Resistance, Yes. Cynicism, No.

A thoughtful and passionate contributor to the comment section of this blog wrote a response to my last post (“Paul Ryan And Sarah Palin Officially Usher In The New Year—1984“) that included the following statement:

We live in a nation so intolerably stupid that people actually look up to Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, Mike Pence, Jeff Sessions and yes, Sarah Palin.

Part of my response:

There are few people more distraught—and fearful—over what has happened to our country, with the election of the Orange Menace, than I am. As I have said many times, he is an existential threat. He is compromised. He is dangerous. And I will never recognize him as our legitimate president.

Thus, I want to scream at everyone I see driving a vehicle with a Trump-Pence bumper sticker on it and tell them how such a display is an advertisement for their stupidity. I want to knock on the door of homes still displaying Trump signs in the front yards and ask the people inside just exactly WTF is wrong with them. I am viscerally and visibly tempted to do such things to the point it scares my wife. But mostly I keep the worst comments to myself. I have never, in my writings during and since the election, referred to Trump voters, or the population who didn’t bother to vote at all, as “stupid,” intolerably or otherwise. Don’t get me wrong. I wanted to. I still do. I want to lash out that way. But whenever I go down that road of thought I get the feeling that it is counterproductive and morally perilous.

Sure, there are bigots and racists and sexists and xenophobes (the deplorables) who voted for Trump. In fact, there are more of them than even Hillary estimated. We can, and should, loudly call them what they are and attack them mercilessly. And there are some really affluent folks who saw in Trump a way to further enrich themselves, either through tax cuts or through other means. We should severely criticize and excoriate these people, as they will likely never see past their greed. And there are some religious zealots who championed Trump because they believe he is an answer to their apocalyptic prayers, who think God sent Trump to either restore fundamentalist Christianity to its “rightful” place or to usher in a deadly Armageddon. These folks should simultaneously be ridiculed and pitied for being poisoned by jihadist nonsense.

That leaves some really ignorant, low-information or misinformed working-class or poor people who would, reluctantly or enthusiastically, run over you on their way to the polls to vote for a man who would cut their economic throats for an extra dollar, a man who will, eventually, sign on to his party’s policies and “reforms” that will hurt those unfortunate people. The worst in me wants to write them off, wants them to get what they deserve for being duped by an obvious grifter and charlatan with more than one personality disorder. But I can’t bring myself to write off those folks or wish ill upon them. Ultimately, if I want to maintain my emotional ballast, if I want to remain morally stable, if I want to retain the highest ethical ground, I don’t want such people to get screwed by the man they ignorantly trusted. I don’t want them to get hurt, if20161008_132657 (2).jpg only for the simple and sound reason that so many similarly situated folks who didn’t vote for Trump would get hurt along with them.

This latter group of Trump voters I speak of comprises folks I grew up with in southeast Kansas, some in my extended family. Others are now my neighbors here in southwest Missouri. Some, for God’s sake, are in my labor union. I want to shake them and tell them how stupid they are. Alternatively, I get angry at their ignorance. I get pissed that they are so militantly pro-Trump and, more often, so militantly anti-Obama. Thus, I know the emotion you felt when you wrote about living “in a nation so intolerably stupid that people actually look up to Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, Mike Pence, Jeff Sessions and yes, Sara Palin.”

The difference between us is that I cannot unreservedly use the phrase “intolerably stupid” to describe that latter group of folks I mentioned. I want to, but if I did I would feel like I had given in to cynicism. And I believe cynicism is our biggest enemy as a nation. I believe cynicism will, if left unchecked, lead to the failure of our American democratic experiment. It may be too late already. I don’t know. But part of the fight against Trumpism is a fight against the temptation toward cynicism, toward disillusionment and distrust of democracy. An ancient Jewish proverb (found in early rabbinic commentaries on the Book of Genesis) goes like this: “Physician, Physician, Heal thine own limp!” It’s hard to command others to walk straight through this propaganda-filled, “fake news” world, if we ourselves are crippled by cynicism.

