Two recent scientific discoveries have confirmed what philosophers have known for centuries. (Warning to liberals: the following few paragraphs seriously grapple with the concept of innate human qualities, which many find anathema, but they’re essential to the story.)
- Humans are born with preconceived moral intuitions, which are distributed unequally among the population, i.e., not everyone is born with the same moral intuitions. (For a good background, see “The Righteous Mind,” by Jonathan Haidt.)
- Humans rationalize (by making up stories and justifications) our innate, subconscious moral intuitions. We simply can’t understand the perspective of other people with different moral categories than our own. (For a good background, see “Who’s in Charge?” by Michael Gazzaniga).
Haidt lists the moral intuitions we’re born with: care, fairness, liberty, loyalty, authority and sanctity, divinity, community, hierarchy, tradition, sin and degradation. Not everyone is born with all these intuitions; a subset of intuitions is selected at random, likely before birth. (I don’t believe the intuition selection process is related to having different genes. We all have the same genes. I believe our unique set of intuitions are selected by lottery in the womb. The process is innate but not genetic. That should make liberals relax a bit.)
Nobody is born a Democrat or Republican. You’re born with a certain set of moral intuitions (e.g., respect for authority, liberty, divinity, hierarchy, etc.) and based on these you will tend to gravitate toward one party of the other. The conservative Republican party emphasizes Faith, patriotism, valor, chastity, and law and order, so if those resonate with your innate moral intuitions you’ll tend to become a Republican. If you’re born with a different set of of moral intuitions (e.g., care and fighting oppression) then you will gravitate toward the liberal Democratic party.
Because we humans rationalize and justify (“spin”) our moral intuitions, we simply can’t see (much less respect) the perspective of the other party. They are wrong and we are right, we convince ourselves.
That’s not to say that all innate moral intuitions should be accepted. But if I’m right that traits are assigned by lottery and not by genetic variation, intuitions like tribalism and righteousness can’t and won’t go away any time soon. According to a New York Times review:
Social conservatives see welfare and feminism as threats to responsibility and family stability. The Tea Party hates redistribution because it interferes with letting people reap what they earn.
Liberals spurn people who value “authority, loyalty and sanctity” as carrying the “seeds of racism, sexism and homophobia”
Liberals don’t understand conservative values. And they can’t recognize this failing, because they’re so convinced of their rationality, open-mindedness and enlightenment.
The God-abiding, law-respecting, family-loving, hard-working individual that used to be called the common man [is] now called a bigot, gun-toting, racist, homophobic troglodyte.
Trump supporters in small town America are those with conservative moral intuitions. Those with liberal intuitions often flee small towns, while conservatives tend to stay behind, increasing their concentration there.
Unfortunately, with globalization, immigration, and Walmart/Amazon low wage jobs, conservatives left behind can’t find jobs to fulfill their desire for dignity and self-reliance. Walmart killed all the jobs downtown, and a job at Walmart or an Amazon warehouse doesn’t pay the bills. The TV is full of stories about illegal immigrants, which triggers their moral outrage about fair play. Their Christian association and parochialism makes them fear and despise Muslims.
And Trump tells them what they want to hear, that he’ll put up barriers and walls to globalism and immigrants, and fight “radical Islam”.
Progressives like Bernie Sanders don’t resonate with Trump supporters because Sanders advocates socialist redistribution, which grates against their moral intuition of self-reliance, even as they rely on Medicaid and food stamps and Social Security. Their own hypocrisy often leaves them depressed, turning to opioids to dull their pain. “The American spirit of independence, self reliance and pride in your work remains too strong in these people: they don’t want the government handouts that Bernie sells for votes. They want a chance at a decent job and an assurance that their America is not going away.”
So, how to bring these Trump supporters into the fold of the Democratic party? First, we must recognize that people are not rational. If you want to change people’s minds, don’t appeal to their reason. Appeal to their underlying moral intuitions “whose conclusions reason defends”. Liberals need to get past their distaste for the outcome of recent scientific research.
Here are some ideas on how to proceed:
- Restore Fairness – Increase some tariffs on foreign products to level the playing field; increase taxes on outsize earnings that are not based on merit
- Provide opportunities for individual heroism and sacrifice
- Be patriotic – respect authority and promote a sense of patriotism without becoming jingoistic or uncritical. Make sure it’s considered patriotic to question greed and corruption
- Respect individual freedoms. Let people buy firearms. Promote a woman’s right to choose as an act of individual freedom
- Respect traditions and rituals that bind us
- Restore dignity – raise the minimum wage, and put new constraints on monopolies like Amazon, Walmart, Facebook, Apple and Google to ensure the public good is maintained
- Reconcile science with other human concerns. The world is not reductionist. You can believe in top-down causality (i.e., that faith in an idea can be self-fulfilling) without being religious. The scientific method is vital for progress, but it’s not a source of objective moral truth.