As a candidate for Congress (2011-12), and in pieces I’ve written since, I’ve often made reference to the “good, decent conservatives” who have given their support to a Republican Party that is neither good nor decent. (See, for example, this six-minute speech, which went semi-viral back in 2012.)
Some liberals have taken vigorous issue with my describing some of these Republicans, and now Trump-supporters, as “good” people. Anyone who supports a political force like the one that’s taken over the right, they argue, cannot be good. A “good” person could not align themselves with a Republican Party that pursues a racist agenda, takes from the poor to give to the rich, denies climate science at the sacrifice of future generations so that mighty corporations might be further enriched, etc.
People should be evaluated by what they do, the argument goes, and these people are doing evil by supporting evil. So when people when help evil inflict its damage on the world — they should not be called “good” or “decent.”
That argument has a degree of truth to it, but it looks at only a part of a more complex picture.
And the other parts of the picture are important because the failure to see them gets in the way of understanding the nature of the battle we’re engaged in.
What it fails to understand is how it is that America has suffered an adverse shift in the balance of power in America between the forces of (what reasonably could be called) good and evil. And what needs to be accomplished for that shift to be reversed.
What matters is not what kind of overarching term (“good,” “bad”) one applies to these people, but rather that one perceive the various components – both the broken and the whole — that comprise their psychic make-up.
My discussions with liberals about these conservatives have revealed a split between two groups of liberals—divided according to how much they get to see about these conservative people.
Those liberals who dismiss out of hand my talk about their “goodness” tend to be people who live in areas where they’re surrounded by other liberals. As a result, their knowledge of the Republican voters derives almost wholly from what those conservatives displayed about themselves in the political realm.
They correctly perceive the brokenness these people are displaying in their political roles.
It’s different with the liberals who live out here where I do in the Shenandoah Valley, surrounded by their Republican neighbors. Frequently, at meetings and events of the Shenandoah Valley Democrats, my fellow Democrats — while bemoaning the almost incomprehensible political wrongness of their conservative rural-culture neighbors — speak about how their neighbors are nonetheless really “good people.”
They correctly perceive that, with a great many of these conservatives, the ugliness that characterizes their politics does not characterize them more generally.
Both groups of liberals are right, but those who live among these people see a more complete picture.
(A Kansas woman, in a recent piece decrying her family’s Republican/Trumpian politics, with its racism, xenophobia, etc., also says: “My family is the first on the doorstep with a casserole when a neighbor falls ill or is injured. My family are unpaid rural volunteer firefighters, PTA parents, and always ready to help out a neighbor finish harvesting crops before bad weather arrives. They are good citizens whose internal silent ugliness emerges inside the voting booth….”)
I have had my own meaningful encounter with their goodness. My relationship with them back in the 1990s – as we created meaningful and constructive conversations on the phone – was a part of my life I cherished.
(I came to appreciate that genuine conservatism represents some important values, and that a society is better off having the influence of genuine conservatism in order to help correct the misjudgments of liberals, who also fall short of perfect wisdom and have their characteristic defects.)
Not that the people in the Republican base are just “good” people who have been led astray, merely “victimized.” The propagandists have played upon genuine defects — real aspects of brokenness — that were already there in the people, already trained into them by the broken aspects of their culture. The racism was there. The impulse to kick down was there. The suspicion of “the other” who is different was there. The propagandists could exploit their brokenness and feed it, magnifying its role in the overall structure.
But even as the brokenness was there to be exploited, so also the goodness was also real. And still is there, as the liberals who have them as neighbors can attest.
A general must understand the battlefield, and the hearts and minds of those people is a major battlefield in the war between “good” and “evil” in America. Understanding the battlefield entails perceiving the mixed picture of these people as containing both the good and the evil in them.
When, these days, I send messages to these people in my weekly op/eds, I always have in mind what I came to know — and appreciate — about them. I remember what I came to know about them through those hundreds of hours of sharing our experiences and talking about our differences “in a spirit of mutual respect,” as I said as I introduced each program.
But even as I address myself to the better components of themselves, I also have been a witness to how they’ve been degraded in the years since, under the malign influence of the right-wing propagandists (Rove, Fox News, etc.).
I’ve had a ring-side seat, through my radio conversations, to how those propagandists fostered divisions, so that it gradually became impossible to bridge the divide and for people from different sides to create something good together.
I’ve seen how, over time, they’ve been led into a place so dark that they could support a monster like Donald Trump for President.
But it would be an over-simplification to say, simply, that they became “more evil.” What seems visible is that the force that it has been specifically in the domain of politics that the dark force that’s taken over the right has taken these people captive.
