Trying to Understand the Other: A Must for Political Recovery
With hindsight, I see that the Conclusion to The Cult of Individualism is unduly optimistic. Even in 2013, however, I did recognize the divide in the United States, the one between an essentially Calvinist culture and another formed through the Enlightenment. I used Andy Griffith’s role as Lonesome Rhodes in A Face in the Crowd to illustrate it:
Close to the end of the movie, Rhodes says, “To those morons out there? Shucks, I sell them chicken fertilizer as caviar. I can make them eat dog food and think it’s steak. Sure, I’ve got them like this. You know what the public’s like? A cage full of guinea pigs.” And that, I realized, is exactly what many in the secular-liberal culture think of the Borderers. They are morons who will buy anything. The secular-liberals know no more about them and wish to learn less. (206)
I could have used Inherit the Wind or any of a number of fine films to make the same point, that the Enlightenment culture knows as little as it wants to about the rest of the United States, and would rather not know even that much. In the book, I continue on a bit later down the page:
To them, the Borderers often seem too stupid to believe, gullible, open to flimflam from the most obvious con artists—and the question is “Why?” Why was Senator Joe McCarthy so successful? Why is Senator Ted Cruz so, today? What is going on with America? Because they had no real experience with the “other half” of America, the secular-liberal culture created their own answers. (206)
That’s what we’ve got to stop doing, creating our own answers! Even as we fight the immediate and necessary battles against Trump and his complaisant Congress, we need to be looking to ourselves, dissecting our own sanctimony, our own sense that we in the Enlightenment (or secular-liberal) culture have a stronger grasp of the truth of America than do those of the Borderer (or Calvinist) culture. We may be right, but we are losing control of the country our spiritual ancestors (the Founding Fathers were certainly children of the Enlightenment) created. We won’t change that by simply being right.
We also have to start being smart, and that entails learning more about our opposition. The irony of our ignorance is that many of us have roots on the other side of the cultural divide—just as many of them come from backgrounds one more often associates with the secular-liberals. But our experiences with the “other” has often been so negative that we are unwilling to contemplate that the thinking there might be something other than simple hatred or racism.
Somehow, we on the Enlightenment side need to learn to listen to the other side with an open mind. That’s difficult, but it also should be our heritage. They may be wrong, but they are wrong for reasons that they believe are right. Until we begin to understand those reasons, we’ll never be able to defeat the charlatans that the Calvinists/Borderers have put into power.