Where Should We Put the Republicans? Mental Institutions? Concentration Camps?
If you ever have a political discussion with a group of leftists, one topic that is sure to elicit a chorus of mockery and belly laughs is the intelligence level of those on the right. They voted for Trump because they’re stupid! Don’t they understand that they’re voting against their own interests? Trevor Noah and John Oliver bits will be shared copiously, putting an exclamation point on the derision.
And if some rare soul at the table dares to challenge the narrative and arrest the others’ enjoyment of their sustainable cocktails by pointing out that there are, actually, intelligent republicans, the topic is likely to shift to moral deficiency. It’s not that all republicans are dumb, this supposed concession goes, it’s that they’re not as cultured and world-wise as us democrats. They haven’t thought about the important issues as much as we have. They are benefiting from systemic racism without realizing it, that’s why they’re not as broken up about it as us.
Consider this series of tweets from the blog The Palmer Report as compiled by journalist Glenn Greenwald:
In my anecdotal experience, this is what many of my friends and acquaintances on the left believe but won’t say out loud — that conservatives are deranged simpletons who need therapy. And some of them will say it out loud, unapologetically. It would almost be funny in its hyperbole if people like Palmer didn’t seem to actually believe it. To see oneself on the right side of history while simultaneously laying on a level of condescension and moral superiority towards half the population is a special exercise in moral confusion.
But Republicans Really Are Dumb and Immoral, Right?
It would be one thing if there really was clear evidence that people on the right are dumb and immoral. However, cognitive bias research (which I studied for a year in my doctoral work) reveals nothing of the sort. Instead, one of the central findings of this research (summarized well in founder Daniel Kahneman’s magnum opus, Thinking Fast and Slow) is that people who are more fanatical about their ideology are more susceptible to, to take one example, the confirmation bias. This susceptibility is present for republicans, democrats, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists — members of any in-group. In fact, the strong presence of bias in humans in general has led some evolutionary psychologists to conclude that reason itself evolved as a mechanism not to find truth, but to convince other humans that our own views are correct. Additionally, psychologists like Jonathan Haidt have amassed data suggesting that there are moral foundations that all humans draw from, leading to distinct political sortings that can be found in different human societies around the world.
Leftist derision of the supposed stupidity on the right ignores these nuances. The problem with the moral deficiency charge in particular is that some on the left have a tendency to cash out differences in value as differences in moral character. As anyone who’s studied the topic knows, abortion is complex and involves philosophical assumptions around concepts like life and liberty. Like other difficult topics, this one touches on people’s core values. One can make a reasonable academic argument for or against abortion. And yet, it’s not uncommon for women who are against abortion to be accused of being regressive or even anti-feminist by those on the left. Or, take the J.K. Rowling controversy, another morally complex topic. Drawing from the playbook of many a leftist publication, Pete Davidson’s recent bit on Saturday Night Live compared Rowling’s more nuanced views to the simplistic opinion of an anti-Semitic uncle.
What bothers me most here is not necessarily the hypocrisy: calling others stupid and morally deficient while failing to be concerned with actual cognitive bias research or moral complexity. No, what bothers me most is the lack of inclusion. For a party that fancies itself inclusive, this lack no doubt furthers the charge of hypocrisy. But it’s also bad in itself to not be fully inclusive. Inclusiveness should extend to people with whom we disagree as well as to those with different cultural, religious, racial, and sexual orientations.
There is a real failure of vision here by some on the left, a failure to see the complexity of the world and human nature. Instead of envisioning a pluralistic future where we can all — all — live in harmony, from race to religion to politics, some on the left are envisioning a future where republicans will be, at best, relegated to political disenfranchisement and, at worst, bereft of all political, cultural, and academic influence. This is not real inclusion. And although my title is clearly tongue-in-cheek, I wonder how many on the left secretly wish that we could just put the republicans away somewhere to never hear from them again.
It’s not even that I agree with republicans — on most issues I tend to be center-left. I voted against Trump twice. I’m just arguing for true inclusion. And finally, I hope it’s clear by my occasional use of the word “some” that I am not tarring all liberals with the charge of false, performative inclusion. But those on the left that I am targeting can be quite influential.