I want to quote something FDR said at the end of one of his Fireside Chats in April of 1935, right in the middle of the Great Depression:

W2014-12-19 14.16.57 (2).jpge have in the darkest moments of our national trials retained our faith in our own ability to master our destiny. Fear is vanishing and confidence is growing on every side, faith is being renewed in the vast possibilities of human beings to improve their material and spiritual status through the instrumentality of the democratic form of government.

There is no other way we can survive, as free men and women, except to keep “our faith in our own ability to master our destiny” and to believe that we can improve ourselves “through the instrumentality of the democratic form of government.” It is quite possible this faith is misplaced and useless. It is quite possible the “instrumentality” of democratic governance is broken beyond repair. If it is, what we say to each other doesn’t matter. But if it is broken but reparable, what we say to—and about—each other matters a lot. And that’s why I can’t join you in your cynicism, no matter how tempting it is to do so.

I have to believe that what plagues us can be fixed. After all, many more people voted against Trump than voted for him. I therefore hold on to the hope that the sickness we see around us can be healed. I cling to a tenuous secular faith that says we can be well again. And from an admittedly wobbly soapbox I will wage rhetorical war against the sin of Trumpism—itself infected with cynicism—without, in some special cases only, waging war against the sinners. I will be part of the resistance while resisting a deflating despondency. I will express my gloom without embracing democratic doom.

It’s a fine line, I admit. But for me at least, it’s good enough to get me out of the foxhole to advance the fight—and the light. Otherwise, the foxhole will become a grave—and the darkness will surely win.



  1. Well said, Duane, and I agree. Cynicism is one of those words that, to me at least, begins over the passage of time to acquire a fuzzy meaning. On looking it up I find its essence: self-interest. It is the inclination to believe that self-interest is at the heart of everyone’s motivations. I see a fine distinction between cynicism and skepticism, although even the dictionary seems to view the two as synonyms. Skepticism can be healthy. Indeed, I think it’s essential to a balanced mind and a happy life. But cynicism is destructive of cooperation and democracy.

    I recently listened to an interesting New Yorker pod-cast presenting an analysis of working-class motivations in the wake of the election. The reporter had spent a full year among small-town people in, I believe, Wisconsin. She found that self-interest was not the primary motivation in their minds for how they voted but rather something more complex, a cultural discontent with the status quo, a feeling of stagnation, and resentment of governmental fiat. People mostly vote their hearts and not their minds. Passion and personality beat economic analysis every time. The Democratic Party should learn from this.

    But what the heck, you’re welcome,
    Join us at the picnic.
    You can eat your fill
    Of all the food you bring yourself.
    You really ought to give Iowa a try.

    Provided you are contrary,
    We can be cold
    As a falling thermometer in December
    If you ask about our weather in July.

    And we’re so by God stubborn
    We can stand touchin’ noses
    For a week at a time
    And never see eye-to-eye.
    But we’ll give you our shirt
    And a back to go with it
    If your crop should happen to die.

    — From Meridith Wilson’s “The Music Man”


    • Jim,

      Perhaps I should have made the distinction clearer, as the two terms are often, as you suggest, used as synonyms. I have always seen the two this way: skepticism is an essential analytical tool; pessimism is akin to faith, albeit a negative faith. I like to quote C.S. Lewis, “to see through everything is the same as not seeing.” Pessimism is a way of not seeing anything. It is a crippling anti-faith. Blindness.

      As for what the Dems should learn from their loss-win in November, I couldn’t agree more that people, generally, are visceral voters. We wonder why working-class people vote against their own economic interests (not a bad thing in itself, if the cause is for something higher) and we attempt to appeal to them through things like complicated policy proposals and economic analysis that absolutely demonstrates they would be better off under Democrats than Republicans. In the end, a small minority in a handful of states ignored all that and decided the fate of the nation by voting for a dangerous fool who talked big and got their juices flowing, who stoked their fears and resentment, but who had exactly no understanding of policy or economics. Too many voters in crucial places ignored his ignorance in favor of his stance toward the “elite,” who, he said with bravado, were corrupt beyond control. Only “he,” one of the most corrupt people in the country, could fix the system.

