I saw The Big Short and Hillary likes banks and I am really mad about it
“All Hillary supporters are capitalist sell-outs who would happily close their eyes and mortgage 1 the future of our country to investment bankers and their lobbyists in exchange for the promise of incremental improvement and a bulwark against the Trumpocalypse. They lack agency and support Hillary because they have been conditioned to do so.”
First, Candidates have been sponsored by corporate interests for all of our adult lives unless you are about 120 years old. The fact that people are paying attention and reacting to the means by which corporate interests are represented in politics is less a symptom of some new illness and more people learning that waking up and puking every morning isn’t actually normal. Hillary is an exceptional politician with decades of experience functioning within a political system that has always demanded compromises. She is taking money from the same people Obama took money from. Everyone does it and always has. To think that electing Clinton will be somehow cataclysmic because she will work, in part, for the interests of the same banks who the last 10 presidents worked for doesn’t make sense. 2
Additionally, many ad hominem attacks on Hillary and her supporters are suffused with sexist rhetoric. The word “shrill” is maybe a bit on-the-nose but still a decent example for the kind of ostensibly “defensible” descriptors that an anti-Hillary blogger might use. Sure, that word and many others like it exist and can describe things, like say, an annoying bird. 3 But, we really shouldn’t need to prove that sexist rhetorical connotations for certain words and archetypes exist and we definitely shouldn’t have to do so via explicit means because that is sort of missing the entire point (words having connoted meanings and all…). Said anti-Hillary blogger can write a post about how Hillary is “calculating and efficient” and step away claiming they were being somehow complimentary, but they are still pretty much just saying she is sinister and/or a bitch and they probably know that.
Bernie Bros are white and I am white and I hate them because they are unrealistic and because we are white
“All Bernie Sanders supporters are unrealistic ideologues who hide a misogynist and possibly racist agenda behind thinly veiled claims to populism. Any policy Bernie promises on the campaign trail will be summarily voted down by a Republican congress with a Democratic Party minority that may not be in his corner either. Bernie supporters are all white people in their mid-20’s which automatically disqualifies them from having anything interesting to say – particularly in regard to the liberal agenda they try to defend but do not truly understand.” 4
First, has the current Republican Congress left anyone the illusion that ANYBODY would be able to get them to act in support of ANY agenda? No matter which liberal candidate is elected, that candidate will face complete and unilateral obstruction from a Republican Congress. Bernie is a liberal Jew who stands in direct opposition to the interests who got the majority of them elected and, himself, pretty much never compromises. Hillary is a slightly-less-but-still-liberal woman with the last name Clinton. Neither will be invited to many BBQs and both will likely hear the typical impeachment bullshit before they even step into office. 5
The Bernie bro narrative has also been a frustrating rhetorical condemnation. Essentially the narrative became centered around the idea that Bernie Sander’s supporters were white, male misogynists who were categorically abusive and sexist in their online behavior. While the initial article was pretty much just a playful jab and actually pretty funny, the narratives spinning out of that initial moniker -developing original have become increasingly condemning and try-hardy as the “I need to push this idea to the brink of sanity to get more clicks” machine got itself humming. 6 Bernie stands for a few uncompromising populist ideals that get pushed around the internet a lot. It is easy to write passionately about how things should be. Idealists like him and idealists are often young and vocal which means you end up having to read a lot of re-posted articles. I guess that is annoying enough to write and repost a bunch of other articles about how they post too many articles.
Fun with ad hominem attacks
What is represented in these admittedly lazy strawmen examples of the rhetoric on both sides is the emphasis on the supporter rather than the candidate. Debates between liberals, people who by and large think of themselves as being compassionate and empathetic, should be about meeting in the middle. One of Hillary Clinton’s selling points is her ability to work within a system predicated on compromise. Why would somebody support a person like that with inflexible, antagonistic arguments? Bernie sells himself on being compassionate and progressive. Why would somebody support a person like that by condemning friends and family as corporate shills?
Why are policy debates that should be centered on compromise so antagonistic?
Outrage is easy. It is the simplest thing in the world to dismiss a dissenting attitude by assuming that attitude is backstopped by a mind that is either critically misinformed or incapable of operating at your level.
Lashing out at a group of individuals in a condescending “I-can’t-believe-you-would-think-that” tone is the rhetorical equivalent of throwing your work papers up in the air – an exciting and seemingly-impressive gesture that’s essentially hollow and unconstructive.
It is an unfortunate side-effect of an outmoded two party system that people begin to relish the opportunity to identify as a “supporter” of a candidate or an ideal rather than as an individual who happens to be more partial to the ideas and policies espoused by one candidate or the other. The mono a mono competitive facets of the political system in the United States have become so perfected over time that the election cycle feels like a game, and people love to win games whether on the micro or macro scale. Dismissing another group’s opinion as insane, silly, or unfounded, particularly when among like-minded individuals, is comforting. It makes you feel superior, it makes you feel like you belong, like you are with the “in” crowd. 7
The part that gets left out is how we need to live with– not only the result of these political games, but — the violent versions of dissent this system fosters from friends and family on the day after Election Day. I have had family members send me angry, hateful emails prior to major elections since they expect me to vote for a Democrat. This isn’t healthy and this isn’t some symptom inherent to elected democracy.
We are all personally responsible for feeding into an environment where people’s intelligence and integrity can be questioned on the basis of political preference.
If you have an issue with a Hillary supporter, talk to them and try to understand where they are coming from. Do the same with Cruz supporters. Dismissing a dissenting view as stupid is useless especially if the view is stupid. Even if you are dealing with somebody who violently offends every sensibility that you have, reacting with outrage and dismissal just allows that sentiment to fester in the margins of society, where a feedback loop of like-minded people allow any idea or belief to regress to its most self-certain iteration.
A person’s view doesn’t change if you embarrass them and dismiss their thoughts as misinformed, as stupid. When you conflate an opinion with the person who has the opinion, the person hardens their position until they identify with their opinion further. Their view of themselves becomes inseparable from the opinion they hold and any further appeal to alter that opinion comes through the wires as a personal attack, because that is how you have conditioned them to feel. They are no longer somebody who agrees with Hillary or Bernie or Trump – they are a Hillary or Bernie or Trump supporter. An attitude formerly reserved for die-hards becomes universal.
Sort of like Identity Politics but without the aspiration to usefulness
Individuals in underserved demographics have found that by sticking together and affirming their difference from mainstream culture, they could influence that culture and find a place beside it. 8 The politics surrounding the democratic primaries has piggybacked on the sentiment of identity politics while foregoing the underlying substance. The effect is a lot of wealthy white people online yelling at other wealthy white people for being too white9.
Whether you agree or disagree with the efficacy of affirming difference as means for inclusion into mainstream culture, you can at least respect that there is a reason to do something.
What makes the political rhetoric of 2016 so divisive10 is that the us-against-them attitude is meant to reaffirm difference when this, out of the last four, year feels like a good time to find common ground. Among current Republican voters, I can’t really blame them. When squaring off with a Trump supporter, I can imagine suppressing outrage and disbelief is challenging. Particularly given the dismissive and fact-averse attitude that works its way from the top-down and somehow seems to permeate about a third of the American south which is still important in deciding who runs the whole country 11
Being outraged is really easy . Coming to a discussion with an argumentative mindset is easy. Being open-minded is hard. Disagreeing amicably is almost impossible. The thesis of this rambling exercise is to be a little less hard on one another. Try to find out why people disagree with you. Be less of a “supporter” and more of a person. The second we subsume our ability to process facts and alter opinions under an ideology or a candidate’s opinions, we lose the ability to think critically. Don’t do that. I’ll try also.