November 17, 2020
I've been burdened for the past few days by my inclusion of one of the items in Think List 23: Common Humanity. The piece in question is the partial transcript and link to Episode #224 of Sam Harris' Making Sense podcast—a video titled "The Key to Trump's Appeal."
I have nothing but respect for Sam Harris, and feel grateful to have been exposed to his Making Sense podcast and Waking Up meditation app, not to mention his books (and those of his podcast guests), etc. I don't agree with him on everything—which is an odd thing to have to say, but unfortunately needs to be said a lot these days, lest one agree with someone whom Team A has identified as being on any team other than Team A, or even as being on Team A but just not devoutly enough—but I do agree with him more often than not. He's far more intelligent, rational and articulate than I could ever hope to be, and I find these qualities admirable.
That aside, when I initially listened to the podcast mentioned, I agreed (and I still agree now) with what I took to be the larger point, that woke politics on the left is harming US democracy, not to mention its own causes, by virtue of the fact that it so clearly helped elect someone as unfit for office as Donald Trump in 2016, and went on in 2020 to diminish what should have been a landslide victory for Biden (however flawed he and Kamala Harris both may be). There are inarguably many reasons we're seeing so much red on the election map. I think it's fairly undeniable that racism is probably one of them. But it's only one. And the illiberal principles of wokeness—or the far left, or whatever you want to call it—are just as undeniably another.
So it's not the sharing of this larger point that has been burdening me. What has been burdening me is the possibility the truncated transcript I shared might give the impression that the only appeal of Trump for his supporters and admirers is that his "personal shamelessness" offers them a "total expiation of shame."
On that point, I think that if you listen to the full eight-minute episode, you'll hear, as I do, that Harris is not at all making that claim. He's merely saying that this is one unique and demystifying appeal that Trump, in all his blatant amorality, has on offer for those seeking an alternative to the "pure sanctimony" and "pure judgment" on the left/far left, which I think is a fair, interesting and compelling point. It also allows those of us who do not support Trump to better empathize with those who do.
But of course there are many other reasons people might still admire or support Trump. While I find him deplorable and dangerous and don't agree with his policies, there are clearly some who do, or who merely prefer what Trump is offering to what they're getting from the left, and who cast their votes accordingly, without harboring any racist beliefs or desires to redress some deep spiritual shame. And I think it's overly simplistic, dichotomous and harmful to think otherwise.
Lastly, and extending from the points just expressed, my intention with the previous letter was to share thoughts on how, if we truly hope to make progress in the areas of equal rights, and human rights in general, we need to focus on our common humanity. We need to draw larger circles around ourselves and our groups to include those we disagree with. Assuming the worst about them will get us nowhere. And shitting on them from our assumptive thrones, even with the best of intentions, will only get us nowhere faster.
So if I am to give the 73 million or so Trump voters in 2020 the benefit of the doubt; and if I am to assume that they are extremely varied, and that many, or even the majority of them voted for Trump for only the most noble of reasons, or even some slightly ignoble ones; and if I am to then imagine myself as being one of those Trump voters (which, for the record, I am not), then it becomes much easier for me to take exception to the implication that Trump, perhaps, only appealed to me because he offered me some escape from my shame. And this implication, just like so many of those from the far left, communicates little to me but judgment on my own moral inferiority, and leaves me wiping more shit from my brow.
Again, this is not what I think Harris was saying. And I would argue that he makes it pretty clear that he's not saying it; that he's not saying that these are the only conditions to which all of Trump's support can be attributed, but just one condition of many.
So please give it a full and proper listen, should you have doubts and be so inclined, and decide for yourselves.
Brian Leli, November 2020
Look around you. If there are others all moving in the same direction, and they look like you, and they move like you, and they all like the same things, and they hate the same things, and they are angry about the same things, and they are screaming about the same things, chances are you are on the wrong path.
Nick Cave, The Red Hand Files Issue #123, November 2020
[Due to an oversight on my part, I failed to include this video in the email version of this letter. I added it here about an hour after I sent the email.]
Real Time with Bill Maher, S18:E34, November 2020