We have a hard time understanding how political polarization has become so extreme in the United States. Forget about right and wrong, and stop being so mystified and affronted that Hillbilly Elegy or Neo Neonazi don’t see things the way you do. “How can they support Trump?!?” many a well-meaning Democrat will plaintively cry.
But these judgments are labels we’ve invented — they’re purely symbolic. It’s the feelings underneath that truly produce motivation — there is a physiological reason that “our camp” and “their camp” seem so drastically different from each other. Almost as if we no longer inhabit the same reality anymore. It used to be that we routinely disagreed (and even fought bitterly) over facts — but now we disagree over whether facts have any value at all, which is a very dangerous place to be.
So we don’t necessarily need right and wrong to understand the Trump cult, and it may even get in the way. A Buddhist would offer a far more neutral perspective on the chasm dividing America today:
DNC - What the liberal left (and a smattering of defected right) enjoyed tonight at the Democratic National Convention was pleasant to us. It felt good. - To the Trumpkins, the DNC was unpleasant, and greatly so. RNC - For Trump rallies and presumably the RNC, the feelings swap: his fans pass over mere pleasant into a frenzy of malignant envy and sadism. - For us Democrats, those events are nightmarishly unpleasant. They give us the heebie jeebies.
Political polarization: Nurture and nature
For some of us, it’s just how we’re wired. Others have the nurture member of the dyad to thank, or blame. The community or communities around us and the context we’re in affect our decision-making as well. As our surroundings become more politically polarized, so do we — having a compounding feedback loop effect.
Some of us will grow and stretch and change over the course of our lives. Others have fixed set points. Maybe we should be asking some additional questions beyond, “But how can they believe…” including, “what is it that some people find unpleasant about compassion and love? Is it that they feel those things to be absent in their own lives, or that they’ve been betrayed by those ideals in some way?”