I’M DONE TALKING, MYSELF
I’m sorry. I’ve tried. For years I’ve participated in discussions with my Conservative friends and family and have sincerely listened to their side of the story. I thought they were wrong, but I believed that they had something to say. I assumed that they were coming from a good place. Small government. Traditional values. Stability that comes from a respect for law and order. Christian ethics. These aren’t bad things. I even agree with some of variations of each.
Then Obama was elected and I noticed a change in the discourse. A higher level of vitriol was blatant, covered with steadfast denials and resentment should there be a suggestion that maybe this was motivated and tinged with a little racial animus. Conservative rhetoric seemed to abandon the patina of fiscal responsibility and small government in a turn toward more autocratic and even fascist themes.
Then Trump. And I just can’t. The Rubicon has been crossed. Now, the same people I had long, often fruitful, conversations with ten years ago have fallen into a dark, xenophobic rabbit hole and there just doesn’t seem to be any way to reach them. It’s a shame.
I mean, at this point, we are talking about people defending the indefensible. Nazis. Concentration camps for children. Gassing families. And no level of reason. No amount of data. No emotional or morally grounded stories. No appeal to basic human goodness can move them. How can a civilized individual find common ground, let alone a liberal or a leftist? How do you compromise gassing families? As people who care about humanity, who aren’t always right, but who know the above phenomena are morally bankrupt, what’s left to discuss?
I’m brought to Arlie Hochschild’s invaluable book Strangers in their Own Land. She was masterful in revealing what she referred to as the rural, white conservative deep story. Rural white communities were full of people who worked hard to for a place in line toward the American dream. However, as they looked ahead of the line, they saw people, specifically people of color who, with the help of the government, were able to cut in line ahead of them in line on the way to the good life.
I can see where she’s coming from. I can empathize with her subjects. The truth is, however, that this deep story is not something resulting from experience and interaction. The deep story motivating the right is a constructed intentionally engineered by right-wing propagandists going back decades. It is a lie specifically designed to sow discord for political gain.
And the brilliance of this false narrative is that the framers constructed it in such a way that those who embrace it are convinced beyond reason that anyone who might challenge the lie is a Marxist, elitist who “drank the Kool-Aid.” Those who suggest that maybe there are better ways to handle a refugee crisis than gassing children are either dupes of the leftist cabal controlling the media, or they are part of some secret conspiracy to…I don’t even know what the conspiracy is, but they are convinced it’s there.
To my knowledge, there is no Arlie Hochschild of the right trying to make sense of the liberal deep story. On the right, we see only entrenchment and retreatism. At this point, discourse is fruitless. We are better served spending our energies trying to educate those who are open to learning, and even arguing with those who disagree in earnest as honest brokers.
I just have to accept the fact that having a discussion is no longer possible. Maybe someday it will be. Maybe we’ll work our way out of the rabbit hole. Until then, however, I must, for my own emotional health, disengage from the insanity.