It would seem that the destructive force that’s taken over the right has targeted its manipulations of the human base specifically on that component of the people’s consciousness from which they make their contribution to the arena of power.
The minds of those who listened to Limbaugh – foolishly called “an entertainer” by many, who couldn’t see the seriousness of his campaign – were poisoned specifically on those matters pertinent to training them to be willing to give their political power to selfish, lying, hypocritical, greedy, bullies – like Limbaugh, like Trump. Indeed, like the entire Republican Party of our times.
And meanwhile, as far as I can tell, even while poisoning their minds specifically in those ways that are conducive to their willingly becoming a power source for the evil force that’s manipulating their political consciousness, that force left more or less intact the kind of consciousness that these same people bring to other areas of their lives.
So we find the split that leads to the disagreement among the two groups of liberals. One group sees their descent into utter brokenness in the political realm. The other group (the liberal minority in Trump country) sees also how a largely different system of values and beliefs and feelings motivate their conduct outside the political realm.
So people who align politically with evil — but do so in the belief that they are supporting righteousness — can operate by the opposite set of principles in their families, neighborhoods, churches, and businesses.
We tend to think of people as being all of a piece, and thus one thing or another. But observing my Shenandoah Valley neighbors is sufficient to show that people can be quite otherwise.
How that works psychologically is an interesting question. Though I don’t feel I’ve got “the” answer to it, I have taken a serious swing at it in my book WHAT WE’RE UP AGAINST, where I bring in the concept of “modules” in the psyche, which connects with another concept (not originated by me, of “part selves.”)
Those who are interested can read about that way of understanding the problem on pages 146-154 (especially page 150) in the pdf available (without charge) HERE. http://abetterhumanstory.org/what-we-are-up-against/
(The idea is developed there with particular reference to the development of the political culture of the South, in which it has long been the case that it has been as if, in people’s mind, a switch was flipped– with the result that otherwise intelligent people turn off their critical intelligence and can be made to believe incredible things, and otherwise moral people can lose their moral bearings and be made to support evil things.)
However it works, what the force of destructiveness that’s taken over the Republican Party — and ultimately has given us Trump — has managed to take people with a lot of goodness in them, and make them allies of evil.
All of which brings us to the heart of the matter: how evil can gain the upper hand in a society like ours.
In “A Better Human Story,” I showed how two coherent forces — one of wholeness, one of brokenness (which act like what have traditionally been called “good” and “evil:) — battle over which will control the destiny of the human world. In our own part of the human world, it is through the democratic political process that much of the battle between such forces battle for control over our collective destiny.
So how is it that the force of brokenness has gained so dramatically in power that something so unthinkable as the election of Donald Trump to the presidency could happen?
In an article titled “Cry the Benighted Country,” I discuss how the balance of power between good and evil can shift in a nation. Before getting to the example of America in our times, I discuss how comparing Great Britain and Germany first in 1910 and then in 1940 demonstrates how dramatic such shifts can be. To account for such shifts, I say that “Such factors as the quality of its leadership and the impact of its national experience can strengthen either the best or the worst in a society.”
But here, with the conservatives in America in our times, we can see another factor that can shift the balance.
The idea of a “shift in the balance of power between good and evil” can be visualized in terms of a teeter totter. The weightier side gets the power. In a democracy, the “weight” has to do with the votes cast by the American people. If the destructive/broken/evil force is able to bring some of the “good” of the American people over to its side, the balance of power can shift toward evil.
Some of the Trump 37% are people who, in virtually any political situation, would be on the side of brokenness. (Think the neo-Nazis and out-and-out white supremacists.)
But there is another contingent of American conservatives, like the people who worked with me to make good radio conversations, who are not like that. In other eras of American history, people like them have played a far more constructive political role than American conservatives are playing now.
These people — like those who worked with me in the 90s to make good radio conversations, and like the family of the Kansas woman quoted above — are a mixture of the whole and the broken, the good and the evil. Like people generally. But as a result of years of the manipulations of expert propagandists, the goodness within millions of such American conservatives has been made irrelevant to their role in the struggle for power in America.
By making their goodness irrelevant to their political role, even while leaving it intact elsewhere in how they live their lives, the force of evil has been efficient in getting the teeter-totter of the battle of good and evil to fall to its side.
And that image also helps to make clear both the necessity and the nature of the campaign to go after Trump’s 37%: the job is to find ways to get the goodness of these people, and not just their brokenness, back as an influence over their role in our politics. Which is to say, make their goodness once again a contributor in the struggle for power in America between good and evil.