For most of us, because we associate with others largely by choice, the people in our social circle tend to be those who share our worldview in general, especially when it comes to political and social issues. Thus political discussions usually take place upon generally agreed principles and within common frameworks, and such discussions tend to be more analytical and less emotional and confrontational. This is not the case when it comes to family members who can be all over the map and problems can also arise when the two groups overlap. Thus the advice to avoid topics like politics and religion at social gatherings where people might have widely differing views is quite sound.
Over the weekend, I experienced first hand what can happen when this rule is broken. About ten of us were gathered together for dinner, part of a monthly gathering of couples who are learning to play the card game bridge, with me as the teacher because I am the only one who knows the game. This was a group that had met together many times before and we all knew that nine of us had not voted for Trump but that our host for that evening had. During the dinner, there was some general conversation about the recent book revelations about Trump but then one of the guests, who was related by marriage to the host, laughingly pointed out that we had a Trump supporter in our midst and looked at him as if for a response.
None of us expected what came next. Our host exploded into a passionate defense of Trump and everything that he had done and said that he was a great man and that he would vote for him again in a heartbeat. He said that none of us present could get elected president like he did so who were we to criticize him? He said that there were no norms for what constituted proper behavior of presidents and so none of us had the right to criticize him since 40% of the public supported him. He then went on a tear about how awful Barack Obama had been and came out with some utterly absurd allegations about him. I was struck by the fact that it was just like the explosive reaction of Trump voters in the video I showed three days ago when one person in the room called them a cult.
Needless to say, this was an awkward moment, to put it mildly. One of the people there then steered the conversation to a neutral topic and then we broke to play cards but I could tell from the sullen expression of our host that he was still seething the whole evening.
Later on I reflected on what happened. I had observed in the past that the host in general was someone who would find reasons to not accept conclusions that he disagreed with, a not uncommon trait in people and that all of us suffer from to some degree. On previous occasions I had had disagreements with him on other issues, such as the fact that he did not like that transgender people could use the bathrooms corresponding to their gender identity and presentation, because it would make him personally uncomfortable, though he could not say what exactly it was that made him feel that way. My argument that this ‘discomfort’ was probably one of the arguments white people made for segregated bathrooms in the Jim Crow era and that, if we let people’s personal feelings of discomfort be the basis of policy then we would have chaos and injustice, did not sway him in the slightest. On another occasion, he and I strongly disagreed because he made disparaging remarks about poor black people.
But on those occasions, he did not have anywhere near the degree of emotion he displayed this time and I wondered why. I thought that the heated defenses of Trump supporters may be because they actually secretly fear that some of the things being said against their hero might be true and that is deeply unsettling and causing them to react so explosively because they just do not want to hear it. We tend not to get angry about things that we think are absurd or laughably false. What upsets us are things that we do not want to be true but fear that they might be. I wonder if that is the territory we are entering now. However much Trump supporters may wish that it were not true, the evidence is piling up that he is unfit for the office he holds, evidence that even they cannot ignore however much they may dig in their heels, shut their ears, and yell loudly.