I get emails from a couple of listeners who I’m sure are, or would be, diagnosed with some form of mental illness. Another listener often sends text messages filled with nearly-meaningless gibberish with an occasional relevant word mixed in. I would share some of their bizarre content here, but I have no desire to provoke them. These listeners have never issued any sort of physical threat, but they cause me some mild concern anyway because their responses to what I say on the air are always uncertain. If I anger them, will they view me as some sort of threat against which they feel inclined to defend themselves? Would they try to physically harm me? Would they spread false and malignant accusations or rumors that originate in their ill mind?
Irrationality scares me, and it always has. As a child, being around an older person with Alzheimer’s made me uncomfortable, and I usually avoided the homeless man talking to the sky and the trees in the city park.
I suppose it’s because anything can be considered “true” in the mind of someone severed from reality, or when actual truth becomes only an optional perceptual input. The fear comes because there are too many variables to accurately predict outcomes when minds make true anything that needs to be true. We typically think of such desertion of reality as an individual, clinical problem, handled on a case-by-case basis.
But what happens when it occurs on a mass scale? What happens when irrationality becomes the basis for a political constituency?
I’ve written before about Orwell’s “blackwhite” concept from 1984, and its relevance to political life. It is defined as a “…loyal willingness to say black is white when party discipline demands this. It also means the ability to believe that black is white, and more, to know black is white, and forget that one has ever believed the contrary.” In other words, blackwhite is a willing, unscrutinizing denial of reality added to an active unchecked absorption of unreality. Rampant blackwhite is usually the ominous harbinger of change that never turns out well.
Blackwhite demands a deliberate glazing of the eyes followed by a hostile response to any level of accountability to truth that might tarnish the ideology or charismatic leader they have locked into. Attempts at intervention or rescue become an effort in frustration and futility. Trying to teach, for example, that funding an organization that primarily kills babies is immoral, or that universal government-funded health care is anything but conservative, or that forced acquisition of private property by private economic interests is the antithesis of liberty — is a perfectly rational approach for a devoted conservative. For doing just that these past few weeks, I’ve been called a moron, an idiot, and a jackass.
Immediately, and I mean mere seconds, after Donald Trump repeated himself about selling health insurance across state lines to Marco Rubio, he told the audience he doesn’t repeat himself. In fact — and this is a verbatim quote — he said “I don’t repeat myself. I don’t repeat myself.” Consider the irony, the self-contained delusion, in repeating that he doesn’t repeat himself! I’m sure his supporters believed him, simply because he said it. And I’m sure that because I’ve pointed it out, I’m a moron, an idiot, and a jackass.
When anyone makes a solid point against Donald Trump he responds with a destabilizing and completely irrelevant insult. When anyone asks him for specifics he simply recites his vague talking points louder, as if volume can replace thoughtfulness and specificity. When anyone points out his well-documented business failures (Trump casinos, Trump Vodka, Trump Airlines, Trump Steaks, Trump: The Game, Trump Mortgage) he belittles their inferior net worth, or (again) hurls a completely irrelevant insult as an unexpected destabilizer to distract from his oft-repeated claim that he always wins.
And when it’s pointed out that Donald Trump spent decades eagerly funding the establishment politicians he correctly identifies as the problem in America, he feels no sense of remorse or regret. In fact, he brags about doing so. Enter blackwhite, and again I’m a moron, idiot, and jackass… on steroids.
There are abundant examples of rational political disagreements. We even calibrate for an ambient level of exaggeration and strategic distortion by political campaigns. But Donald Trump has introduced something new. Where Barack Obama cashed in on the low information voters, Donald Trump is finding political bling in the low rationality crowd who are becoming gifted practitioners of blackwhite.
It’s frustrating that there appears to be no saving them, no convincing, no productive dialogue or persuasion. But then again, why would they listen to a moron, idiot, and jackass?
Associated Press award-winning columnist Neal Larson of Idaho Falls is also a conservative talk show host on KID Newsradio 590am, 106.3 and 92.1fm, and also at www.kidnewsradio.com. “The Neal Larson Show” can be heard weekday mornings from 8:00 to 10:00. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.