(Written not long after the election of Donald Trump.)
Let me suggest that not only the Trumpites who
are dug in, but also the Berniebros and, yes, the Clintonsistas, too.
People are making what ought to be simple fact-based questions (did
Russian propaganda influence the election? what was the influence of the
Clinton campaign over the DNC?) into identity-based beliefs, which
cannot be touched.
Once identity becomes an issue in politics, we start to see
behaviors analogous to family dynamics (perhaps these are actually the
same.) Roles take precedence over actual behavior: “Dad” may be an
abusive alcoholic, but he’s still Dad and deserves some sort of respect.
So we have the precedence of image over the person’s actual behavior:
Trump is making American great again, Hillary Clinton the great feminist
hope, Bernard Sanders is some sort of saint and so on. Everyone is
supposed to be the messiah.
What I find striking is the divergence between the image and the
person. It is most evident with Trump, of course, many of whose
followers still believe even as he works hard to elevate his ego and
ruin their lives, but there is some of it in all the leaders. Hillary
Clinton is indeed a feminist, but she is also a devout Methodist and
conflicted on abortion and charity. (And the less said about her beliefs
on foreign policy, the better.) Sanders plainly believes in his
socialism, but he is more of a tough practical political survivor than a
As analysts and commentators, we may pay attention to the person behind the curtain, as it were –
we supposedly study these matters and pay attention to the actuality as
well as iconography – but we have difficulty bringing these insights to a