View from
The Center

On Trump Hatred: A Plea from the Heart(land)

(Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

“Many features of this region have stood out—but few more prominently than the generosity of its people. They are devoted to their churches; they volunteer their time; they give to charity; they start charities; they adopt children.”

My wife and I are pilgrims; heathens, really, in a holy land. Were impuritans.

Cosmopolitanly predisposed by birth (Paris and New York, respectively), fate has brought us to the rural Midwest (Central Illinois, more specifically). To the list of nicknames this land enjoyed before our arrival, a new one has been added since: Trump Country. It is in this expansive and amorphous territory that our home now belongs.

If a MAGA hat is enough for you to reach summary judgment about a person, that judgment likely does more to betray your own failings than it does those of the individual you decry.

In our impious minds, many features of this region have stood out—but few more prominently than the generosity of its people. They are devoted to their churches; they volunteer their time; they give to charity; they start charities; they adopt childrenand it’s not just couples struggling in vain to conceive a child of their own, but parents who already have four kids and decide to adopt a child with a terminal illness so as to render what little time remains as pleasant as possible. It is humbling and inspiring.What makes all this altruism even more striking is that on the whole, the means of those who engage in it are modest.

Did some of these people vote for Trump? Of course. Does that render them bad people? I should hope not. Have some of these people never left their home states, so that they know little of what life is like in other parts of the country, to say nothing of the world beyond? Sure. Does this render them bad people? Again, I should hope not. It is not clear to me that the more one knows, the better one becomes. An educated person who lacks for probity is hardly an anomaly.  

We have a propensity to simplify our surroundings, not least the people who occupy them. This permits us to navigate a world of infinite variation, but it belies the limitedness of our minds. We see things for what we generalize them to be, not for what they are.

If a MAGA hat is enough for you to reach summary judgment about a person, that judgment likely does more to betray your own failings than it does those of the individual you decry.

People are more complex than we like to concede. When he contradicted himself, Walt Whitman excused himself on the grounds that he was large and contained multitudes. Inwardly, Whitman undoubtedly was larger than many, but at some level, we are all multitudinous.

In this time of bitter partisanship and divisiveness, it would behoove us to appreciate not only the multitudes that our souls embrace—but the complexity of this life into which we all unwittingly have been thrown. No one has got it figured out. And anyone who professes to almost certainly is selling something it would be sensible not to buy. If Plato could devote to the question of justice a work as complex, profound, and open to interpretation (still!) as the Republic, let us acknowledge that the question, “What is just?” permits no ready or definitive answer.

The latter course of action, which is all the rage in the Age of Trump, presupposes an infallibility that errant minds have no legitimate claim to. It is the way of dogmatists and obscurantists, notwithstanding that many who adopt it purport to be enlightened or, in the parlance of our time, “woke.”

As Platos most celebrated student, Aristotle, observed, every political community aims at some good. The problem is, ever has been, and presumably always will be: that communities do not agree on what is good. This is true not only inter-communally, but intra-communally as wella problem that is particularly acute in communities that celebrate individualism and diversity and, in doing so, summon a chorus that tends to be cacophonous in its output and directionless in its movements.  

All of this should encourage a certain measure in ones attitude to and dealings with others, as well as an awareness that your opponents views are not bereft of logic nor your own embodiments of it. As John Stuart Mill noted, the general or prevailing opinion on any subject is rarely or never the whole truth.What is more, those opinions we presume to be erroneous may, and very commonly [do], contain a portion of truth.” For this reason, genuine lovers of wisdom will always be Socratic, insofar as they prefer hearing their opponents out to peremptorily shutting them down. The latter course of action, which is all the rage in the Age of Trump, presupposes an infallibility that errant minds have no legitimate claim to. It is the way of dogmatists and obscurantists, notwithstanding that many who adopt it purport to be enlightened or, in the parlance of our time, “woke.”