      In any case, Democrats should not over-learn the lesson here. We did win more votes, after all, and a weird confluence of events conspired against her candidacy. And with Trump, especially since I believe he will sign off on a lot of Brownbackian policies that will eventually damage the country’s economy, we will two years from now and especially four years from now be able to appeal both to voters’ hearts and minds.  In the mean time, the mission of Democrats in Congress should be to make it as difficult as possible for those Brownbackian policies to pass, and when they do, shout from the housetops how bad they will be for the country. I can’t think of a better place to point to than my old home state of Kansas.

      As for the rest of us not in positions of power, we need to keep building on what is turning out to be a robust grassroots rejection of Trump and, more important, Trumpism. This is not an ordinary candidate, and what he represents is not, and cannot be allowed to become, within the norms of American politics.



  2. Duane — I so hope you are correct: that we may weather this disaster and the wreckage of democracy it will leave in its path. Much of the international community is already looking at us as traitors to our responsibility as a beacon of justice, fairness and hope. I admire your resolve. Hope is better than no hope? Perhaps.
    So many things have changed to insulate the new brownshirts from overthrow. They control the Press — print and electronic. They will soon control access to the internet — bye, bye net neutrality. They will control the Court(s). They will control more and more of Congress thanks to Citizens United. They control nearly all of the Church — and will use that and the tools listed above to crush any alternative religions, spiritualities or more Jesus-esque applications of Christianity. They will alter the history books (already happening in Texas) and develop an alternate reality for mass consumption. They have limitless resources to accomplish these tasks.
    The lazy, poorly informed, American voter has signed his own death warrant. The amazing success of voter suppression in Wisconsin and North Carolina will become the model for the new normal. I offer ZERO slack for the stupidity of people who can’t add 2+2 and realize how often their willingness to so obviously vote against their own self-interest is also a vote against their neighbor and against civility.
    And they will be coming for the opposition — what’s left of it. The NYT and WaPo are already in Trump’s thrall. Eichenwald is probably a dead man. And Krugman, Moyers, et al. This is Trump’s way. This is Pence’s way. These are not patriots advocating American democracy. These are fascists. How many opposition voices did Mussolini or Hitler allow? Exactly.
    They will make it impossible for Sanders, Brown, Warren, Merkley, etc. to gain re-election.
    They won’t kill us all, but we’d best be getting ready for a new sort of serfdom: the Party Faithful will manage. The rest of us will be no better than slaves. Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid will wither. The ACA — gone. Sarah Palin will finally get her “death panels” — and she may be appointed the chief arbiter. The protection of the poor will be moot — we’ll all be poor.
    Our “salvation” will come from whichever conglomeration of anti-American allies takes over the rubble of our demise. And that salvation will be of little comfort.
    Hide and watch. I hope I am wrong.


    • @ Generalist,

      Your dark vision reminds me of an excellent series we are watching on Netflix: The Man In The High Castle. It may be, I think, that the pendulum may swing far, but swing it must. Here’s hoping with you.


    • In politics, in our national life, hope is essentially worthless in individual isolation, or if it is limited to a handful of folks. Hope has to infect a wider swath of people, you might say the critical masses. It has to be part of any large and effective movement against Trump and Trumpism. Collectively, we have to hope democracy isn’t, in the end, self-destructive, as so many in history have predicted, and then we have to mobilize on the basis of that hope.

      We can agree on at least one thing when it comes to evaluating the American voter. Many are “lazy” and “poorly informed.” I’m not the biggest Noam Chomsky fan out there, but he got it right when he said Americans, ordinary people, don’t generally suffer from a lack of intelligence and analytical skills. They demonstrate such abilities in things like sports, where some people have a wealth of knowledge that boggles the mind and can analyze in considerable detail the many in-game complexities. Thus, for so many people, there is no excuse for their facile understanding of politics and political issues. They are poorly informed because they spend no time, in relation to the time they spend on sports analysis or celebrity worship or other things they are interested in, acquainting themselves with the issues and policy prescriptions that make for a healthy democracy.

