerable and open in our fear is hard, and we don’t do a very good job helping boys with that skill.

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                        • If you think women don’t get angry in response to fear and powerlessness, you’re missing something.

                          The gendered difference is not generally in the *anger*, at least historically it’s in who the anger is directed *at*.

                          More men direct outward, or direct inward to the extreme point where they commit suicide.

                          More women direct inward and/or into female-only groups where they feel safe that expressing their anger will not result in worse stuff happening. (Even in the wake of #metoo, I see a lot of women retreating back into these groups to be angry without censorship from men.)

                          We don’t do a good job of teaching *anyone* how to be vulnerable and open in their fears at the moment. That part is not gendered.

                          (Other emotions, eg sadness, run differently. But fear does not.)

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                          • I left out a word. More women direct inward at moderate levels.

                            I wish I had the time and energy to draw a couple bell curves on a graph so I could show what I mean.

                            (I agree that all of this is culturally conditioned in unhealthy for everyone ways.)

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                      • To expand on what said, why would a person be pissed off about a meth head being a meth head, if the meth head is a negligible threat to me an mine.

                        Do people get super pissed off at alcoholics they don’t personally know? Generally no, unless the alcoholic gets behind the wheel while drunk. But an alcoholic who calls a cab isn’t something strangers get pissed off about

                        Most people who aren’t named Jeff Sessions are generally pretty chill about pot heads as well, because pot heads tends to be pretty chill.

                        But meth heads, not only do they need help, but they can be dangerous, they can be a threat, they can burglar your house or car, or assault you or your family. They are scary and random and a threat.

                        Ergo, people get pissed about them. Especially when they are not only a threat, but also taking up resources that decent folks down on their luck could be using to get by, etc. Or whatever other failings can be identified or imagined to feed into the anger (illegal immigrants murdering pretty white girls in the Midwest, for instance).

                        Not judging these folks, I get pissed off when other people threaten me or mine.

                        But folks who are causing me no harm, who don’t pose a realistic threat, I ain’t gonna work up a head of steam over them. And most folks won’t either, too much other stuff to worry about. Unless someone gives you a reason to be afraid of them, perhaps by talking about an edge case constantly, making it seem normal with tinkered stats or hyperbolic rhetoric, rather than vanishingly rare, etc.

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                        • Finally found the article here. A quote:

                          But he also sees the social decline in personal terms, as a weakening of moral fiber and work ethic. He describes, for instance, working at a local grocery store, where he “learned how people gamed the welfare system”.

                          They’d buy two dozen-packs of soda with food stamps and then sell them at a discount for cash. They’d ring up their orders separately, buying food with food stamps, and beer, wine, and cigarettes with cash … Most of us were struggling to get by, but we made do, worked hard, and hoped for a better life. But a large minority was content to live off the dole. Every two weeks, I’d get a small paycheck and notice the line where federal and state income taxes were deducted from my wages. At least as often, our drug-addict neighbor would buy T-bone steaks, which I was too poor to buy for myself but was forced by Uncle Sam to buy for someone else.

                          As Vance notes, resentment of this sort—which surfaces again and again in his book—helps explain why voters in the world he came from have largely abandoned the Democrats, the party of the social safety net.

                          So you see, there really is a perception of unfairness in these communities…and I call that anger, not fear.

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                          • So you see, there really is a perception of unfairness in these communities…and I call that anger, not fear.

                            Another reason that there for differences in perception of how racist support for Trump is that in a lot of the country, including the places where a lot of liberals live, the class divide is heavily entangled with race, and a lot of the “undeserving poor” rhetoric really is racist dog-whistling (and sometimes just a foghorn).

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                          • The food stamp issue is a pretty good case of why this acolyte thing is a problem. A self-identified conservative sees behavior that he views as unfair and taking advantage of him and other hard-working, honest people; he declares himself as anti-food stamp. A self-identified progressive sees the conservative rail against food stamps and interprets that behavior as anti-poor and possibly racist; he declares himself pro-food stamps.

                            Nowhere in that exchange is a consideration of whether food stamps are the best method to make the poor better off. The SNAP program, despite having good intentions and maybe being better than nothing, is unnecessarily paternalistic and operates as a back door subsidy to certain agricultural and grocery interests. If our intentions were purely about making the poor better off, we would have long ago moved on to something better.

                            Obviously, not every consideration of food stamps follows this model. But with the increase in the number of political acolytes, the number of issues that get subsumed under this model increases and the less politics becomes about policy and the more it becomes about defining yourself in opposition to the other.

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                          • First, I have always understood this is a rural white on white thing. Again, I grew up on both sides of that divide.

