This piece has appeared in several newspapers in my red congressional District (VA–6). May, 2018.
Response to the Right-Wing Troll
“More anti-TRUMP garbage from a well known LOSER!”
That was the only disagreeing comment I found on the website of a newspaper where a piece of mine had been published. My piece had argued that the fact that some 37% of Americans “approve” of Trump’s presidency was a clear indication that something had gone seriously wrong.
I did not just assert that proposition. I argued it. With three different arguments – using facts and logic – I made a case for what I claimed to be true.
Little did the commenter realize that his comment provided more evidence for my proposition: that something has gone wrong in that political subculture where Trump’s supporters dwell.
The commenter’s “argument” consists merely of two words of insult and denigration: GARBAGE (the insult to dismiss the message); and LOSER (the insult to dismiss the messenger).
This insulting comment would not be worth discussing—except that it is remarkably representative of what one encounters from the Republican side in such forums of political discussion.
It is not as though these trolls are some fringe within all that one encounters coming from the Republican world to engage publicly. Rather, I can say from years of observation, they are almost completely the only kind of voice that speaks for their side.
With extraordinary consistency, these defenders of the right do not deal with the substance at all. No concern with evidence, no concern with logic, no engagement with the ideas under discussion. Just hitting against “the enemy” with contempt and hostility, expressed through insults, showing no concern whatever for establishing what’s true.
And they’re completely unapologetic about their failure to deal with substance. They seem to feel that, by launching salvos of insult, they are heroes in the battle against bad people on “the other side.”
Surely, something has gone wrong in a political subculture where discourse that ignores the work involved in discovering the truth can be considered heroic.
Anyone interested in understanding how American politics became so ugly could begin by asking how a conservative America, which historically has had articulate and thoughtful spokesmen like William F. Buckley and George Will, has devolved into a political culture which now brings forth to the public conversation almost only this kind of viciousness of spirit.
If one feels no need to defend one’s beliefs, one is sure to end up with indefensible beliefs.
In this, the commenter is indeed symptomatic of what has happened, on the larger scale, on the Republican side of American politics in our times. On one issue after another – deficit spending, the impact of immigration, climate change, “middle class tax cuts,” … — the positions taken by elected Republicans, and apparently believed by Republican voters, prove indefensible in view of the evidence considered in the light of reason.
Surely, also, something is wrong also in a political subculture that attempts nothing constructive whatever in its interactions with the other side, but rather is invested solely in waging political war against whoever has a different view.
And in this insistence on conflict, too, the right-wing trolls who dominate their side’s contribution to such public discourse mirror what’s gone wrong in the Republican world.
Just as my commenter showed interest only in waging war with his words, so Trump is constantly creating conflict and unease:
- tweeting insults at private citizens and elected officials alike, as no president before him has ever done;
- suddenly announcing tariffs, potentially sparking a trade war;
- ending DACA, and then rejecting bi-partisan measures to resolve the issue;
- sabotaging Obamacare;
- disrespecting our most sacred treaty obligations to our best allies;
- bringing in, as his third National Security Advisor, perhaps the most bellicose American figure among international affairs specialists;
- simply declaring war on the role of science in informing policy on such things as climate change and the environment generally.
In both these ways, my commenter stands as an indicator of the problems on the right.
But I don’t think that such right-wing trolls are representative of the spirit of the Republican voters generally. (Certainly, most of my Trump-supporting neighbors seem a finer, more benign lot.)
What seems to be the case, rather, is that the right has developed a subculture that makes the trolls their public face while intimidating the more reasonable into silence. (The same seems true of the Republicans in Congress, where the more combative are far more visible than the more constructive.)
America needs a better conversation than such a dynamic provides in our public arena. In view of that need, I would like to issue a challenge to the Republican Party in this part of Virginia:
Don’t let the trolls represent you in public discussion. Find thoughtful people who are prepared to defend their Republican beliefs. If your positions are defensible, you should be able to find someone capable of defending them.
And here’s a specific challenge. I will post this piece on my own website, at https://abetterhumanstory.org/2018/04/23/response-to-the-right-wing-troll/ . Then, at that site at noon on Wednesday, May 9, I will be ready to engage with whomever you send to discuss or debate with me the following proposition: “The Republican Party has become a threat to our constitutional order.”
The invitation is for a substantive discussion, worthy of what American conservatism has been in the past. (Trolls need not apply.)
The public is invited to attend, to see whether any thoughtful Republicans show up, and if so how the exchange goes.
Andy Schmookler — prize-winning author who was the Democratic nominee for Congress from VA-06 in 2012 — is the author of the ongoing series, “Press the Battle: Fighting for the Souls of America(ns).“