      All of that is a mile away from stupidity, as far as I’m concerned. Yes, there are plenty of people who lack the cognitive skills to vote as informed citizens, I’ll grant you that. Those folks always have been and always will be part of a broad electorate in a democracy. But mostly people are cognitively capable of making good and decent political judgments. They are, though, often focused on other things because, for reasons I can’t fathom, they don’t think politics is important enough to invest much time in. They get lazy and rely solely or significantly on their pastors, their parents, their spouses, their labor unions, their bosses, their friends, their political parties, trends and feeds on social media, and so on. Probably more important than all that, they rely, as Jim Wheeler and others have suggested, on their guts, their uncritical impressions about this or that candidate. We can, if we are smart about it, use the ill effects of Trumpism as a way of getting more people to focus on the importance of being good citizens by paying closer attention to politics and getting better informed. Social media will be a big part of this effort.

      Thus, if we are to save our democracy, I don’t believe it is productive to focus on “stupid” voters or to broadly label those in the electorate who voted for Trump as having a “dark ages mentality.” We need to, as part of a “resistance” movement that understands how voters make decisions, keep working at appealing to both their guts and their minds. Some we will never convince, for sure. But some we will win over by feelings, by trying to understand their rational anxieties without excusing the irrational ones. Some we will win over by presenting policies and analysis, without claiming we have all the answers. It has to be a multi-front effort to fix what’s wrong with American democracy, and I confess it won’t be easy. Hell, it may be impossible. But we have to infect as many people as we can with the virtue of hope, and then get them involved in the resistance to Trumpism, clearly explaining that what Trump represents is incompatible with a healthy, thriving democracy and that Republicans in Congress are cynically using him to enact an agenda that will hurt ordinary, working-class Americans and the poor. Otherwise we know how this will end.



      • Patiently, fairly and inspiring put. I prefer your analysis to my own. “Hope burns eternal….”


        • Thanks, my friend. The problem is while I prefer my analysis to yours, too, the end you envision may be the more likely of the two. These are the times we live in.


  3. “The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who don’t have it”.

    This is attributed to George Bernard Shaw, and sounds like something he would have said. Basically, Shaw is pointing out the difference between skepticism and cynicism, and as Duane points out, that is a fine line to draw.

    I join this set of comments because I think that how we resist is equally as important as whether we resist. For me, the temptation to resort to the same tactics that Trump and his ilk use is powerful. I believe, though, that we must resist by modeling the behavior we want others to emulate. After all, if we use the same (despicable, to me) tactics the current crop of demagogues are using, then we have descended into cynicism, abrogating our belief that humans can be more than just “in it for themselves”, and “to hell with anyone else”. Do people behave that way? Of course they do, probably every day in some way or other. That’s not the point. The point is that each individual is constantly at war with themselves, in some kind of internal debate about what to do about the problem confronting them right now. Over the last several thousand years, maybe longer, that internal argument is being won more by the “kinder-gentler-do the right thing” side of our natures than by the “all for me, f*#k the rest” side. That’s one reason things are better now than they were 100 years ago, or 500 years ago, or 2000 years ago. (I think that science is the other major reason, making more time for this kind of thinking and activity by tapping sources of power beyond human and animal labor.)

    The passage from the Music Man is illustrative of a principle I believe is pertinent to our situation. The majority of people, when confronted with suffering or danger or injustice occurring directly in their sensory range, will respond in a helpful manner. Confronted with those same issues in a distant or theoretical way, the response drops (becomes less sympathetic) precipitously. I have experienced the situation when a friend or relative has been quite unsympathetic to my condition, only to comment later, when the same or similar thing happened to them, that they now understand what I was going through and that they regret their attitude. That goes back to the opening quote from Shaw, and should inform how we resist. Unsympathetic people are not necessarily evil or cold, they just do not see what more observant people see. We should figure out ways to help them see, not an easy task, I admit, but I believe the most effective one.

    Narcissists have a mental state that prevents them understanding the plight of others, because they are unnaturally preoccupied with their own conditions. Unless you are a skilled mental health professional, you have little chance of changing their behavior. Is that what Trump suffers from? I don’t know, but most people who want power for power’s sake have a narcissistic element in their mental makeup, if it is only that they believe they have the ability to make things better by themselves. I believe that “making things better” requires a team, a group, all with the same goal, working together. Individuals can lead those teams, but an individual cannot do it all themselves.

