Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Why Is the Left Terrified of Trump?

President Trump strikes terror into the hearts of Liberals and Progressives. This terror manifests itself as anger clothed in the garb of righteous indignation. Every news cycle prompts fresh rounds of hand wringing and tears of frustration from the Left. Each new Presidential tweet provokes apoplexy. You can see the fear and anger on the faces of Progressive marchers, town hall protesters, and pop culture icons. You can hear it in the strained questions of reporters at press briefings and the opinions of pundits at round-tables. 

The target of this Trump-terror is broader than the President and his staff--it affects every one of us. Those who voted against Trump have not settled down post-election, but continue to rage, rage, rage against the Trump machine. Those who voted for Trump now stand in for the Administration as localized whipping boys of Liberal indignation, buffeting wave after wave of hyperbolic sidewalk insults. Ask anyone who wears a certain red ball cap how it feels.

One of my best and dearest friends said a ridiculous thing to me at my brother's funeral. After many touching tributes to David's selfless devotion to others, my friend said to me, "I'm surprised your brother was so active in charity work and the mission field--I thought he was a Republican." Tempers quickly flared, words like "Trump" and "racist" were exchanged, and he and his partner left in a huff.  By the time I got home, there was an email cancelling an upcoming visit, signed "Best Regards."
David Puett teaching orphans in Brazil.
David Puett repairing water pump at Malawi orphange.
David Puett and his buddies at Malawi orphanage.
No doubt about it--the schism between Left and Right is deep, and we can make sense of it in terms of the Simple Explanation's meme exchange dynamics

First, a simple explanation of memes:  memes are simply the meaning of bits of communication, whether the meaning is carried by a word, an image, or any other way we communicate meaning to one another.  If you need a better explanation of memes, please read the "When Meme Chords Collide" article from 2015 .

The memes we cling to form sets of memes that I call "meme bundles." The totality of our meme bundles form the belief system we hold. The more your meme bundle overlaps with someone else's meme bundle, the more kinship you feel with that other person. The less your meme bundles overlap, the less you have in common and the greater your distrust of one another.

Oftentimes, belief systems, or "meme bundles" aren't held by individuals alone, but are shared with other people and with institutions we belong to. Not only do we share memes with others, it is the job of institutions to maintain the integrity of their meme bundles by keeping believers in and non-believers out.  From my 2011 article, "Meaning is in the Memes"

"I realized the other day that each and every cultural institution we belong to (family, workplace, church, mosque, tribe, nation, etc.) not only comes with its own bundle of shared memes held in common by its members, it also comes with a filter that prevents members from acknowledging or adopting incompatible memes. Memes are even more important to an institution than its members in the sense that members come and go, but memes persist." 

"Institutions are defined as much by their excluded memes as they are by their included memes. An exclusive institution holds tightly to the identity provided by its memes; its border is strong and its filter powerful. An inclusive institution allows members more latitude in the memes they may hold; its border is less defined; its filter less opaque. An "open-minded" institution acknowledges the fact that there are memes out there in the greater culture that may have value, and is willing to consider new memes; its border is permeable and its filter thin." 

When you view politics through the lens of the Simple Explanation's theory of meme exchange, today's turmoil begins to make sense.  Seems obvious, but here it is:  The Left and the Right hold different meme bundles that appear to be mutually exclusive.  In other words, if I like people who like the memes I like, then I am made uneasy by people who reject the memes I hold. And vice versa. And the more polarized politics becomes, the less my meme bundle is likely to overlap your meme bundle. 

Furthermore, Conservatives have less permeable boundaries than Liberals--it is their function to "conserve." Liberals have more open, permeable boundaries because it is their function to welcome new memes. Conservatives are less likely to welcome foreign memes and those who hold foreign memes. Conservatives expect newcomers to adopt American memes. The open/closed aspect of Right and Left is not a moral short-coming of either side; it is their essential character and mandate. 

I think the extreme emotionality of politics today stems from not respecting one another's meme bundles.  Does holding exclusive meme bundles bring the end of civility? Not if we allow one another our beliefs.  Clashes over meme bundles only occurs when others are forced to adopt memes they do not hold. "Live and let live" is the only motto that assures peace among those who disagree. 

"Live and let live" acknowledges that there is more than one way to view reality. "Live and let live" acknowledges that someone else with another point of view may actually have a respectable meme bundle--just not one you happen to hold.  In other words, it is possible to disagree with someone, yet still respect their moral integrity and their right to their beliefs.

"Live and let live" is a meme that ensures civility amongst competing institutions.  "My way is the only way--death to all others" is a meme that ensures strife and warfare. Totalitarianism is the attempt to eradicate all meme bundles (and their believers) that differ from the tyrant's.

This American election cycle has brought an unprecedented level of mistrust between the Right and Left because they no longer appear to have anything in common. But is that really true? Not really.  We all share the same basic memes in common--Truth, Justice, Love, Family Values are just a few of the memes shared by the Left and Right. Most importantly for our country, we all agree that we want a functioning federal government and laws fairly applied all. We all, Left and Right, sign on to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights--which are our founders meme bundles written down. What we fear from the "other side" is that they don't really believe those founders' memes. And it is that fear that inspires such mistrust.  

The reason for the mistrust is the rhetoric, not the reality. The Left says terrible things about President Trump. The hyperbole, the exaggeration of fault, the accusations of treachery--these are rhetorical devices designed to emphasize Trump's supposedly crazy, self-centered meme bundle. The problem with this rhetoric is that it paints an unrealistic version of Trump's memes that are over-the-top evil. In the vacuum of Trump's vaguely-defined policy memes or omissions of fact, the Left impugns the President with memes of pure devilry from their own imagination. It is important to realize that the rhetoric is not the reality--it is an interpolation of imagination borne out of fear.

I wish there were some way to reassure my friends on the Left that most of what they fear is hyperbole and not fact. Time will tell whether the Administration's motives lie in their public declarations or not. The proof lies in a "wait and see" approach. It's my belief that the gap between the Left's meme bundle and the President's is not nearly so large as they fear. 

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