I'm Not Sure You Understood Arendt

A Washington Post writer worries about Trump.
To understand the rise of Hitler and the spread of Nazism, I have generally relied on the German-Jewish émigré philosopher Hannah Arendt and her arguments about the banality of evil. Somehow people can understand themselves as “just doing their job,” yet act as cogs in the wheel of a murderous machine. Arendt also offered a second answer in a small but powerful book called “Men in Dark Times.” In this book, she described all those who thought that Hitler’s rise was a terrible thing but chose “internal exile,” or staying invisible and out of the way as their strategy for coping with the situation. They knew evil was evil, but they too facilitated it, by departing from the battlefield out of a sense of hopelessness.

One can see both of these phenomena unfolding now. The first shows itself, for instance, when journalists cover every crude and cruel thing that comes out of Trump’s mouth and thereby help acculturate all of us to what we are hearing. Are they not just doing their jobs, they will ask, in covering the Republican front-runner? Have we not already been acculturated by 30 years of popular culture to offensive and inciting comments? Yes, both of these things are true. But that doesn’t mean journalists ought to be Trump’s megaphone. Perhaps we should just shut the lights out on offensiveness; turn off the mic when someone tries to shout down others; reestablish standards for what counts as a worthwhile contribution to the public debate.
Arendt's answer to the dangers of totalitarianism was not speech control. Attempting to shut up the ideas of people who believe as Trump claims to believe is how you got here. I think it's accurately said to be the major source of his power: to hear someone speaking the forbidden thoughts shows him to be strong, because he stands in defiance to all the collected power of media and state, intelligentsia and 'decent society.' Clamping down on his ability to put out his message is only going to make that message stronger where it does get out.

What Arendt suggests as an answer to totalitarianism is two things: thought and community. She was worried that the loneliness and collapse of traditional communities associated with modern life were what made us peculiarly vulnerable to the totalitarian draw. It was common sense, by which she meant the way in which we improve our individual views of the world by comparing them with each others', that was robust enough to stand against propaganda and power.

If you want to beat Trump, the way to do it is to make common cause. If left and right agree that Trump is not the answer, they can defeat him if and only if they can come to an answer they can agree upon. If you're on the Left and you want to beat Trump, what are you willing to compromise on in order to make common cause with those on the right who agree? Will you support Ted Cruz in preference to Trump? Rubio? Would you be willing to allow conservatives to reclaim Scalia's seat on the Supreme Court if that were the price of avoiding a Trump presidency?

Those on the right have to decide if they would be willing to accept Sanders or Clinton. For myself, I think Clinton is demonstrably worse. I would dare a Trump presidency gladly rather than vote for someone so corrupt, deceptive, and disdainful of those whose lives she would hold in her hands as Commander in Chief. Sanders has an ideology I don't care for, but I respect him as an honest man. Others may disagree even on Sanders, especially with the Supreme Court hanging in the balance.

If there are no ways in which we can come together in 'common sense' and community, Trump may well win over the objections of both left and right. In a sense, his victory will be deserved -- I mean that the country will deserve him. I speak chiefly to the left, though. You have to defy what Arendt calls 'loneliness.' I mean that you have to rediscover community with the hated right. You have to break out of the bubbles that keep you only with those ideologically aligned with you. It is your 'safe spaces' that are enabling him. Trying to strengthen the walls of those spaces will only allow him to grow stronger in the world without them.

12 comments:

Eric Blair said...

STOP MAKING SENSE.

Dad29 said...

A few weeks ago, it occurred to me that Trump was another Obama wearing bad hair and with some different goals. There is no doubt in my mind that this guy is dangerous--which is to say that populism has its limits and the Constitution delineated & circumscribed those limits very nicely.

MikeD said...

Any time you think making someone else shut up is the solution to a problem, you're doing freedom wrong.

Texan99 said...

I'll hold my nose and vote for Trump over either Clinton or Sanders. Trump may be an egomaniacal crony capitalist who can't be trusted not to expand government for trivial purposes, but what is that in comparison with an avowed socialist? I don't like our choices, either. I'll support Cruz until he drops out. I'll support Rubio or any other Republican who manages to take the nomination away from Trump, if that should happen, even someone as wobbly as Kasich. But I will not be voting for a socialist in this lifetime. I guess we'll find out how strong the other two branches of government are, and how hard people are willing to fight for their republic.

