Jessica Valenti today writes “It’s OK to be a Sore Winner”, in reference to celebrating Joe Biden defeating Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election. In her article, she makes several points in support of her position, including how an election is not like winning a sporting match, that Donald Trump is an awful person, that civility can actually be counter-productive, and that we should enjoy the moment.
Valenti anticipates the counter-argument that this kind of behaviour would increase polarization, but dismisses it by saying it “won’t hurt the country”. It’s unclear why this is such a small worry for her.
Needless to say, this is bad advice. For one, she’s not merely saying “it’s OK to celebrate”, which is perfectly reasonable. She’s instead saying “it’s OK to rub it in the faces of those who lost”. That’s basically endorsing taking pleasure at the unhappiness of others. Last I checked, that’s an immoral thing to do.
However, Valenti’s argument seems based on how truly awful Trump is, which to her means rubbing Biden’s victory in the face of his supporters is acceptable. She’s correct about Trump, who has amply demonstrated features of sociopathy during his presidency. It’s clear that he’s narcissistic, relentlessly dishonest, manipulative, callous, intellectually lazy, and corrupt.
But we shouldn’t confuse Trump’s terrible personality traits with the traits of those who voted for him. That includes over 71 million Americans! There’s simply no way, statistically, that all of these people are somehow bad people who deserve to have Biden’s win rubbed in their faces.
The impulse to treat Trump voters as scum is nothing new. It exists because of our increasing political polarization and the political bubbles we’ve been living in during the internet age. Increasingly, liberals truly don’t understand conservatives. As Scott Adams remarked years ago, it’s as if the two sides are watching different movies.
This is why liberals should spend more time reading and watching conservative media. Instead of gloating, liberals can gain an understanding of why conservatives think like they do. Unsurprisingly, a big piece of the puzzle is the constant disinformation conservatives are being subjected to.
What this means is that conservatives are increasingly convinced that liberals aren’t just disagreeing with them on policy issues, but that they’re evil. They were perfectly aware that Donald Trump is not a good man, but rationalized voting for him because they saw Biden as beyond the pale. That might seem absurd to liberals, but this is the genuine belief of many conservatives.
If conservatives think liberals are evil, then liberals shouldn’t play into that by gloating about Biden’s victory. Similarly, it accomplishes little to call conservatives racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, etc. even if those words are accurate descriptions. It’s not easy, but civility is the only way to reach out to those with whom you disagree.
None of this is easy. It’s a bit like asking someone to hold in a sneeze. Patiently trying to educate someone who has been subjected to mountains of disinformation is hard. For those who have been too heavily indoctrinated, it’s a lost cause. But for others, it’s possible to reach through to them. There’s simply no better option. Otherwise, it’s just insults, digging in one’s heels, and more polarization. If this keeps up, who knows how bad it could get.