Lincoln on understanding Trump’s supporters

Saturday, July 30, 2016

5: 10 a.m. All right, Mr. Lincoln. The week is over, and the possibility of a physical repeat of 1968’s days of rage is averted. But it is not much clearer to me how this is going to shake out. I have friends accusing me overtly or silently of sexism because I cannot sign on to the Clinton agenda and see no reason to trust the machine that just stole the nomination. I see the usual easy almost casual hatred and contempt coming from all sides, aimed in various directions. So, your further comments, please.

Again, begin with your second-hand knowledge of the effect of psychological pressure on people’s reactions, as you mentioned to your friends yesterday.

I said that a thinking type under stress reverts to the undeveloped end of feeling, and a stressed feeling type reverts to the undeveloped end of thinking. That’s as I understand Jung’s description, anyway.

You are trying to sense what the situation is, which is quite enough without adding the question of which way the cat will jump. If you will focus on the little you can know, it will go better.

I get the reference. You allowed yourself to be guided by events rather than try to shape them.

But that was not drift. It was learning the currents so as to see where I could insert my paddle. That is the art of practical politics, after all. But my practice is just as practical, just as useful, for those of you who are in no position of leverage.

I’m getting, our mental influence is being exerted, willy-nilly, and could be more effective and less negative if focused consciously. But I don’t know if that’s right.

Of course it is right. What is “public opinion” but the net of private opinions?

This is almost too complex to grasp. I can feel myself failing to grasp complexities.

Stop clinging to the “talking to Mr. Lincoln” idea and revert to the more generalized “talking to the guys” idea, and you will find yourself less constrained, because even though you don’t mean to impose your own structures on the communication, your expectations are setting up implied cross-currents. The aspects of Mr. Lincoln or Dr. Jung or whomever that will be useful can always enter (from either end of the conversation) when desired.

Okay. So then, whoever is on the line, proceed in your own way. What is most helpful for us to remember, today and in this election year and going on?

First understand. This can be done by responding rather than reacting, although your initial reactions will help you understand your response and will help you shape your conscious, chosen, attitude. Any fall into automatic irritated or angry or fearful reaction will stop (for the moment) the process of adjusting to what is, by overwriting what you want.

Just as anger is a blocked wish, so reaction is a suspension of new understanding?

Somewhat like the saying that you can’t learn anything by talking rather than listening.

Except sometimes we learn what we think by explaining it.

That could be described as listening to your inner voice, in the spaces between your words. But if what you are saying is reaction, is automatic (hence unconscious) rather than reasoned and hence conscious, the very most you can learn is what you are feeling. And, the less distance between your automatic reactions and your conscious observation of that reaction, the less there is for you to learn. It’s simple enough in concept, not so easy (rather than simple) to put into practice. You observe without preference. That is the very first thing. If you can’t do that, you won’t get very far.

We all have preferences.

Of course you do. But you don’t have to always see exclusively through the lens of your preferences. If you do, you can’t gain much real understanding of what is going on. You will mainly gain additional ammunition for your outrage, or your discontent, or your satisfaction, depending on which is uppermost. You won’t get additional data.

I have been trying to get inside the heads of Trump supporters, but I don’t get very far. I get the resentments of so many changes, of so continuous pressure of society in directions they despise. I get the outrage to certain bedrock values. But it is usually expressed amid so much anger and really ugly contempt – it’s hard not to be repelled. But I do remember my session with Hemingway a while ago (I suppose you are prompting me) and I’ll add it here as I transcribe.

[I did find it in the text of Afterlife Conversations with Hemingway, but it’s long enough that I’ll post it separately.]

The thing is, though, I can’t really get the Trump supporters’ emotional base from inside, because it is funneled through media distortion or the individuals’ own angry contemptuous outrage or cold disdain. People don’t argue on Facebook, they shout, or they curl their lips. Implied always is, “You don’t see things this way because you’re stupid or you are corrupt.” So it’s hard to get inside another view. Naturally, I don’t mean only Trump supporters. I mean pretty much everybody. It turns a potentially positive medium of exchange of viewpoints into a shouting match.

Have you tried to discern the fault-lines between Trump supporters and Republicans in general?

You know I haven’t. My impression is that they are just more extreme than the rest of the legacy of Ronald Reagan.

Which of course is a well-thought-out response on your part.

 Very funny. It is shorthand, as you well know.

It is shorthand that prevents you from seeing farther. So that is one area for you to explore, if you care to learn the differences. No Republican luminary likes Trump, yet the rank and file preferred him overwhelmingly. Does that tell you something?

Of course it does. Bernie’s supporters would have done the same if the process hadn’t been successfully rigged against him, and them. It was an insurrection of the rank and file against those who think that they are the ones who count, that they know best, that they should make all the decisions while the rank and file shut up and vote for them when required and otherwise do not participate. Bernie’s insurrection had to be suppressed because he wanted it to become a real revolution in how things were decided within the Democratic Party. Trump’s could be allowed because it was merely an expression of resentment, except it got out of hand.

We haven’t gotten to the Democrats, but your hour is gone. We can continue when you are ready. But meanwhile keep in mind the difference between reacting and responding. It has nothing to do with self-expression and everything to do with understanding, and the deepening of understanding.

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