Since the electoral decision of 11/9 (the world will never be the same), John Lennon’s “Love is All you Need” has been looping in my brain. The song seems to sum up liberal/Democratic self-castigations: be more understanding, concerned, and empathic toward the aggrieved denizens of rural America, and it will all be better next time. Or more instrumentally, people who feel really understood are more likely to agree with us.
Well, probably not. In the blunt words of Forseti’s Justice, “…Rural, Christian, white Americans are entrenched in fundamentalist belief systems; (they) don’t trust people outside their tribe, have been force-fed a diet of misinformation and lies for decades, are unwilling to understand their own situations, and truly believe whites are superior to all races. No amount of understanding is going to change these things or what they believe.”
Liberals don’t need to understand Trump voters better – they need to be more concerned about the conditions that nurture such intractable nonsense. There are two obvious topics and one not so obvious issue that deserve this concern.
It has been said so often that it seems trite to restate it, but the key to being able to think adequately about complex topics is… education. Why don’t liberals take a page from the successful Reagan playbook and run aggressively for local school boards? They don’t need to control the presidency or congress for such an effort, and they would have a chance to reverse the introduction of creationism, idealized history, and other dumbness that right wing Republican school boards have foisted on a pliable public. And beware of vouchers! That tax support for your local alternative school will also go to schools where the curriculum is more like Wahabism than Montessori.
Another obvious area of concern is economic exploitation. Too often, in the name of free market economy, both liberals and conservatives ignore the systematic conning of people into fraudulent investments, unrepayable loans, and hidden fees – at least if it’s the other people who suffer. People on the receiving end of this cynical marketing develop their own retributive cynicism, which for many translated into their support for the worst cynic of all – Trump.
Finally, and less obviously, liberals need to update the Enlightenment commitment to reconciling religion and science. It is probably not an overstatement to say that our survival depends on doing this. The US American style of religious tolerance has nurtured a separation of these two important aspects of human experience, making it politically incorrect to comment on either disrespectful atheism or ignorant science denial. While science and religion exist in two different intellectual domains, they are both a part of most people’s life experience. It is an uneasy coexistence, and suppressing one part or the other creates dangerous excesses of righteous morality and irresponsible power. The support of Trump by religious zealots shows how easily the one excess can morph into the other.
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