                            As to the anger, I am probably going to dive into this deeper than I should, but…

                            As I said, my family was on and off welfare quite a bit when I was growing up (rural WI). Not because we were the stereotypical welfare queens, but because work was inconsistent and savings were null. If my parents could find work, they did, but if not, they’d apply for benefits.

                            Also, my parents were heavy smokers and recreational pot users. Hardest thing in the world to do when you are stressed about money and all that is to give up your vices, so they gamed the system. Let’s keep in mind that the system is incredibly paternalistic and places odd restrictions on the people using it (and by odd I mean that the restrictions make little sense to the users, but probably make all sorts of sense to politicians). People game it because it’s a shitty system and they are not only trying to get by, but also get ahead enough to maybe, you know, get off welfare[1].

                            Yes, there is a percentage that game the system because they just have no desire to get a job at all, and everyone is aware of such people, but here is the dirty little secret – unless you really know the person on welfare, or unless they like to openly brag about how they are gaming the system for a life of leisure, you can’t really tell the difference between the them and the person just trying to make the best of a bad situation.

                            All this is to say that it’s hard to just look at a given welfare user and know their motives.

                            When things are good, people tend to not care about the welfare user’s motivations (except the incurable busybodies). When things are tough, however…

                            It’s been my experience that when it comes to resentment over people on welfare, it’s still rooted in fear, the fear that you are being a chump for obeying your work ethic and killing yourself at one or more crap jobs while never seeing your family, just to make ends meet.

                            I mean, not only have I been the object of that resentment, after my parents finally got us off welfare, I remember feeling that resentment[2], without really understanding why.

                            The irony, of course, is that we resent the people we see, rather than the people who really deserve it. So the people barely getting by resent the welfare users, because they both shop at the discount places. Neither resents the mine owner[3] who spent a couple of decades or more getting unnecessary government subsidies and tax breaks to ‘keep the mine running’; or who gamed the system to cut corners and costs at the expense of pay, benefits, health, and safety; and who, when all was said and done and the mine closed, still wrote a huge loss off their taxes and then settled down with their comfortable savings and investments. Because they never see that guy[4].

                            [1] Of course, most people on welfare actually suck at getting off welfare because the system isn’t really designed for it, and a lot of welfare recipients in the US are bad at managing their money to begin with (my parents certainly were, as was I – good thing I married the daughter of a finance manager).

                            [2] I was picking up on my parents resentment, obviously. I was too young to understand why at the time.

                            [3] Or whoever was providing the jobs that just evaporated; modify the details to fit as appropriate.

                            [4] Well, yes, there is some resentment towards the guys who walked away doing just fine, but again, they are never seen, so it’s a vague resentment toward a distant person. The welfare user gaming the system is right in front of you in line at the store.

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                                • That sounds like Green Stamps. Does anybody remember those?

                                  The complete lack of aid swamped by endless voter registration forms were a hoot. It was like the welfare system was a self-parody. I assumed I had to register to vote as a dead person before they would even consider me for aid. This went on for over a year.

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                                  • I think ours were blue, but I could be remembering them wrong, or they were ones issued by the state instead of the feds.

                                    I was too young to remember much else, and both parents are gone, so I can’t ask them.

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                              • Maybe it’s a state thing.

                                Or even a county thing, depending on how the client intake function is distributed in the state. In Colorado, counties are responsible for the entire client intake function, using the state’s single software system. Some counties take advantage of the software features and make intake a straightforward matter. Some counties, where the Commissioners believe that being on welfare is a shameful thing, make the process as difficult as possible. Even in those counties, the state software guarantees that each applicant receives a letter detailing the benefit decisions — eg, if a person applied for Medicaid, they would get a letter saying either yes or no, and if the answer was no, which eligibility criteria they failed.

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                            • Let’s keep in mind that the system is incredibly paternalistic and places odd restrictions on the people using it (and by odd I mean that the restrictions make little sense to the users, but probably make all sorts of sense to politicians). People game it because it’s a shitty system and they are not only trying to get by, but also get ahead enough to maybe, you know, get off welfare[1].

                              I will echo and say that this is the conversation that we ought to be having about our social safety net, but almost never do.

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                              • As someone who’s stood behind a person in the grocery line trying to buy one of those ready made chickens with food aid only to be told they’re not permitted to, the paternalism is patent and highly absurd. If you want to give aid, give aid. Otherwise, you’re just a puppeteer.

