Irenic Politics

Jonathan Haidt has said that conservatives generally understand liberals better than liberals understand conservatives. I now offer a corollary that Trump supporters understand Never Trump Conservatives no better than liberals do.

Exhibit A is the premise of a column by Never Trumper Peter Wehner, who got a missive from a Trumpist friend:

I have a colleague who claims [talkshow host and now Presidential hopeful Joe] Walsh has instantly become the face of the Never Trump movement (much to his delight) and that his fellow Never Trumpers will never write a word of condemnation of Walsh, thereby proving their disingenuous position.

As a Conservative Never Trumper, I’m astonished at the cluelessness of that. First, I don’t need a “face” for my opposition to Trump. Second, I don’t know who Joe Walsh is well enough to adopt him, and the little I’ve heard makes me consider him quite unsuitable.

Wehner responds similarly, but first turns the tables:

I will get to Mr. Walsh and his racist rants in a moment, but first I will admit that my initial reaction to this email was bemusement at the question posed to me. Mr. Trump’s most vocal supporters are now demanding that Mr. Trump’s most vocal critics do what they will not, which is to publicly recoil against a politician — in this case, Mr. Walsh — who appeals to the worst instincts and ugliest sentiments in America.

Their argument seems to be that decency requires the president’s relatively few conservative critics to call out Mr. Walsh for saying detestable things while Mr. Trump’s right-wing supporters cheerfully defend him under any and all circumstances, regardless of the fact that the president’s rhetoric is pathologically dishonest, dehumanizing, cruel, crude, racist and misogynistic. There’s a word for what Trump supporters are doing here: hypocrisy.

Then he does turn to Walsh as promised. Read it yourself if you like.

I should add that I understand Trumpistas about as badly as they understand me, which has been a frustration to me ever since Trump proved that he had nontrivial political support. (Before then, I worried about his fans about as much as I worried about any fans of bloodsport and other spectacle.)

Back to the beginning: there are exceptions to any generality. There’s a newish Know Your Enemy podcast from two lefties (one a former conservative) who admirably describe conservative positions.

I find their attacks after the initial descriptions somewhere between non-existent and unpersuasive — which could be by design, given the literal import of the irenic podcast title (promising knowledge, not persuasion) and assuming a Left audience rather than an undecided or Right audience.

But I wonder whether their podcast, in describing conservatism so well, may turn some of their listeners from Left to some version of Right, given Haidt’s observation of how poorly Left understands Right currently.

Answer: probably not if Haidt’s Moral Foundations Theory is correct and there aren’t some other complicating factors it doesn’t cover. But greater mutual understanding would be a helpful alleviator of polarization anyway.

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