Trump’s “Nah-uh, you are” Russia tweets are a microcosmic metaphor for the central flaw in conservative logic
Certainly the Internet in general loves to paint people as hypocrites. But all too often, I see meme-ified comebacks like what Trump has done here that act as if they’re some kind of epic mic drop — despite the fact that their premise is based on a blatant logical fallacy.
This actually makes a lot of sense to me, based on some of the recent reading I’ve done into the fundamental differences between conservative and progressive mindsets. Conservatives tend to focus more on hierarchy and authority, which manifests in a much more binary view of things.
(To be fair: there are other conservative value systems that are less binary. But those are not the ones that have ruled the GOP for years now, and seduced white evangelicals to the point of near-radicalization.)
In this example, Trump clearly thinks that the problem is “Speaking with Putin/Russia.” His defense is that, if Schumer/Pelosi/Obama/Jesus did it, why can’t I!?
But that attempt to objectify morals/reality completely misses the point: Trump and his collaborators have lied repeatedly and intentionally about their connections to Russia, whatever those might be, and they have done so under oath and at the risk of perjury.
This overly-simplistic binary ignores the distinction between MIS-information and DIS-information.
The kneejerk Conservative counterargument to all of this, of course, is “[Insert Democratic politician] lied too!” And yes, sometimes politicians — like all humans — craft their words carefully to obscure information, or reveal only the things they want to reveal, to serve a certain purpose. Sometimes they get things wrong, and other times, they change their minds based on new learnings. Other times, they use blatant falsehoods with intent to mislead. Those are all different things — and they’re things that everyone does, whether you’re a politician or a waiter or a teacher.
This is where that whole idea of “Fake News” gets distorted, too. A conservative family friend of mine recently shared a video compilation of CNN calling the election for Clinton, as proof that they are “liars” and “fake news.” That wasn’t a lie; it was human beings, mostly experts in their respective fields, being wrong in their predictions. You’re not a “liar” because you lost a bet on a horse race — but you might be out $500. That’s unfortunate, and embarrassing, and someone might be careful before they trust your insight again. But it doesn’t make you a deceptive or morally questionable person.
The hierarchical fixation of the typical Conservative mind needs there to be hard and fast rules for certain things, to exert a sense of order on the world:
They say “Do you lock your front door at night? Then we should lock our borders!” despite the fact that that ignores the differences between public and private property. (a conflation that would cause my more traditionally Conservative/Libertarian-leaning friends to have an aneurysm)
They say, “Those immigrants are here ILLEGALLY and they are therefore CRIMINALS and thus INTENTIONALLY MALICIOUS and should be locked up!” despite the fact that our unique system was never designed to be an arbiter of morality or righteousness, but rather to resolve conflicts with some kind of consistency. (whether it’s ever been successful at any of these things is a different story)
On that same note, they say, “That criminal must have been doing something wrong in order for the cops to shoot them!”
They say, “That woman must be a heartless monster and a slut because she had a procedure to end her terminal ectopic pregnancy!”
They would rather withhold Civil Rights from LGBTQ+ people than change their minds over time about marriage equality. They would rather you be 100% sustainable in everything you do than even try to be conscientious of your environmental footprint. They would rather be steadfast in their belief that X is right & good and Y is wrong & bad because that’s the way it’s always been (as far as they’re concerned) and that’s the way it always should be, and then accuse everyone else of being a “hypocrite” whenever the context is radically different enough that those same rules don’t apply.
That’s the real insidious purpose of Trump & friends accusing others of “hypocrisy”: it’s a purity test.
It’s an indirect but obstinate way of saying “You are not a flawless white knight, therefore you do not fit into my binary view of the world, and therefore you are wrong and bad.”
But of course this is done with absolutely no sense of self-awareness. In this view of the world, “Conservative” = “Right” and “Progressive” = “Wrong” and they do not have to hold themselves to the same moral standards. It is somehow worse to fail their Manichean moral purity test than to do things that are demonstrably bad and hurtful.
These are the people who are more concerned that you dared to enjoy a Roman Polanski movie once and also criticized Woody Allen, for example. They don’t actually care about the movie, or the sexual assault, or even the complicated discussions about separating artists from their art. They only care that your beliefs don’t fit perfectly into their black-and-white line of sight, and they’d rather espouse some soundbites about “the importance of conversation” and “diversity of thought” than actually engage with or acknowledge the morally conundrums of the world, or the ways that different contexts do actually change a situation. (that is, the actual philosophical and sociological benefit that is derived from conversation and diversity of thought)
The added irony here, of course, is that these are the same people who get upset when you call them out for making misogynistic remarks, and then turn around and say “MLK was a womanizer, how come you don’t care about that?!” This is also why they think “having a black friend” or a mother/wife/daughter somehow recuses them from racism/misogyny—their perspective has been formed in such a way that they genuinely cannot comprehend how actions can have unintended consequences against people of a certain demographic, based on that demographic identification.
The truth is, good people do lousy things all the time, both in and out of their cultural contexts, and we can both accept that essential human flaw while also holding people accountable for it when we can.
Humans are complicated creatures. No one’s perfect. That some Founding Father owned slaves does not mean that their contributions don’t matter, or that slavery wasn’t awful. Those two things coexist in reality—but not in the current mainstream DC GOP conservative value system.
This is why it’s so difficult to argue with people who subscribe to this world view. Humans have been using the same established rules of argument and rhetoric for millennia, but it’s impossible to even criticize someone for their frequent abuse of the “Moving the Goalposts” fallacy because conservatives and progressives are playing two different games on the same field.
Don’t get me wrong; we’re all guilty of a certain level of self-delusion in order to keep ourselves functioning in an increasingly complex world. But the stubbornly dualistic views shared by Trump and his supporters are simply not a healthy way to engage with reality, because it’s not reality. They’re just hallucinating goalposts to convince themselves they’re “winning,” and that winning maintains “order” (whatever that means to them today), and that “order” is always right but only when it’s on their side.
Lately, I’ve been consciously trying to frame my arguments in a way that appeals to this mindset.
I’ve tried saying, well hey, if you believe in hierarchy, than let’s prioritize things here, and rank them in an authoritative hierarchy to decide whether property damage is more or less important than human life, and so on. Or, hey, I’m talking about voter IDs, not Obama and abortion, let’s just talk about voter IDs. One thing at a time. Black and white. Maybe?
But it doesn’t work. In fact, every discussion I’ve had with a binary-minded Trump-supporting conservative since Election Day where I try to follow the rules of their game (as I understand them) has devolved into chaos even faster than it did before. Is it because I was getting the rules wrong? Is it because they feel justified and emboldened in the simplistic dualism of their rules?
I honestly don’t know. And I’m honestly getting tired of trying.