Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Losing Friends and Not Influencing People

The most important of all revolutions, a revolution in sentiments, manners and moral opinions. 

Edmund Burke

Since the 2016 Presidential race, I have confronted, argued, wheedled, and passionately advocated against Donald Trump.   Among my various friends and acquaintances I have managed to shed many people, who, not because of simply my opinion of their misguided political principles, but instead, their inability to argue policy in a reasoned manner.

I maintain that people of different opinions can debate their ideas, but the risk often outweighs the reward.   If, as Edmund Burke rightly said that evil triumphs when good men say nothing, then the moral obligation to call out our friends for what one thinks are dangerous ideas that threaten our democracy, is it not a moral duty to do so? Or do we place friendship above honest intellectual intercourse?  Do we further isolate ourselves from those with disparate thoughts?    After all, the world is not Manichean.

I have one life long friend, with whom I have not spoken for a year.  I have written about him in the past, but still am pained by  the toxicity of ideas that are said either to enrage me or are simply a manifestation of a personality disorder.  Texts are unusually disturbing, so telephone conversations might be better were they not to devolve into an argument not based on facts, and perhaps made up facts.
After all, if one argues that the world is governed by a cabal of pink flamingoes, how does one argue against that?

Another friend (or close acquaintance) told me to get lost and that he did not wish ever to see me again.   I disputed his ideas, but perhaps not as delicately as I should have, because he is an intelligent yet an observer of events through a not very good understanding of humanity and if he wants to play economist he has to account for the psychological aspect of the science.  I think his motivation, as a wealthy individual is to preserve his estate in perpetuity, and that there are untermenschen and ubermenchen.  Moreover, he argues that people of different political persuasions do not understand economics.  He believes that those inhabiting the upper 1% belong there, are “job creators,” by virtue of their passive investments in companies that make money.  Maybe so, but many economists do not agree with this discredited “trickle down” philosophy.  Credible arguments say that the exponential technological revolution will create a need for a universal basic income when robots eventually replace the need for human labor.  It is already happening.  Looks like there will be no long distance truck drivers in 5 years. Algorithms already are more efficient than radiologists in reading x-rays.

Another former friend, is an unreasonable, bullying, yet ignorant know-it-all.  As far as she is concerned there is no reason and no wish even to hear any another point of that does not coincide with her world view.  Any attempt to advance an argument is rudely  interrupted .  Try to finish a sentence?
Not gonna happen.  Seems to me that people who do not wish you to speak are so insecure of their own selves that they instinctively suppress conflicting thought.

Another sends me Fox news articles with pithy sentences (indicating a short attention span), I tried a reasoned dialog with him, to no avail and have decided to call it a day.  I have known him since elementary school, we were raised in similar circumstances, but he has moved to Palm  Beach and perhaps visits Mar-A-Lago too often and listens to Fox propaganda.
He fancies himself a student of history, but his scholarship is questionable at best and ignorant at worst.   So another dialog down the drain.

I have found it harder and harder to befriend Republicans.  I do not know if that is just me, but a product of our increased tribalism, egged on by a miserable liar
in the White House, who, from my point of view, cares nothing about the country and is probably indebted to Vladimir Putin in both money and Kompromat, judging from his performance in Helsinki.  Cannot wait to see the peepee tape.

My wife, always practical, tells me to keep my mouth shut.  But I am unable to help myself, good men keeping silent and evil triumphing and all that.  But what to do?  I still believe that reasonable people, even with different opinions, but not different facts, can discuss politics.   If it were not possible to do so, how do we maintain our democracy?  Do we slide down the slippery slope as they did in Russia, where the leader controls all the media and enjoys a 90% approval rating?  Where people do not have an opinion other than that which pervades state media?

How does one navigate these perilous times?  Are the times worse than ever?  Is it the new normal?  Is our country devolving into authoritarianism?  Is the western alliance under threat?  How do we believe a leader who lies constantly, sometimes apologizes and then doubles down on the falsehood?  Are our institutions strong enough to sustain attacks on our law enforcement agencies, and will Russian meddling, the lack of Democratic leaders who can put forth a plan to appeal to voters, who are increasingly turned off by the whole process, floods of money from special interests and PACs?  Politicians who only care about perpetuating their power?

Now we are in a crisis.  The President of the United States believes that children should be separated from their parents, and now cannot find the parents.  If ICE had any brains, they could have used wrist bands with ID numbers, dates of birth, etc.  But no one thought of it or even cared.  The toxic atmosphere created by this president is one of cruelty.  The President also believes,  people from black countries—bad.  People from white countries—good.  Muslims—bad.  Christian fundamentalists—good.   Rich people—good.  Poor people—bad.  Brown people—bad.  Immigrants fleeing oppression, starvation and hunger—bad.   The FBI, CIA, NSA—bad.  NATO—bad. The murderous Vladimir Putin and other dictators—good.   Russian meddling in our elections—never happened, because there were more people at his inauguration than ever before in our history and there were “others” who meddled.

Have we reached a tipping point?  Will Republicans in congress stand up and ask this loathesome madman to leave as they told Nixon, who by the way, now seems a bit  Lincolnesque.


  1. David,

    You asked for input or advice. Here you go:

    When your conceptualization of a discussion or debate about politics, or probably anything, begins with your assumption that the other person's opinion is "misguided," and yours is "reasoned," you have already surrendered your intention not to lose friends. And I would even say you should never adopt these rhetorical assumptions in discussing or debating with anyone, about anything. It's a non-starter, interaction-wise.

    The same is true of declaring other people's views as "dangerous" and democracy-threatening. You understand, of course, that they think precisely the same thing about you and your views.

    I haven't lost any friends or relatives over the "Trump" phenomenon, but some connections have gotten frayed. Between you and me, I would say that anyone who backed, and continues to back, the current conservative agenda, and particularly Donald Trump, has a reason for secret embarrassment, and might very likely want to project part of it onto someone who doesn't join them in their stated theories. I just try to be respectful, and to try to focus on the issues, not the personalities or the hyperbole.

    The other thing to consider is that people, especially if they're embarrassed, might try pathetically to appear to support what they themselves secretly realize is not supportable. So don't lean on them. The work is being done without you. I suspect we will see a clear reflection of this change in November. If we don't, and what we have is really what my so-far countrymen want, I might be out of here.


  2. I surely hope you are correct, but I do not agree with bearing all the indignities being heaped on our country, for the reasons that hyperbolic resistance is now more imparative than ever, not silence. Secrets are always dangerous, now more than ever. Trump has turned politics into a personality cult, almost like scientology. Therefore expedience requires loud anger and vigilence.