I think a core part of the extreme reactions here is that a lot of people who might be otherwise open to reason-based issues (informed criticism of Obamacare, unsustainable economic policies, etc) associate all conservatism with the red-meat social issues that conservative politicians use to drive bigoted constituents to the polls. When I think of conservatives, the first thing that comes to my mind are religious hooligans who hate my gay friends, want a theocracy, and don’t believe the environment is a finite resource—not rational people who may have good points on matters of the economy or national security.
There is a noisy irrationality that’s taking hold on both sides. I’m increasingly unsettled by the violence and dogmatic mindsets that I’m noticing on the left; I see an alt-left brewing out there that is as ugly and savage as the one on the right.
What enables this insanity is the sense of obligation we feel to bless and justify the radicality of our wilder fellow travelers. We feel obligated to respect people for voting, even if they voted for someone useless or downright horrible. We feel obligated to respect people for speaking their minds, even if they’re shouting other people down. We feel obligated to respect people for bringing their issues to the streets, even if that means widespread social unrest and violence. We’re told, over and over again, that it’s the thought that counts; that the expression of views is a sacrosanct act of freedom that can never be judged, no matter how viciously or destructively it’s done.
And there’s a point at which the adults in the room need to shut that down. We need to recognize that radicality, while perhaps satisfying, almost never really helps a cause. We need to say to the people who are doing this stuff: “You may be acting on behalf of ideas we both generally agree with, but right now, you are an embarrassment to both of us, and a discredit to our values.”