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PG has made a couple statements about Peter Thiel's position on Twitter[0], and PB has take a stand against ostracizing Trump supporters[1], so let's dig into this.

The gist of the matter is: What should sane and compassionate people do about the Trump supporters in their lives? Many of us have them. Some of my family members support Trump, and I cannot fire them as family members or cancel Christmas, so I, and we, have to find another approach.

There are different levels of engagement, and the three most important are:

1) Political. Trump supporters are asking for power, and they must be denied that power, because their candidate is a dangerous, emotionally unstable racist, a sexual predator, and man who would do deep damage to US democracy. We should take a hard political line and fight them with all legal means to exclude them from decision-making positions that affect the public interest.

2) Private/Social/Familial. What kind of private discussions can you have with Trump supporters? There are different kinds of supporters, and the discussions you can have with them will vary according to which battle in the culture war you choose. Like previous GOP candidates, Trump has gathered a coalition of single-issue voters behind him. These include the usual suspects 1) anti-abortion groups, gun-rights groups, and climate change deniers. But Trump also has the support of a) white nationalists and other racist groups[2][3]; and b) post-factual conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones who preach the existence of an evil and "alien force not of this world".[4]

Anyone who has tried to argue someone out of their views on abortion or gun rights quickly finds that the discussion moving in circles, and pretty soon you've wasted a couple hours of your life.

People don't change their minds, and "when faced with doubt, they shout even louder."[5] So sure, talk with them if you want, but adversarial debate is one of the least effective ways to engage with Trump supporters.

Let's take Peter Thiel as an example: At the core of his RNC speech was the simple argument that the US government is broken and only Trump can fix it.[6] I agree that the USG is broken in a lot of areas, but hiring Trump to fix it, as someone funnier than me put it, would be like trying to cure eczema with a blow torch. Peter and I might agree on a lot of concrete, isolated problems with government, and he may have some pragmatic ideas for solving some of them, but when you go up one level of abstraction to a "total solution", there's not much to say. A debate between reason and irrationality leads no where.

At the heart of Thiel's position is a question: How do you fix a complex, broken and long-standing system? There are two alternatives: reform or revolution. Clinton represents reform at best and the status quo at worst. She has my vote because she's sane and sanity has become surprisingly rare. Trump represents revolution.

Most revolutionaries overestimate the good a total change will bring, and underestimate the damage. All they can see is the bad of the current situation. But most revolutions fail miserably. The Arab Spring failed violently in Libya, Egypt and Syria. The Iranian revolution of 1979 rang in decades of theocracy. In China and Russia, Marxist-Leninism ultimately killed tens of millions of people. The French revolution led to a century of political instability and the collapse of the French empire. The revolution that overthrew the decadence of Weimar Germany was called Nazism. In the wake of a revolution, you find that the new humans at the top are no better than the old ones, and generally less experienced. Without well thought out structures (like the separation of powers in the US constitution), the new elite will fail and be corrupted.

Anyone who's had to refactor a large, complex and crappy code base has longed to start from scratch. But countries cannot "start from scratch" without massive turmoil and bloodshed. Revolutions mean violence. I don't think we need a revolution, but if we did, it should at least go in the right direction. Trump is not the right direction.

Another important thing to remember is: some political views do not count as dissent, and cannot be accorded the same privileges as other forms of speech: hate speech and white nationalism don't count as dissent. Sexual predation and misogyny don't count as dissent. They are ugly prejudices, and it's not useful to listen to or engage them in a "debate". They have to be tackled in some other way.

In public fora, we should present alternatives to Trump supporters' views, but in private conversation, we should build relationships with his supporters based on non-political common ground. Years down the road, some of them will come round, and when they do, that human connection will be their road of return. One of my siblings was in a cult for about a decade. We just nodded, laid down some light rules about proselytizing and turned the conversation to baseball. For years. And then one day they left the cult and we never heard about it again.

3) Root cause. This is the most important level of engagement. How do we address the factors that have lead us to this point?

There are a lot of factors, but I think we can boil is down to one word: bubbles. People are living in bubbles. Wealth creates bubbles of isolation (Trump himself is a great example, and so is SV). Poverty creates bubbles of isolation, where people are not exposed to new ideas, other cultures and different kinds of people. And the media creates bubbles. Some of the media's bubbles are great (innocent weirdos congregate and find their human home on the Internet), and some are really damaging, because, as a nation, Americans no longer live in a shared reality or agree upon facts. Fox News has never cared about facts, and the GOP has done a lot to drive its supporters away from mainstream media where fact-checking actually happens. The FCC eliminated the Fairness Doctrine in 1987, and since then US media and their audiences have grown increasingly polarized.[7] Maybe that was a mistake.