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                            • Just want to echo appreciation of the insight on this. It reminded me of what I heard and saw on my occasional missions out to Western MD or the eastern shore when the CDL firm I worked at picked up cases from the public defender. The hue of those clients was usually a lot lighter but they’d find themselves in the same kinds of escalating petty crime/probation/parole cycles associated with urban poverty. Like the welfare system its pretty hard to break out (and most of them were involved in that too).

                              I don’t want to eliminate the agency of people in these situations and there’s plenty they do as individuals that doesn’t help their causes. But it’s one of the reasons the whole ‘it’s all just racism’ narrative always strikes me as so lacking. People in Cumberland were (mostly) griping about other people in Cumberland, not West Baltimore.

                              Anyway my point is that I agree there are complex policy problems at play here. I never want to say racism has no role because I think it or the legacy of it usually has some role. But turning every conversation into quasi-religious sermons about original sin and sinners who can’t let go of it is both wrong and counterproductive. It characterizes these problems as metaphysical moral failings (rather than in the mud policy and administrative issues) and calls for an impossible solution, that being the day everyone joins the same church of anti-racism.

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                            • +1000

                              We really are shaped in how we see these issues by our surroundings and life history.

                              My family never hit the point of needing welfare, but I still remember as a small child walking in on my mom in tears trying to figure out how to pay that month’s bills. We did know people who weren’t as lucky, and who would have been out on the street otherwise when things went sour – usually do to plain luck like a car accident when they didn’t have funds to cover doctors bills let alone fix the car. So my early impressions were that a safety net was to be avoided if possible but ultimately a good thing to have there. Also my parents are old enough to remember when there wasn’t one, and while they would get angry at the people who gamed the system, that anger was directed at cheaters, not toward ‘tear the whole thing down!’

                              But I am careful about how much credit I give to stories about cheaters (like the one cited above) because I also remember neighbors angrily talking about a woman seen using food stamps to buy shrimp and a fancy chocolate cake ….until someone who knew more about it came over and gently explained that she had been eating little more than cornflakes for a month to save enough to buy that for her ailing mother’s birthday, which was likely to be the last one they would celebrate. That happened when I as grade school, but it is one of the moments that sticks with you.

                              So, I can always imagine that there may be more to the story when it comes to someone using assistance. However, the greedy mine owner/CEO/etc. who has way more than he/she needs to live comfortably but still games the system to get corporate welfare or just out-right grifts like Pruitt does really hack me off. I don’t know why more people don’t feel that way other than that it’s hard to make a political issue of it when neither party seems particularly inclined to actually do anything about those guys.

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                              • usually do to plain luck like a car accident when they didn’t have funds to cover doctors bills let alone fix the car.

                                When I was 6, my dad ran our little early 70’s Dodge Colt into a 12 point buck.

                                Car – dead
                                Dad – laid up for a few months with bruised ribs and a hurt back
                                Deer – butchered (in our kitchen by a friend) and the meat stored in our freezer – We lived off venison stew for 2 months straight, it was years before I could eat venison again.

                                Over all it took a year to recover from that one accident and get off welfare again.

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                                • *nods* That’s usually the sort of thing that does it.

                                  People who haven’t lived that close to one random thing leaving them broke and stuck, just don’t understand. And yet I’ve known even a lot of middle class people that are one accident of bad diagnosis away from being out on the street. Ironically, they are often the ones who are most vocal about how other people should be able to ‘pull themselves up by their bootstraps’. I’m never sure if it’s pride, or putting on a show and trying to appear better off by saying what they think someone much more financially secure person would say, or some variation on denial – ‘even if the worst happens *I* would still be able to pull myself up’.

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                                  • When my motorcycle wreck put me on my ass, I was able to pull myself up by my bootstraps, but I was also in the Navy at the time, so I had the worlds best AFLAC policy, ever.

                                    It was a grueling 8 months of recovery. It would have been nearly impossible without the support I got from the Navy. I can’t imagine how people without any such safety net (be it government of family or work benefit) ever hope to recover. It’s why I am a supporter of safety nets, I just think the US has a total system of utter shit safety nets. It’s like all the bad ideas on the right and the left got together and created a safety net, and then forever shut out any hope of a good idea sneaking in.

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                                    • There’s a family story about my great-grandfather falling from the third story of a building and breaking several vertebrae. He was on a construction crew and this was back before OSHA regs that would have had people in safety harnesses. He was lucky to be alive actually, but he was laid up for over a year. there was also no health insurance, workman’s comp – nothing. He spine healed crooked, but he was eventually able to find work again as a carpenter. If not for a wife and 2 adult daughters who would take in sewing and laundry, I doubt the family would have survived.

