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The Political Is Personal

Republicans Chris Collins and Duncan Hunter, of New York and California respectively, both facing federal indictments, were re-elected to congress this week. Nevada brothel owner Dennis Hoff thwarted his democratic challenger and was elected to the Nevada state legislature. Hoff’s profession wasn’t enough to turn republican voters away, nor was the fact that he has been dead for several weeks.

Here in Buffalo local democrats responded to the Chris Collins re-election with moral indignation and invectives hurled at the rural people of Western New York, the “ignorant inbred hicks” and “racists.” Overwhelmed by the apparent stupidity many ask “How could this happen?” and this sentiment is echoed nationally. But we should suspect that many of the well over 100,000 people who voted for Collins were not making a calculated preference based on policy that somehow went awry due to some mental deficiency. They, like many republicans who continue to support what is essentially a doomsday cult, are only acting in their personal best interest given their sense of self and immediate social environment. Note this is not what WE perceive to be their best interest, be WE don’t matter, and neither does Chris Collins, in a traditional sense that is. Republican voters care less about Chris Collins, his policies or transgressions, they care much more about the tears and outrage of “libtards” who continue to dismiss and denigrate rural people. This is the wave Trump rode to power and the strategy has diffused through the party. Collins had the gall to get back in the race after his arrest, he had the guts to fight on. The liberal “PC” crowd was really going to hate that, and that’s exactly what makes he and the legion of lying white men in power today so irresistible. It is not about policy or truth, it is about defiance. Their defiance has been adopted as a mascot to represent those who feel disregarded and devalued in a society where culture is generated in cities and reluctantly absorbed in the hinterlands, and where technology makes old ways of understanding obsolete. But I don’t mean this to be an excuse.

The personal is political but the political is likewise personal. Trump raises the social status of his adherents. No one joins a club to lose status. The answer to combating this poor citizenship is to focus on just this point. John voted for Chris Collins. John has family, friends, and coworkers. Some in each category don’t agree with John, and they could make this known, but most choose not to. They try to make the political impersonal. They tolerate John, or maybe they think he’s generally a nice guy. Or maybe they see his MAGA hat and assume he’s too far gone to engage with. But this is an error. John can be shunned, denied affection, abandoned, challenged to defend his position, ridiculed, and otherwise tirelessly engaged. This can happen in front of the children, over Thanksgiving dinner, at the park or the grocery store, right before bed, or just before the alarm clock rings. The political is personal. And John should be held accountable for his actions. We shouldn’t expect to win John over with logic or a better argument, but we don’t have to. John will change course when he realizes that he has lost respect among those who matter to him and he feels that by changing course that respect can be regained.

Will this work for every Trump supporter? No. In fact it may accelerate polarization and political tribalism in some cases, but that’s what we have regardless. Furthermore, the oft repeated pattern of moral outrage and name calling has proven ineffective at best and at worst will play into the hands of republican strategists now planning Trump’s run for a second term.