We’ve heard it claimed that politics has never seen anyone quite like Donald Trump. The behavior of the President and the social justice warriors who oppose him is more extreme than we have seen in years gone by. With multiple perspectives available, I want to offer four perspectives on why this is.
1. YouTube Recommendations
After playing a video on YouTube, another video is often recommended. There’s an algorithm that determines an individual’s satisfaction with a video and offers another one that it determines the viewer will be satisfied with. This constant reinforcement creates unbreakable concepts in our minds, which we cannot be reasoned out of.
For example, during my university days, it was a well-known fact that George W. Bush was a poor speaker. We were bombarded with clips that showed his grammatical gaffes. They were no more serious than gaffes that each of us make on a weekly basis, but the constant presentation of these gaffes left the public with the impression that he was a poor speaker.
Even after listening to his speeches, debates, and impromptu answers to questions (where he displayed powerful oratory) the public at large was convinced he was a poor speaker.
This was because of the constant reinforcement; evidence would fail to persuade them otherwise – the concept was too ingrained, too solidified.
This has the unfortunate side-effect of creating extremism. When the concepts become psychologically solidified we view people who disagree as unenlightened.
It’s a fact to Trump supporters that NAFTA is bad for the U.S. It’s a fact to the left that Donald Trump is opposed to gay rights. The evidence presented for these things is minimal, but the constant reinforcement of emptied manufacturing towns, or Trump at Liberty University, has solidified these concepts and these people will not be dissuaded.
On issues that are the most polarizing, racism and xenophobia, the YouTube recommendation can begin with a rational discussion from Ben Shapiro, and I can think to myself that he’s brilliant about criminal justice, but the next video will be a more in-depth racial analysis and eventually recommending white nationalists like Richard Spencer.
Or, conversely, a rational video from Theo Wilson, and I can think to myself that he’s brilliant about the need for open communication and not judging based on race, but the next video will be more critical and less open and will eventually find a recommendation for Antifa.
The recommendation algorithm tends toward extremism coupled with echo chambering – a recipe for uncritical dialogue and a breakdown of ethics.
2. Social Media and Virtue Signaling
Never before has virtue been so easily attainable. In antiquity, virtue was about the cultivation of one’s habits to produce a greater good rather than adhering to our desires for short-term good with long-term consequences – the habitual extra helping of pizza with the long-term consequence of obesity is less good than habitual moderate diets with the long-term consequence of fitness.
The convenience of an SUV is outweighed by the long-term consequences of the cascading effect of greenhouse gases.
More and more people will showcase their virtue through its articulation.
One can claim to be an environmentalist or an advocate of the poor by simply explaining that they support these causes, not by actually doing anything for the environment or lift a finger to help the poor – the greater the articulation, the more extreme the articulation, the greater the virtue.
When all I have to do to gain acceptance is explain my intellectual position, I will explain a more extreme view to gain greater acceptance. When optics replaces actual virtue, extremism is the inevitable result.
Canada’s immigration laws are extremely right-wing. Donald Trump actually modeled his immigration policies after Canada’s. Yet the rhetoric, not the practice but the talking points, of the Trudeau Liberal Party suggests otherwise. They want to appear welcoming to immigrants.
When the question was put to his government about welcoming ISIS soldiers back to Canada, he said yes. The optics have devolved to an extreme perversion.
The actual substance of disallowing entrance for scientists, doctors and nurses, engineers, and programmers, is coupled with the optics of welcoming ISIS with open arms. It’s a perversion because ISIS is preferred to STEM field practitioners.
3. It Was Always Extreme
There is a third view that confesses our positions today are scarcely more extreme than the positions taken 60 years ago.
Left vs. right today is nothing compared to the capitalism vs. Marxism that Coolidge faced. It could be argued that McCarthy is far more extreme than Trump. McCarthy was likely ideological while Trump is egocentric, but there’s very little that can be argued to suggest Trump’s positions are anywhere near as extreme as McCarthy’s.
The obverse is equally true. The passion of those of us opposed to wars in the Middle East don’t hold a candle to the passion of those opposed to the wars against communism, in spite of the inverse of the threat – communism was far greater of a threat than terrorism is. One would think they would be more understanding of war. Kim Il-sung, Stalin, and Mao were far greater perpetrators of violating human rights than Gaddafi, al-Assad, or the Houthis ever were. Yet, some people will claim we are the extremes.
4. It’s Not Extreme
The fourth view is that none of this is particularly extreme.
A visceral reaction to inflation, which is extreme theft benefiting the bankers and hurting seniors, or disdain for debt, which is extreme theft of our children’s economy, major emotional reactions to innocent people dying, aren’t at all extreme – they are actually the norm.
Being sedate in the light of such injustices is actually the extreme position. Ignoring the brutality and the profiteering, being complacent in such immorality is itself a form of extremism and the reactions against it are perfectly natural, normal, human responses.
I don’t know which of these is correct. I doubt William F. Buckley would think fondly of Trump but I’m not entirely certain as to who the extremist is.
Featured image: The Rationalist