                                      So, yes. Safety nets are good things to have. But in this country how to best manage them isn’t approached as even remotely a scientific study, but as such a tug of war over political theories/ideologies/etc. that policy ping-pongs around insanely until you have the dog’s breakfast of a system we see today.

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              • All of it boils down to a sense of injustice and fairness.

                I agree.

                But rage at malingering is predicated on a sense of themselves as rightfully carrying their fair share, of their culture being one of responsibility and sobriety and thrift, and other people as being lazy drunken spendthrifts.

                But when you look at which culture in America is getting the harsh punitive words and measures from Trump, which culture would that be?
                Urban, or rural?
                Black, or white?
                Immigrant, or native born?

                See, I know it sounds like I am being uncharitable and ascribing malign motives to these people, but the narrative they are trying to weave here is preposterous and makes no sense.

                If the target of their anger were fellow white working class loafers, Trump would never enter the picture.

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                • If the target of their anger were fellow white working class loafers, Trump would never enter the picture.

                  That’s also where I disagree. Trump was very good at being vague about things so people heard what they wanted. A friend of mine vigorously supported Trump because he thought he would stand up more for police officers and my friend felt very much under attack because he was an officer in the Ferguson era.

                  I really would urge you to understand that you can’t distill Trump supporters down to bigots worried about retaining their white power. It’s much more complicated and diverse of a group, even if nearly all of them happen to be white. They all have their pet issues that they were mad about.

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                  • I would point out that it’s Trump opponents worried about losing their elite white power. Sure, they denounce whiteness from sun up to midnight, but they don’t denounce their own morality or position, just that of lower-class or middle-American clingy gun-n-religion”evil” whites. They are completely blameless in accumulating all that wealth and power. Everything bad was all those other whites’ fault, those whites who only did bad things.

                    What they’re doing is virtue signaling by separating themselves from lower-class whites by loudly announcing their membership in the superior tribe of wealthy, sophisticated, upper-class sin self-confessers. By confessing that they recognize and repent their white sins, they’re flagging themselves as members of the superior group of whites whose sins have been forgiven. It’s basically Oprah.

                    You see this in Appalachia all the time, but it’s almost always Baptists or Pentacostals and the religion is recognized as a religion, and even our saints will confess to sins they don’t have just to up their status, kind of like the folks who roll wheelchairs into church just so the preacher can make them walk again.
                    .
                    It’s all basically creating a perceived underclass or lower caste and then beating it like a pinata to show how upper-caste you are.

                    It’s becoming pretty transparent to all the Trump voters.

                    And as for meth addicts, I don’t have a problem with them as long as they don’t steal. They’re heading face-down in a ditch at a rapid pace and they will have to put the pieces of their life back together. Opiod addicts often don’t get that chance because they OD at a staggering rate.

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                      • Oh, certainly I am, but what I’m describing is the operative culture that’s driving all the white self-hatred (you can tell it’s self hatred when only white folks show up to the anti-white racism rallies).

                        Here’s a Quillette article on it, which is quite interesting.

                        If the views there are accurate, it means a catastrophic civil war (for the left, since the right owns all the weapons) is easily avoided by just a tad bit of self understanding. People everywhere are insecure about their social status, especialy people who are trying to move up, or who are insecure about the huge amount of money they are paid, or whose position rests almost entirely on the good opinions of others. Social climbers, social butterflies, metrosexuals, hipsters, or basically anyone who goes to art galleries.

                        What better way to establish your credentials than pointing to the star on your belly that distinguishes you from the plain bellied Sneech? And indeed, it turns out that those stars are Velcroed on, and one incorrect, insensitive statement on Facebook or Twitter can rip it right off, whereas if you lead an Internet mob against the plain-bellies everyone will know you’re a true star-belly.

                        This combines with some other currents on the left to form a purity-spiral, where nobody can be “pure enough” and everyone tries to avoid being the target of the mob by leading the mob or keeping their heads way down. The purity spiral marks an endpoint, and unrecoverable position that forces people to abandon a particular segment of a belief system or be driven from it.

                        Brandon Straka is an example. Here’s his viral Youtube video

                        Everything that’s driving him away is a result of that purity spiral. Purity is the opposite of the big tent and it is the opposite of liberalism. It is what liberals were against, and yet it is consuming and destroying them, probably unleashed by social media and a few other recent changes.

                        One of those odd changes was the aftermath of the Columbine shooting, when all us adults decided to tell kids to always tell an authority if they are made to feel uncomfortable (bullying), and turning a big swath of that age spectrum into, well, what we’re seeing from campus activists who want to ban anything resembling free thought or free enquiry.