Those incredulous about the wisdom of giving your opponent a platform would do well to consider the case of Daryl Davis, whose name should be much more widely known and celebrated. Davis, a professional black pianist, has made it his mission to collect the hoods of Klansmen. Daviss second calling fortuitously was born from his first. After performing one night at a club, he was approached by a white man who, impressed by Daviss playing, offered to buy him a drink. As they got to talking, it came out that the white man had never had a drink with—nor for that matter ever conversed with—a black man before. When Davis inquired why that was, he learned that his fan was a member of the Ku Klux Klan. Davis would have been justified in responding in any number of ways, each resulting in the pairs irrevocable parting. But instead, the two established a relationship, one that would spur Daviss quest to fight hatred by, paradoxically, embracing those filled with it.

Reflecting on his experience, Davis observed:

The most important thing I learned is that when you are actively learning about someone else you are passively teaching them about yourself. So if you have an adversary with an opposing point of view, give that person a platform. Allow them to air that point of view, regardless of how extreme it may be. And believe me, I’ve heard things so extreme at these rallies they’ll cut you to the bone.

Give them a platform.

You challenge them. But you don’t challenge them rudely or violently. You do it politely and intelligently. And when you do things that way chances are they will reciprocate and give you a platform. So he and I would sit down and listen to one another over a period of time. And the cement that held his ideas together began to get cracks in it. And then it began to crumble. And then it fell apart.

Daviss story is nothing short of extraordinary. Should it inspire you to invite a member of the Klan (or any other group animated by hate) out for a drink or to deliver a commencement address, it probably would be prudent to resist the temptation. But his case does exemplify the point made above: that there is far more to be gained from lending people your ears than showing them your back or, worse yet, your fists.

People these days are eager to draw circles around themselves from which any number of categories of persons are proscribed. This is, of course, the way of the Klan and groups similarly rooted in bigotry and hatred, but increasingly it is the way of people who crusade against injustice andwith unintended ironyassume the mantle of inclusivity.

If it is justice you are after, guard against this inclination. Being just,says Nietzsche, is always a positive attitude,and the rancor that this disposition is too apt to engender is anything but positive.

What this approach tends to breed is the very thing hate groups preach: intolerance. Once you begin encircling yourself, the natural tendency is for those circles to contract. You determine that you will not indulge racists (a reasonable position to hold). You then get it into your head that the president is a racist (a charge that is not altogether baseless). From there it is a small, albeit specious and pernicious leap to infer that everyone who supports a putatively racist president must themselves be racist. Suddenly, you have interdicted from your orbit half the country. Racism is a problem. This is no remedy to it.

No doubt there is no shortage of closed-mindedness in the world today, as there is in any day. But to close your mind in response to it only will serve to inflame existing animosities and exacerbate the cycle of recriminationa cycle that, so long as we confine ourselves to circles that are narrow and exclusionary, cannot end well.

David A. Eisenberg is an assistant professor of political science at Eureka College.

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ilsemeyer
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ilsemeyer

Very, very nice article I thought. I hope it will be widely read.

Kate Kretz
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Kate Kretz

I make art with MAGA hats, calling them out as symbols of hatred, and have been censored for it. I have thought about this a great deal. If I had a “Go Feminists!” hat and I loved the message, but then a bunch of women wearing “Go Feminists!” hats started doing horrific things, like taking boys babies away from their mothers, or not allowing men to enter the country, or randomly attacking men, I would stop wearing the damn hat, instead of arguing that it doesn’t mean what everyone thinks it means.

Laura Geoghegan Kellner
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Laura Geoghegan Kellner

Dear Mr. Eisenberg, I’m sorry, but no. Look. He’s torturing children for being the wrong color. He’s condoning the use of Concentration Camps. I could go on. We both know that. People who say “don’t dismiss someone who supports him solely on that, they’re really good people”…people like you, Mr. Eisenberg, “imploring me” to reform my “hatred” for someone who wants me, all my friends, all my kin, every living thing on this earth, to suffer and die brutally–or someone who is satisfied with that happening–are doing so from a place of horrific privilege. And Worse. Rationalization. And it has… Read more »

George Cobau
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George Cobau

Wow, you are exactly the kind of person he was talking about. Take a look in the mirror. In your own way, you are just as bad as the people you despise and hate.

Rory Barclay
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Rory Barclay

Hate against hate. Sounds like a vision of hell to me Laura. You have woefully missed the sentiments of the article and are only increasing the misery of the world. If you dislike Trump, go out and do some good and spread a positive message.