Different types of bubbles can be burst in different ways. Internet media bubbles could be addressed, at least partially, with algorithms to recommend other types of content, but we would have to accept a benevolent algorithm-maker trying to change our minds.[8] Media bubbles cause bubbles of ideology -- destructive, self-perpetuating memes like anti-semitism and white nationalism. Those are hard to burst. It takes a huge commitment on the part of the people who are hated to go out, encounter the haters in a neutral context and demonstrate your humanity. It can be done. Sometimes it leads to a minor victory, like a racist realizing "not all n are bad." Really hard work.

Bubbles of poverty can be burst by investing more time and money in poor communities, getting people to work and exposing them to the other in non-threatening ways. Maybe we're talking dance troupes and exchange students -- I don't know.

To get to the root, we have to go beyond the media to the interests that are financing the culture wars and climate denial.[9][10]

I don't have ready-made solutions for bursting bubbles, or cutting off the funds that are creating the ideologies that threaten the US and the whole species, but that's where we need to focus. The real issue is the dark money and Citizens United. Beyond that is only capitalism itself, the system that allows a few individuals for reasons of merit or inheritance to lay enormous social claims on the rest of society through the unequal allocation of wealth.

We're living in a strange time. Large historical forces are at work in America, which are beyond the powers of any one person to address. This election cycle has taught me a lot about humans and group behavior, more than I ever wanted to know, and it's given me a surprising sympathy for the Germans whose lives were eclipsed by Nazism in the 1930s. Not all of them wanted it, but all of them got it. A few resisted and died; some fled; many sank into indifference and getting-by; and some saw it as a career opportunity. Just a few more percentage points in favor of Trump and all of America gets him, his walls, his deportations and his groping paws, too. And then we'll all have choices to make.

[0] https://twitter.com/dhh/status/787547255259758592

[1] https://twitter.com/paultoo/status/786990416537149441

[2] http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2016/10/donald-trump-hat...

[3] http://www.vox.com/2016/7/25/12256510/republican-party-trump...

[4] http://mediamatters.org/video/2016/03/17/defending-donald-tr...

[5] https://www.minnpost.com/second-opinion/2010/10/why-people-d...

[6] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UTJB8AkT1dk

[7] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fairness_Doctrine

[8] https://www.wired.com/2016/09/googles-clever-plan-stop-aspir...

[9] http://www.pnas.org/content/113/1/92.abstract

[10] https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/dark-money-funds-...

[11] https://www.amazon.com/Dark-Money-History-Billionaires-Radic...




Three comments -

(0) Nice setup of the sane and compassionate versus... Trump supporters? Who cannot in any way be sane or compassionate...

(1) If Trump supporters must be fought and excluded from any sort of decision-making that affects the public sphere, then why bring up US Democracy? The very nature of democracy allows the dangerous, the racist and the sexist to affect it. Are you suggesting something else?

(2) While I might criticize the five silos you toss Trump supporters into, I wonder more whether you'd find a Sanders revolution abhorrent. Not that all revolutions have been as bloody or as horrid as the French - are you saying the American Revolution was a terrible thing for the world? Certainly the Brits might think so. ;-)


0) I was contrasting non-compassionate responses (such as ostracism) to Trump supporters, with a sane and compassionate response, which I attempted to describe in my second point. I clearly don't consider Trump supporters to be sane, and by definition they cannot be compassionate beyond a limited group of people, since their candidate is a bigot and a misogynist. If you can't see that, I'm not going to explain it to you. The evidence is overwhelming.

1) For a democracy to be alive, it must have the capacity to destroy itself. I think we agree on that much. Trump and his supporters represent a threat to democracy -- I'm sure we don't agree on that. I'm suggesting they be fought with democratic means.

2) I didn't mention the American revolution because it was different from the others. A bourgeois, nationalist revolution that transferred power from a tiny, foreign elite in Britain to a wider suffrage of propertied white males in America. You could argue that the deeper revolution in North America was the vast transfer of property from Native Americans to settlers, and that was indeed a terrible thing for the tribes.




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