Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Trump: Opposing the Establishment and Driving the Hard Bargain


theatlantic |  Sam Harris, the atheist philosopher and neuroscientist, has recently been using his popular Waking Up podcast to discuss Donald Trump, whom he abhors, with an ideologically diverse series of guests, all of whom believe that the president is a vile huckster.



This began to wear on some of his listeners. Wasn’t Harris always warning against echo chambers? Didn’t he believe in rigorous debate with a position’s strongest proponents? At their urging, he extended an invitation to a person that many of those listeners regard as President Trump’s most formidable defender: Scott Adams, the creator of the cartoon Dilbert, who believes that Trump is “a master persuader.”

Their conversation was posted online late last month. It is one of the most peculiar debates about a president I have ever encountered. And it left me marveling that parts of Trump’s base think well of Adams when his views imply such negative things about them.
Those implications are most striking with respect to extreme views that Trump expressed during the campaign. Harris and Adams discussed two examples during the podcast: Trump’s call to deport 12 million illegal immigrants from the United States, a position that would require vast, roving deportation forces, home raids, and the forced removal even of law-abiding, undocumented single mothers of American children; and Trump’s call to murder the family members of al-Qaeda or ISIS terrorists.

Trump took those positions not because he believes them, Adams argued, but to mirror the emotional state of the voters he sought and to “open negotiations” on policy.
Harris expressed bafflement that such a strategy would work:
Harris: If I'm going to pretend to be so callous as to happily absorb those facts, like send them all back, they don't belong here, or in the ISIS case, we'll torture their kids, we'll kill their kids, it doesn't matter, whatever works—if that's my opening negotiation, I am advertising a level of callousness, and a level of unconcern for the reality of human suffering that will follow from my actions, should I get what I ostensibly want, that it's a nearly psychopathic ethics I am advertising as my strong suit.
So how this becomes attractive to people, how this resonates with their values—I get what you said, people are worried about immigration and  jihadism, I share those concerns. But when you cross the line into this opening overture that has these extreme consequences on its face, things that get pointed out in 30 seconds whenever he opens his mouth on a topic like this, I don't understand how that works for him with anyone.
Adams: Let me give you a little thought experiment here. We've got people who are on the far right. We've got people on the far left. In your perfect world, would it be better to move the people on the far right toward the middle or the people on the far left toward the middle? Which would be a preferred world for you?
Harris: Moving everyone toward the middle, certainly on most points, would be a very good thing.
Adams: So what you've observed with President Trump through his pacing and emotional compatibility with his base is that prior to Inauguration Day, there were a lot of people in this country who were saying, 'Yeah yeah, round them all up. Send all 12 million back tomorrow.'
When was the last time you heard anybody on the right complaining about that? Because what happened was, immigration went down 50 to 70 percent, whatever the number was, just based on the fact that we would get tough on immigration. And the right says, ‘Oh, okay, we didn't get nearly what we asked for, but our leader, who we trust, who we love, has backed off of that, and we're going to kind of go with that, because he is doing some good things that we like. And we don't like the alternative either.’
So this ‘monster’ that we elected, this ‘Hitler-dictator-crazy-guy,’ he managed to be the only guy who could have, and I would argue always intended, to move the far right toward the middle. You saw it, you know, we can observe it with our own eyes. We don't see the right saying, ‘Oh no, I hate President Trump. He's got to round up those undocumented people like he said early in the campaign, or else I'm bailing on him.’ None of that happened. He paced them, and then he led them toward a reasonable situation, which I would say we're in.
I don’t agree with parts of Adams’s analysis. But as he tells it, Trump targeted voters who’d be attracted rather than repelled by calls for policies that would inflict great suffering; he told those voters things that he didn’t really mean to gain their emotional trust; and all along, he probably intended to go to Washington and do something else. That sounds a lot like the way that Trump voters describe the career politicians who they hate: emotionally manipulative liars who will say anything to get elected, get to Washington, and betray their base by moving left on immigration.