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Both Sides
Both sides do it, they say. That’s not always the case, but when it comes to practicing the low art of denial, it is certainly true.

In fact, you might say that denial is the default position of anyone whose beliefs are questioned. When some wise guy offers evidence, even proof, that we are misinformed or illogical or just plain wrong, our first impulse — admit it — is to reject that testimony out-of-hand. And just for good measure, we might toss in some personal animus and a few dark suspicions about the character of the messenger. Except for those of us who are truly evolved (please don’t bother raising your hand), it is simple human nature to respond this way.

It’s not the prettiest room in the rambling estate of human nature that I’m talking about here, but it is there — a dark chamber cluttered with defensiveness, laziness, and self-doubt. What is important, however, is what we do after this initial gut response subsides. Our actions at that point are what will divide us up into different subspecies of humans. I can’t speak for others (or for any particular subspecies), but I really do try to circle back and check the assertions of the person who had the gall to disagree with me. You know, just in case he might be right.

An image I once saw in a nature documentary comes to mind here. It showed a coyote in the wild taking a much-needed meal. This coyote is not the kind we see in my neighborhood, well-fed on the pets of my neighbors and on all the other foodstuffs that are so readily available in proximity to human beings. This creature, by the looks of him, was living on the edge of starvation. When he finally got the square meal he was looking for, however, his desperation had led him to the worst possible solution: skunkmeat. He was tearing into that carcass with ravenous gusto, but the expression on his face clearly showed how he felt about the situation: utter revulsion.

I know how he felt. Whenever I watch Fox News — or even when I read some thoughtful conservative thinkpiece — I experience the same gag reflex. Still, I have to do it or I am giving into my own lowbrow instinct for denial. If I truly believe that we all need to exercise our own independent judgment about the world, then I have to eat the skunk, too — like it or not. If I don’t, my claims to intellectual honesty will wither and die.

I confess that I have been only partially successful in this quest. I can only take Fox for five minutes at a time. I forsake full readings in favor of light skimming. I take shortcuts to judgment based, not on the arguments and evidence presented by the writers, but on what I see as their self-righteousness or faux outrage or willful ignorance. I should really be more faithful in my search for truth, but sometimes the taste of the skunk is just too much.

I can’t feel too proud about my efforts at intellectual honesty, but I do sort of try…and, when I’m at my best, I try to try harder. But I am imperfect. In fairness, then, the most I can ask from others is the same level of imperfection. When I look at the Trumpers, though, I don’t see any effort at all. Not only are they not trying, but they seem to be quite content with their denial. That’s a full third of my fellow voters who are completely impervious to any truth or logic outside their chosen belief system.

This is the thing that has perplexed me from the beginning about these folks. I am not asking for even my own modest effort at self-examination, but I would like to see something. Some evidence of independent thought, some sign of participation in meaningful dialogue, some indication that we could find common ground in an agreed-on set of facts. But no. I’m willing to investigate the possibility that they are right, but they will not reciprocate, not even a little bit.

It’s been suggested that the Trumpers are examples of the authoritarian mindset. They want a strong leader who will tell them what is true and what to do. Okay, but how does this analysis help me? I don’t want anybody telling me what to do, and I would have thought that all the Libertarians in Trump’s camp might share that attitude. But they don’t, and I’ll be damned if I can figure out why. Two years into this phenomenon, and I am still no closer to understanding how it works and how it can possibly persist.

I don’t know, maybe I’m going about this all wrong. Maybe it’s not about facts and logic at all. To be intellectually honest about the views of Trumpers, perhaps I need to submerge myself in their mindset. Who knows? I might be missing something profound and meaningful. Maybe Donald Trump is a great man, and I am too hung up on “truth” to see it.

And maybe skunk butt is a rare delicacy.
Trump supporters are people who know what they believe.
~ JC, Bonny Doon