The tendency to label opponents as stupid

One of the most useless approaches to dealing with people who think differently is to label them stupid, brainwashed or otherwise incapable of independent and rational thought.
It is a seductive way to think, because it allows for rapid and complete dismissal of opponents and their worldviews. However, it does not lead to any understanding of why they hold those views, and how to effectively argue against them.
An enduring example from Texas is Rep. Louis Gohmert. He specializes in making incendiary and utterly stupid-sounding statements on a variety of issues. The tendency among most commentators is to regard Gohmert as an idiot as a result. I do not see Louis Gohmert as an idiot. He is merely doing a very good job of obeying two fundamental rules of electoral politics. (1) stay in the public eye (2) say things out loud that your electoral base is thinking. One of the enduring themes of the last few years is how nativists and racists feel persecuted because their opinions are, quite rightly, excoriated. Many of them feel that they should be able to say almost anything they want in public without having to endure criticism for saying it. They are wrong, but emotional butthurt is difficult to process. A politician like Louis Gohmert appeals to those people by making them feel that they are not alone. Hence the cliched dismissals of “political correctness” that many GOP partisans engage in. This is code language for “I want to be able to say all the obnoxious things i believe in public without fear of contradiction or ridicule”.
Which takes us onto Donald Trump…many people, including media commentators, have given up trying to process Trump’s constantly changing series of pronouncements on most issues. They regard him as some sort of hopelessly non-directed person who simply says the first thing that comes into his head at any point in time. This, in turn, permits them to wave off his statements and speeches as unworthy of serious analysis.
This article by George Lakoff explains why that might be a mistake. Lakoff’s view, contrarian as ever, is that Donald Trump’s entire communication style is in fact a lot more carefully considered than most people give him credit for.


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