Sunday, December 27, 2015


One thing that I've noticed about politics is that the more out there something is, the more likely it seems that a candidate will be considered sincere in saying it. While appealing to "mainstream" sentiments is often considered to be dishonest pandering in the service of tricking people into voting, conventional wisdom states that when it comes to the fringes (no matter how many votes might reside in said fringes) the only people who will tell the true believers what they want to hear are other true believers.

But perhaps what's happening is that fringe politicians are simply expressing what Sally Kohn describes as "emotional correctness."

So someone who says they hate immigrants, I try to imagine how scared they must be that their community is changing from what they've always known. Or someone who says they don't like teachers' unions, I bet they're really devastated to see their kid's school going into the gutter, and they're just looking for someone to blame.
Sally Kohn "Let's try emotional correctness"
Earlier this month, BBC news published an article about Donald Trump, titled: "Donald Trump: 22 things the Republican believes." It lays out 22 talking points from the Trump campaign, referring to them as "his policies and beliefs." But when you read through them, it's not difficult to see them as the way the candidate has forged an emotional connection with a block of voters whose votes he is courting. The woman in the photograph who is holding up a handmade sign with "Build the WALL" written on it is likely one of the very people that Kohn was talking about - someone who sees the influx of migrants as not only lawless, but a force for changing her community into something that is unknown to her. Trumps assertion that he can build a "great, great wall" between the United States and Mexico (and, by extension, pretty much all of Latin America) and manage the mass deportation of the estimated 11 million people in the country illegally speaks to those fears. And in that sense, it doesn't matter whether or not Mr. Trump has any intention of following through on those points. He's speaking to the fears and desires of people who understand themselves to be marginalized within the country today - or will be marginalized within it tomorrow - and in doing so, displaying the emotional correctness that Ms. Kohn speaks of.
But liberals on my side, we can be self-righteous, we can be condescending, we can be dismissive of anyone who doesn't agree with us. In other words, we can be politically right but emotionally wrong. And incidentally, that means that people don't like us. Right?
Sally Kohn
In defense of the American Left, they are not the only ones who can be self-righteous, condescending and dismissive towards people who disagree with them. Plenty of people on the American Right value being correct (at least in their own eyes) on the politics and policies over being emotionally correct when dealing with others. Just about anyone who understands their viewpoint as being born of being intelligent, educated as to "the facts" or simply "common sense" is a prime candidate for sneering down their noses at anyone with the temerity to think differently.

But despite the fact that more of us may realize this than may be immediately obvious, we still find it difficult to believe that someone may deliberately chose to not take this path, because they recognize the benefits in doing so. When Sally Kohn sets out to be emotionally correct with someone who doesn't like teachers' unions, she's not suddenly in wholehearted agreement with the idea that the union properly deserves the blame for all of the problems at their kid's school. But in understanding that sentiment, and speaking to it, she is able to get people to listen to her. By the same token, when Donald Trump re-tweets what turns out to be falsified crime statistics cooked up by a neo-Nazi in the United Kingdom, that shouldn't be taken as a sign that he's ignorant of the fact that the numbers were suspect (as anyone who is aware of the fact that "about 80 percent of murder victims knew their killers" could have told you). Instead, he's speaking to fears among a segment of the White population who fears that crime is rising and that they might be victims. And a lot of people were of the impression that crime rates were rising - even some people that one would have suspected would know better. Why would we expect that no-one would speak to that?

It's easy, and, I think, emotionally satisfying, to hold up the things that Donald Trump says on the campaign trail and tell ourselves that we are seeing the real, unvarnished person. A person who happens to believe things that we find to be ludicrous, and thus us less intelligent than ourselves. But, for all of his foibles, Donald Trump has managed to amass a pretty good fortune for himself, even taking into account that he started off farther along the path that most of the rest of us could have hoped for. Idiots generally don't propel themselves into the ranks of billionaires. The ability to understand what other people want, and to connect with what motivates them is a central part of business acumen. We do well, I think, when we recognize it when we see it.

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