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                  • A friend of mine vigorously supported Trump because he thought he would stand up more for police officers and my friend felt very much under attack because he was an officer in the Ferguson era.

                    I really would urge you to understand that you can’t distill Trump supporters down to bigots worried about retaining their white power.

                    These are not mutually exclusive statements.

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              • Depends on how secure that comfort is.

                I grew up dirt poor, so even though my wife and I do quite well, we are careful to not position ourselves such that one of us losing our job would quickly lead to more substantial loses (like housing, etc.; not much I am afraid of, but the thought of being that poor again can give me cold sweats…). We life far enough below our means that our comfort is relatively secure.

                Not everyone has done, or is able to do, that.

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                • Sure, people react differently, have different backgrounds, and have different abilities to live within their means, and perceptions of the same.

                  But I’m not sure the idea that the underlying emotion is fear or insecurity holds up.

                  It’s also not strictly a Left/Right thing, though folks on the Left tend to direct it at people at the top of the income scale, not the bottom.

                  More justifiably, I think, but then again, I would.

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                  • That goes back to the whole “Deserving Poor” discussion and how & why people get those ideas in their head.

                    But when you look at polling, IIRC worry over financial security is a big one, so I suspect it drives a lot more across a wider range of SES than you give it credit for.

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      • FWIW, the ones I’ve talked (offline) to have been a lot more mad than scared.

        Still, Trump et al. keep hammering on stuff like terrorism, crime committed by immigrants, et c. for a reason. Clearly it appeals to some of the crowd.

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        • Well, I’m a scared one (not a Trump supporter, but a conservative/libertarian). I am scared because virtually the entire left wing, including several people on this site who I really do super like and awesomely respect, continually play dumb as to any legitimate reasons why Hillary might have lost or why people in Middle America might be fearful or angry about the way things are going. It’s racism/sexism/homophobia or it’s sheer inbred stupidity or it’s Saul’s “fever dream” where millions of people are suffering from some mass hallucination no doubt brought on by too many deep fried Twinkies. Never anything the left might have done or may be doing to contribute to divisiveness. The right has no reason to feel attacked or threatened, none whatsoever, it’s all Alex Jones this and Fox News that, those fake news rabblerousers preying on the weak minded Nascar and Frito Pie fans of the US of A. The left is blameless, innocent, uncorrupted, above all human failings and foibles, and practically perfect in every way.

          And that is not the way I see it. It’s just not. For a variety of reasons that I think anyone who has been paying the wee-est bit of attention to events that have transpired over the past 30 years simply has to be at least somewhat aware of. So that leaves me with two options – that either the entire left is really really really out of touch with reality or else that they’re all ginormous liars and neither of these things gives me much comfort, since they also seem hell bent on setting themselves up as the Smart People Who Should Be In Charge Of Everything. And since the left is already in control of the media, the public schools, the Internetz, all major cities and a couple of pretty important states (including mine), the ever-shifting definitions of free speech/racism/white supremacy/gender and some other pretty important stuff besides, they’re already a good distance of the way there.

          Yikes.

          Thus, because the Left as it exists at present scares the beejeebers out of me, I started taking a look at some things that I’ve heard conservatives say for a long time that I always rolled my eyes at and thought were complete BS. Lo and behold to my very VERY great surprise, I’ve found that some of their positions actually did make some sense. There was logic and fact underneath the red white and blue jibberjabber. I began to rethink some things that I’ve always been pretty emphatically liberal about. I realized…painfully…that the reason why I was so emphatically liberal about certain issues was because I had never truly considered them from both sides before. I had actually been wrong – I had been thinking with my larger philosophical worldview and what I wanted the world to be and not with my head/knowledge of reality. This, I believe is what is happening to quite a few people of late. They have started to reconsider some positions they never seriously or critically considered before. And their opinions changed.

          One can claim people are drinking KoolAid and try to explain away people’s shifting viewpoints that way. But I suspect that at least some people who have recently jumped on board the Trump Train have simply rethought some things and decided that either they were wrong to start with or they’ve figured that maybe the enemy of my enemy is my friend and that they’ll worry about libertarianizing and small-governmenting up the future when the present is taken care of. Because for most people, Trump is a weapon, not a destination. Trump has never been anything other than a Molotov cocktail people threw to try and stop the danger coming from the left that they perceive as being very much real.

          And every time liberals double and triple and quadruple and millionoople down on the rhetoric and the willingness to crap on the normies every chance they get, it makes people like me (I’m nice! I’m reasonable! I voted for Dukakis for cripes’ sake) throw up our hands and say “that’s it, I’m never voting Democrat again”. Because I perceive the danger as being very much real. You’re killing yourselves here, your chances, Democrats. If Trump and the Republicans were just barely better then they are, just a little teensy bit less awful, the Democrats would be in real trouble right now. This approach the D’s are taking, where they’re the anti-Trumps, it’s relying on a temporary solution to fix a long term problem that they appear to not even know exists.

