Changing minds

Katha Pollitt asks some pointed questions about the beliefs of others.

For almost three years now, reporters have been begging tired farmers and miners eating their pancakes at Josie’s Diner in Smallville, Nebraska, to say they’ve seen the light. They never do. White evangelical women sneaking away from the Republican Party make for a good story—but they didn’t stop Ted Cruz from getting 81 percent of the white evangelical vote in Texas.

After Trump took the White House, and even after political scientists and pollsters figured out that many Trump supporters were not out-of-work Rust Belters but just your basic well-off Republicans, there was an orgy of self-criticism among Democrats and progressives. Somehow, those voters were our fault; we had neglected them, disrespected them, not felt their pain.

Democrats and progressives tend to be masochistic that way. Republicans and conservatives don’t, so much (except when it comes to the fetus), because of The Invisible Hand. The Hand does everything for the best, so compassion is not just a waste of energy, it’s also a slope down to socialism and economic armageddon.

Another version of this idea is to call on progressive white women to convert other white women who support Trump. Nobody calls on white men to convert white men, because everyone assumes that’s impossible, but for some reason, white women who hate abortion and taxes and Obamacare, who want to “build the wall” and “lock her up,” are supposed to be pliable—and it’s the duty of liberal white women to expiate their own racism by bringing them around.

Some suggestions about what the some reason might be? Women are all Mommy, supposed to take care of everything. Women are seen as the sex whose duty it is to succor everyone and be Most Enlightened. Women are also seen as the sex that can be told what to do. This of course also does much to explain why there is so much ranting and raving about “TERFs” when there is no equivalent ranting and raving about the male equivalent (which is so neglected it doesn’t even have an acronym). Women are compassionate Mommy, and women are also to blame for everything that goes wrong.

The assumption is that we have the right ideas; we just haven’t been conveying them persuasively enough to win the other side over. But let me ask a question: When was the last time someone persuaded you to change your worldview? I have written this column for over 20 years, and I doubt I’ve brought more than a handful of people to my way of thinking.

It depends on what kind of point of view we mean, though. Big general category, like left v right, the last time was more or less never, but there are smaller, more particular subcategories, on which I can change my view (worldview probably doesn’t apply) at a moment’s notice. Left v right is what Katha’s talking about here, but at the same time, changes in smaller particulars can add up to shifts even there. Several famous lifelong Republicans have stopped identifying as such thanks to Trump – James Comey and Richard Painter, for two, and there are others. There are also people like David Frum and Bill Kristol who remain Republicans and conservatives (I think) but exercise much of their punditry on explaining what’s wrong about Trump.

So why is it so hard to believe that white women who voted for Trump are mostly as fixed in their views as you are? They voted for him for dozens of reasons: to fit in with their family and community, to preserve or gain status, to piss off the libtards, to ally with their menfolk, to keep MS-13 from killing their children, to bring back jobs stolen by Mexico and China, to keep taxes low and black children out of their schools, or because it’s what Jesus wants. You may think their beliefs are bigoted and ill-informed and illogical—which they are. You may marvel that women who think the polite and scandal-free Barack Obama is the Antichrist can believe that foul-mouthed, abusive Donald Trump is God’s instrument, like King David. What you are not going to do is make them see it differently by reminding them that at least 15 women have accused Trump of a range of sexual offenses.

It may be impossible to change their minds, but it could be possible to get explanations, I think, and I wouldn’t mind getting some explanations, because even after all this time I still don’t get it.

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