Texan99 said...

Oh, and I don't think Carson has a prayer, he's a babe in the woods, but obviously I'd breathe a huge sigh of relief if he ended up in the White House instead of Clinton or Sanders. People in power would run roughshod over him, but he'd be very unlikely to do anything overtly harmful, and he might very well catch the ear of the public and do a lot of good that way. I don't know why he has such odd lacunae in his education, other than the usual myopia of hard-working doctors, but he's bright enough to learn anything he needs to, and I do have confidence in his character.

Edith Hook said...

Trump is a totalitarian? Or is it that populism, of any kind, is totalitarian? I'm not getting it. I must be one of those rubes.

Texan99 said...

I didn't mean to suggest that he's a totalitarian. I just think he's a little careless about the proposals he throws out for fixing things by getting the government involved, which suggests to me that he hasn't got any real principles on the subject. My impression is that he thinks it's a good idea for government to leap in as long as we can be sure the effort will be competent. Competence would be a good thing, but I think he's missing the point, and my support for a conservative (even a real conservative) is likely to be lukewarm unless he's a genuine small-government conservative. But a politician can err a long way in the direction of big-government policies before it's fair to call him and out-and-out totalitarian.

Still, when the politician is a bit of an egomaniac, it's something to keep a sharp eye out for.

Edith Hook said...

"I didn't mean to suggest that he's a totalitarian."
Sorry for the confusion. My totalitarian comment was directed at the thread's theme.

But, I will digress a bit and point out that so much of Trumps support comes from people who are fed up with being condescended to and labeled as racists, rubes, and totalitarians. They have become immune to it and all the other histrionics.
I get the preference for small government but the battle now is for a sovereign American government with borders. Agreements that undermine sovereignty and provide a backdoor for international legal bodies are slipped into the Trade pacts. I am not being snarky, but what is Cruz's current position on this? Wasn't he for TPP before he was against it.

Texan99 said...

I confess I'm not up on Cruz's position on TPP. I can resign myself to restrictive trade agreements if I have to, but they're never a high priority for me either way. So if he's waffled on this point, it's not a disqualifier in my book.

PS, I hear you about the condescension and Trump's appeal on that point. It works on me, too.

Edith Hook said...

I think you missed the point about TPP. To be sure, the concern is based on reports from those who have read it, since it is unpublished and no one else has seen it. These agreements are hammered out in secret and our representatives must view it in a limited access room. They are only allowed to read it and cannot take notes or record it in any way. Take this with a grain of salt, but the objection is that it undermines American sovereignty and gives priority and authority to international courts, for lawsuits, arbitrating environmental damage, settling disputes....



"PS, I hear you about the condescension and Trump's appeal on that point. It works on me, too."
Exactly, on me as well, sometimes to the point that I go to the defense of Trump and Trump fans.

Texan99 said...

You're right about the TPP sovereignty problems, of course. I was just tired, discouraged, and intellectually lazy last night. I owe it to myself to look up what Cruz has been saying about it. My assumption is that it's a mess, with pros and cons, and that he's doing the best he can with it. In general I'd like a free-trade stance, but these treaties are always such a hodge-podge with hidden traps. I have no confidence in the people who negotiated them, especially in secret.

Edith Hook said...

Understood Texan99, If you have the time, this is a fun read but long. My favorites are Dreams, Anglelyne, Shouting Thomas, MichaelK. It is not just about Trump but there is a back and forth about globalization and open borders. I think Rich Hahn may be my mental doppelganger on this as I have a similar checklist but I phrase it differently.
https://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=6329595&postID=6205399842538630066
Samples:
rich hahn said...
Not a lawyer - check
Not a Harvard graduate - check
Not a lifelong politician - check


AReasonableMan said...
Ron Winkleheimer said...
Donald Trump is what happens when both major parties abandon the lower and middle classes to their fates in the name of open borders and globalization.

And lie about it. If a traditional Tory party did this, in an open and principled manner, no one would be surprised. I would support the general idea of there being a 'business' party focused on the priorities of the Davos/Economist caste. What has happened here, however, is that both parties have been captured by the same caste. Something had to give eventually. People have been voting against their economic interest since Reagan and Clinton I - "If something cannot go on forever, it will stop".