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          • the Left as it exists at present scares the beejeebers out of me, I started taking a look at some things that I’ve heard conservatives say for a long time that I always rolled my eyes at and thought were complete BS. Lo and behold to my very VERY great surprise, I’ve found that some of their positions actually did make some sense.

            OK, but, like…what?

            What is The Left doing that scares you? What positions do the conservatives have that make sense to you?

            Imagine President Kamala Harris administration, with a Democratic supermajority in the House and Senate.

            What nightmare acts would you imagine happening?

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          • I can see that being annoying. But scary?

            I’ve read stuff on this general topic from you before, but it’s never really been clear to me what the actual tangible harms are that you fear will befall yourself or your loved ones, and by what mechanism, should leftists / Democrats / etc. gain and retain power for too long.

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          • To be blunt, , I have an honest question. What’s your actual worst case scenario you see for let’s say, 2032 or 2036 if Democrat’s holding most of the positions they currently do – where somebody like Hillary Clinton is in the center of the party – so not a takeover by DSAers or BLM activists or whatever – if they hold Congress, the Presidency, and so on, and so forth.

            Explain to me how life will be worse off for a white downscale adult in a ‘red state’ if that happens. Because I simply don’t see it. For the people currently funding the Republican Party, I get it. For the people who vote for the Republican party, I simply don’t see how their lives will be worse off.

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            • This seems like a what’s the matter with kansas thing. It’s like asking what do straight liberals have to gain by voting to legalise ssm? Social conservatives vote for republicans because of issues like abortion or ssm or the issue of whether the public culture should be overtly christian. It is not ipso-facto foolish or wrong or irrational to vote for non-narrowly self-interested reasons

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              • OK, if she fears a more socially permissible society where people will have the freedom to do what they want without reprisal from civil society or the government, that’s fine. But, actually say that instead of making long posts about how we on the Left control everything (which is hilarious), actually say what the problem is.

                Now, I may find the idea that someone being fearful of my friend being able to terminate a pregnancy she neither wants and is happy about terminating being absolutely legal and indeed, possibly covered by KristenCare, wrong, but I understand that far better than I do some some generalizing the horror the Left will bring if we ever gain power.

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            • To be blunter, I find that many people on this site engage in a kind of bait and switch argument in which the person making the minority argument is asked to explain or prove their feelings in specific terms and then they are piled-upon by several people who then set about to prove how very wrong they are.

              So I will graciously decline the above requests with apologies.

              I really, really, really do doubt that anyone on this site – all highly informed, well-read people who have lived in this country the same 30-50 year period that I have, lack the imagination, empathy, and knowledge to imagine what I or other reasonable, everyday, slightly conservative-leaning people might find worrying or concerning. I just find it strains my belief to the breaking point because you are all so very clever and knowledgeable. Thus I can’t help but see all this “wait, waaaaht? What u talkin bout crazy mama” as a rhetorical ploy – one I’ve fallen victim to in the past – and I just choose not to partake this time.

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              • Honestly, , just as it strains your belief that I can’t already understand without being told what it is you fear from the American left, it strains my belief that you have anything to fear from the American left.

                (EDIT – I had originally written that it strained my belief that you fear anything from the American left – but that’s not right at all. Obviously you fear something, you’ve said you do and I believe you’re telling the truth. It’s just (1) that I don’t know what your fears are, and (2) that I don’t believe you have anything to fear, but can’t be sure whether I think your fears founded without knowing what they are)

                Obviously you don’t need to take part in any conversation you don’t want to – but I hope you do at least go away with the belief that I am being honest and sincere with you. That I truly don’t know and that is why I hoped you might be willing to explain.

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                • Honestly, , just as it strains your belief that I can’t already understand without being told what it is you fear from the American left, it strains my belief that you have anything to fear from the American left.

                  For anyone who legitimately wants to know what’s to fear from the American left, go spend some time at a public housing project or at a failing public school.

                  To the extent that people can go to those places and not be overtaken to some level of dread, it is likely a testament that those people know deep down that those places weren’t built for people like them.

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                  • r Paying attention to some of the ridiculous, controlling, harmful things** that individual nutty Quebec bureaucrats (not all bureaucrats! in general I YEARN for their system) try to enact or worse yet succeed at enacting, all under the guise of business-as-usual social care for people and their children, is also likely to prove salutary, and perhaps more convenient for our non-American readers since it’s in the papers.

