I crawl around the internet and argue with people. And there is a recurrent argument that, for me, is what’s wrong with our current political deliberation in a nutshell.
A person (often a woman) says she couldn’t vote for Hillary (note that Clinton is identified by her first name) because Clinton called the women her husband assaulted sluts and whores. So they voted for a man who bragged that he assaulted women, or they voted in a way that enabled a self-proclaimed sexual predator to become President because they wouldn’t vote for a woman who might have enabled a sexual predator. They wouldn’t vote for someone who did what they are doing by how they are voting. That’s interesting.
It’s interesting that the serious logical problems of that argument don’t occur to them. So, why don’t they?
It’s interesting that they’re trying to argue that their opposition to Clinton is principled, when the principle (don’t vote for someone who supports sexual predation) is violated by their arguing for a self-confessed (not just possibly an enabler) of sexual predation. Why vote for a self-confessed sexual predator (and thereby enable sexual predation) on the grounds that the other candidate might have enabled sexual predation? It’s also interesting how often these women claim that their stance is Christian, while they are cognitively reconciling voting for a self-confessed sexual predator, whose wife had porno photos (which conservative Christians claims to abhor, and yet neither he nor his wife has said they think those photos were a bad choice), who has a history of adultery, and whose “Christianity” only occurred when it was useful with believing they are promoting Christianity.
Okay, let’s take their argument at face value. They are saying that their position is not sheer factionalism—it isn’t that they would vote for roadkill were it the Republican nominee—they have principles for voting this way. Let’s call this argument the “sexual predation principle” argument.
And, obviously, it’s an argument that trips over its own tongue. Voting for a self-confessed sexual predator because you can’t vote for someone who is doing what you’re doing by voting for Trump (enabling a sexual predator) isn’t an argument from principle about abhorrence of sexual predation.
It’s something else entirely. So, what is it?
And here is something that makes it all more interesting. We have, on tape, Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women. There is no good evidence that Clinton said the accusers were whores or sluts. The sites that claim Clinton did that (and you can google it, because I don’t want to give them the clicks—they’re clickbaity sites) refer to an unsourced anonymous claim that someone said to someone that she had said it to them. There are no sites that quote Clinton directly, let alone show video or her calling the accusers sluts or whores.
I’ve argued with people who claim they saw a video of Clinton saying that. There is no video. There never was. (If there was , you would have seen it through all of 2016). That’s the known phenomenon of people creating an image of a claim they’ve heard over and over (for more on that, see Age of Propaganda). So, why do people have a clear image of a video that never existed?
Because their hatred of Clinton is so visceral as to be visual.
Well, okay, they hate Clinton, and they can list reasons. But are those reasons grounded in principle?
Here’s why that matters. There are, loosely, two ways to reason: one is grounded in ethical principles—that, regardless of who is doing something, you condemn or approve of that thing. Christ endorsed that method of thinking about ethics when he said “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It’s also the good Samaritan story—an act is right or wrong on its own merits, and not on the basis of who does it.
The other method of thinking about whether something is right or wrong is the one Christ continually rejected—that a thing done by this kind of person is right (if you think that kind of person is right) and it’s wrong if it’s done by a kind of person you think is wrong. That kind of reasoning is purely factional (or tribal, if you prefer that term): people like you are good, and people not like you are bad.
It’s hard for people to see when we’re engaged in factional ethics because we can always come up with instances of bad behavior on the part of the other faction, and so we can sincerely believe our perception of our faction as always better is proven by evidence (aka, confirmation bias). But here’s what factional reasoning can’t do: hold all the factions to the same standards.
If Clinton was wrong to enable sexual predation, then Trump was worse.
That conclusion comes from holding principles the same regardless of faction, and people often don’t reason that way about ethics. People think that they’re behaving in a principled way when they’re reasoning on the basis, not of a logical principle, but a generalization about their group versus the other group–it seems like reasoning from a principle, but the logical principle is that “my group is good.”
And too much American political discourse is on those grounds, and that people reason factionally is shown most obviously when people point out the inconsistency. For instance, if you say to me, “Well, you say that Your Candidate is good because she cares about the environment, but she took $10 million dollars from an oil company to hide their oil spill,” a factional (and not principled) response is for me to say, “Well, Your Candidate did it too.” It doesn’t matter if Your Candidate did–that doesn’t mean mine didn’t.
Where that argument should go, if it’s a good one, is an acknowledgement on the part of everyone that both candidates did it, and then we can argue about which is worse
If you believe that your faction is always right, you might mistake reasoning from that premise (My faction is right; this person is a member of my faction; therefore, this person is right) as operating from a principle because you believe your faction to be more principled than any other.
Unhappily, a lot of the people who voted for a sexual predator did so because they believe that only the Republicans support Christ’s political agenda.
Let’s set aside the most obvious problems with that (Christ didn’t say “except for these people”), and just try to understand that these are people who believe that their political agenda is so Christian that they are justified in treating their political opponents in ways that violate what Christ said about how we should treat others.
What that means is that their political agenda is more important than a pretty clear commandment from Christ.
That’s political factionalism. Whether their political agenda is the same as what Christ would want is up for argument. Whether they’re violating what Christ said about doing unto others is not. They are, and they’re trying to come up with reasons as to why it’s okay.
So, it’s taking a particular and factional political agenda and insisting that only that agenda is good. That’s anti-democratic.
And here’s another way that it’s what’s wrong with American political discourse in a nutshell. It’s ignorant of history. American Christians have a long list of sins on our plate (especially conservative Christians)—policies that were, actually, sheer factionalism, in-group preference, or sheer prejudice. Advocating slavery, defending segregation, opposing unions or any protection for workers’ safety, refusing to allow Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany to come here—all of those things were presented by conservative Christians as the obvious political agenda of Jesus. Oddly enough, a lot of conservative Christians now want to claim those political stances as proof that they are right, but they’re evidence they’re probably wrong. Those positions were all progressive and liberal Christian movements, demonized by conservative Christianity.  Conservative, even moderate, Christians were opposed to Martin Luther King, Jr., and condemned him.
There is a second problem with trying to cite those movements as proof that what politically conservative Christians are doing now: all of those movements insisted on the “do unto others” test, the very one rejected by conservative Christians now
Support of Trump fails that test.
So, let’s stop pretending that “I voted for Trump because Clinton supported her husband” is some sort of principled stance. It isn’t. Let’s stop pretending that people who make that claim are feminists, or allies, or anything other than people who wanted Trump to get elected, and needed a reason that made them feel comfortable.
It’s what’s wrong with American political discourse in a nutshell because it looks as though the person is taking a principled stance, when, in fact, there is neither a logical nor ethical principle consistently applied. It’s a rabidly factional defense of a logically indefensible position. It’s just a way of managing the cognitive dissonance of voting for Trump only because he’s in their faction. But, let’s admit it isn’t principled, and it violates what Christ said about doing unto others.
 The appalling crime on the part of progressive Christianity, eugenics, (also supported by many conservative Christians) also violated the “do unto others” rule.