                    ** No, I’m explicitly not talking about language laws, I’m talking about all the stuff that has NOTHING to do with language laws. And seemingly pops up every 8-15 months or so if you pay attention to Montreal media.

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                  • OK, that’s getting somewhere concrete at least.

                    I realize it’s an anecdote not a statistically significant study but: Fledermaus went to just such a failing public school in Texas in first or second grade – the school was so bad it was subsequently used in Democratic campaign material when George W Bush was running for president, as “look at how bad public education gets when you have a Bush brother running the place” material.

                    So, realize that the things you seem to think of as disasters caused by leftists, leftists may think of as disasters caused by rightists.

                    Which, regardless of how much each faction is right about the other one being to blame – everybody agrees disaster is disaster. There aren’t some socialists somewhere twirling their moustaches and going “excellent! Our plan to under-educate poor children is working!”

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                    • Which, regardless of how much each faction is right about the other one being to blame – everybody agrees disaster is disaster. There aren’t some socialists somewhere twirling their moustaches and going “excellent! Our plan to under-educate poor children is working!”

                      See the discussion of food stamps above. I don’t care much about intentions. I care about outcomes. In fact, some of the worst outcomes have come from people with the best of intentions.

                      I also don’t care about the blame game. I know a good deal about the history of the American welfare state (as well as having a bit of personal experience with it) and that informs my fear of the left. I have a whole other list of reasons why I fear the American right.

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                      • j r, this might be a good time to ask you…

                        What did you think of Trump’s campaign statement wrt Dem mayors and governors controlling* the largest inner-city AA populations that black people have nothing to lose by voting for him? Good politics, bad politics?

                        *ha! not intentional

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                        • I think that there is no small amount of irony in that statement coming from the politician who, at the national level at least, has been the first to so openly signal racism and white supremacy since maybe the civil rights era, at the very least since Pat Buchanan’s RNC speech in ’92. But that’s politics.

                          There’s nothing particularly novel about the sentiment itself. The relationship between black voters and the Democratic Party is complicated and often one-sided. This is a conversation that black people have long had among themselves and, on occasion, with a wider audience.

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              • And I would just add to what dragonfrog said, that many of us truly haven’t lived in this country the same 30-50 year period you have… both dragonfrog and Murali are not American, though I’m pretty sure Murali has lived here for significant chunks of time.

                That said, perhaps because I have been here for almost 20 years, or perhaps because I’ve read a lot of left critiques of the left, or who knows why – I certainly don’t have a lot of trouble imagining things to fear about the American left – things I also fear – or why people might fear many other things about a theoretical total ascendancy of that left as currently constituted, even though I don’t agree with those fears.

                Would I had the energy to go into it, there’d be quite the dystopic novel to be written about my own worst fears of my closest-held beliefs turning out to be dangerous ….

                I console myself that were I conservative, but of the same bent I am now, I would probably have just as many fears of how THAT could turn out.

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                • In 2012, I was in Arizona for month. Excluding a two week long disney world/ lake tahoe/ yosemite holiday in the 90s with my parents, the only other time I was in the US was in the 80s from the age of 2 1/2 till I was 4 where I was in Houston with my mother.

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                  • Ah. Well, all the more reason to remember that you have a different perspective (sometimes rather usefully!) on american politics than those who’ve lived here 30-50 years then.

                    Dunno how I got it into my head otherwise.

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          • This is precisely the reason I am a conservative Republican.

            My first presidential election was ’84, where I proudly voted against Ronald Reagan’s vision of the sovietization of the United States.
            Voted Dem every pres. election through 2004, with the exception of Perot in ’94.
            Very much a blue-collar union Democrat.

            Then, I realized that, in actual practice, the Left means very little of what they say.

            I prefer consistency of thought, belief, and action far more than I value any political affiliation.
            In fact, I would prefer to be completely apolitical rather than to sacrifice any degree of consistency of thought, belief, and action.

            For a time, I yearned after them, much like a lost love, the One Who Got Away, hoping she would realize how good we would be together.
            In time, I decided I wouldn’t want her anymore, even if she did, because I can now she the flaws more clearly.

            I am being very sincere when I say that I hope you fare much better along that path than have I.
            I wish you well on your journey.

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            • Well, if you start out from the belief that your counterparts are lying whenever they state their intentions (or at least certain of their intentions – you may not be willing to say which ones, perhaps to avoid letting them know just how much of the conspiracy you’re onto), it’s hard for them to get you to believe that they do mean what they say – since that’s exactly what a liar would say, innit?

              Must be odd for you, hanging out in a nest of vipers like OT…

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          • So that leaves me with two options – that either the entire left is really really really out of touch with reality or else that they’re all ginormous liars

            Out of touch. I’m a member of the Left, one who lives in NJ, and in a suburb of a major metro, and pretty far removed from Middle America, I have very little contact with people in your community, and little direct information as to why many (most? virtually all?) of them support Trump.

            But that doesn’t mean I don’t have any direct information as to why anybody might support Trump. I mean our country is very divided in some ways, but even here in solid Blue New Jersey, Trump got more than a third of the vote.

            That’s not close. But it doesn’t mean that Trump voters are weird aliens, either. And where I personally live, it was close. I’ve had the opportunity to hear people say why they voted for Trump.[1]

            So can I guess why someone might feel under attack from the Left? Sure, but I can do better than guess: I can remember the things that people have said. And… well, it’s not universal, and some of them are solid guys, but a lot of the reasons people have said have been as bad or worse than what you think the Left suspects.

            And as for Fox News, it’s not just the Right that is exposed to it. It’s pretty omnipresent, and it presents a narrative of “Real America” under attack. That obviously doesn’t mean people in your community agree with that narrative, but it does mean that people on the Left have one less reason to imagine, and one more reason to believe that they have the answer, because it’s right there on the TV screen at the gym, or the bar, or wherever, even if they don’t have it on in their home.

            [1] I also have friends and acquaintances who I am pretty sure voted for Trump, but I don’t talk politics with them and they aren’t outspoken about it.

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  4. That graph amuses me. It’s circular logic, but three overlapping circles simultaneously. Enthusiasts remain enthusiastic, while skeptics remain skeptical. Converts used to be skeptical, but are now enthusiastic. Each group remains consistent because, by definition, if you’re a skeptic who becomes enthusiastic, you’ll be transferred to a different group. The original report also includes a group labeled “disillusioned” Trump supporters, who, get this, used to be enthusiastic but are now skeptical.

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      • But I agree with Pinky that the metric of the graph seems either circular or tautological.

        By definition, Enthusiasts are going to be consistently “Yas!” Converts are going to start “meh” go to “maybe?” and get to “Yas!” Skeptics are going to start “meh” go to “maybe?” then go to “ugh”.

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        • I interpreted it more as “we can statistically reliably *find* these three pattern categories as the ones that most people in this group followed, and thus we have labeled these chunks that we found “Enthusiasts, Converts, and Skeptics,” myself. But maybe I just did that because it would make more sense?

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  5. I think there are a lot of assumptions about politics that pundits and political junkies like to make but simply are not true. I’ve been trying to sort these out for the past few years. My thoughts are not completely worked out yet:

    1. There was never a golden age when politics was about ideas and not personality. This is a frequent complaint and EM Carpenter voices it above but I don’t think it was ever true in reality. We remember things through rose-colored glasses. Mario Cuomo famously advised to campaign in poetry but govern in prose for a reason. People are convinced by rhetoric and charisma. There might be a kind of wonk who yearns for everything to be decided through the best white paper but that never works out in real life.

    2. There have always been hugely tribal and social aspects for how people pick their political parties, identities, and ideas. These processes might even be unconscious. However, humans will fight until they are blue in the face about this because it deeply offends our sense of self and autonomy to admit that we might have picked our politics because of family and geography. I’m convinced that there are a lot of smart people who picked their politics because of family and this goes either way. “I’m in party X because my parents were in Party X” is a thing. So is “I am in Party Y because my parents were in Party X and fuck you Dad” is also a thing.

    3. American pundits also seem to assume that voters are empty vessels and blank states every November. This is not only unrealistic but scary. I might not agree with a true believer but at least they believe in something as opposed to just swinging back and forth without any seeming reason.

    4. Pundits make their living by sprouting bland platitudes about the common-sense of the American people. I don’t think it is good because it denies the American people agency over their reactions. You see this with a lot of writing over Trump. A lot of pundits loathe Trump but they also don’t want to write anything implying that Americans who voted for Trump did something deeply wrong. So there is always gymnastics about how Trump hid information and if people knew this information they would not have voted from him. This isn’t true though. Most Americans did not vote for Trump and were able to tell he was untrustworthy from information known in 2016. Yet we still find that the media wants to bend over backwards and soft-peddle excuses for Trump supporters because it doesn’t want to accuse anyone of voting because they saw white supremacy, Trump’s racism, bigotry, or cruelty in their self-interest. The media seems absolutely powered to avoid such implications or debates by all means necessary

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