    I hope these comments help frame what the nature of resistance might be, and I hope that we can, as a group, make a difference.


    • Thanks, Michael. I found your thoughts quite helpful. It is very important how we resist and I am as guilty as anyone of going about it the wrong way. Trump has a way of bringing out the worst in all of us. I can’t promise the nature of my resistance will always live up to what I believe is the most effective way of fighting back, but I will do the best I can under the circumstances to come.



  4. Jodie Fund

     /  January 6, 2017

    “The utter contempt with which privileged Eastern liberals such as myself discuss red-state, gun-country, working-class America as ridiculous and morons and rubes is largely responsible for the upswell of rage and contempt and desire to pull down the temple that we’re seeing now,” Bourdain told Reason.

    “I’ve spent a lot of time in gun-country, God-fearing America,” he added. “There are a hell of a lot of nice people out there, who are doing what everyone else in this world is trying to do: the best they can to get by, and take care of themselves and the people they love. When we deny them their basic humanity and legitimacy of their views, however different they may be than ours, when we mock them at every turn, and treat them with contempt, we do no one any good.”


    • But somebody needs to say something when their dark ages mentality starts mucking up civilization. These people have allowed themselves to be exploited for decades by moneyed interests merely interested in their vote. Their ideas are so full of groundless fear and hatred of the other — and so barren of merit that we all are biding time until at last there aren’t enough of them to matter. They don’t get a pass or entitlement because they are lazy, racist cowards. Obama took care of them in spite of themselves. Now, their ignorance will take away their healthcare, their wages, their overtime pay, their clean drinking water, their rural hospitals, etc. No — they are responsible to the rest of the society they have just screwed over.


    • Jodie,

      Thanks for the link and the excerpt. Bourdain is an interesting fellow. And while I think we need to recognize that there are some really bad actors among the Trump legions, he does make some necessary points. I just don’t want to exaggerate Trump’s “win.” He lost among the American electorate overall. The message of Democrats should still be inclusive and progressive, even while finding ways to make that messagel more palatable to more people in the states that tend to decide our fate in the strange electoral college system.



  5. ansonburlingame

     /  January 7, 2017


    Any attempt by me to respond to these last two blogs and the comments thereto would be fruitless. I would be picking a fight and would never be able to describe how I really feel about our current State and Federal situations. When I tried to write a reply it was going to be too long anyway, so I deleted it.

    But then I glanced at the Turner blog and found this: “Emery: Changes in Missouri and Washington offer a new dawn for liberty”. Emery is a Tea Party zealot and state senator with whom I have tangled many times. I cringe when I read him touting such crap now.

    You spent the last eight years defending each and every Obama decision and railed against any and all things conservative written against Obama. Now you are on the other side, in the governmental minority railing against any and all people that were sick and tired of Obama and voted, essentially against four more years of that same pressure towards more and more socialism. You even headline now that you will never accept Trump as a “legitimate president” and include the Hitler-like picture of Trump to emphasize your view.

    I can only suggest that the continuing decline in America will continue, ever downward, until we the people can find a way to rid ourselves of the “dumb bell” politics about which I have written before. I don’t know how to do that and arguing with you won’t work either. I would just be accused as being the “right hand dumb bell” (or bigot, xenophobic, and the list goes on and on).

    You are now calling, essentially, for “barricades” to be raised in our streets. I hope you don’t succeed. However I will now not be surprised to see you and yours doing exactly that, violent protest against the things you don’t “like”.

    I can only say at this point that the WORST thing that could have happened last November was Hillary in the WH and full Dem control of both houses of Congress. Instead we got the second WORST thing, GOP control of WH and both houses of Congress. But for sure you and I will disagree on that point as well.



    • I gotta say, Anson, for a non-response — yours was really something. The need for bloviation always trumps restraint. Don’t feel bad. I get it. I have the same proclivity.
      No, sir. Trump and his sideshow were the worst things that could have happened. You are desperately seeking yet another false equivalency. I don’t blame you. The idea that you helped send the goon, Trump, to the White House has got to be an embarrassment — even for a dirty tricks apologist like yourself. But you, sir, will toe the party line like all the rest of the toadies ready to kneel before the Trumpian zipper.
      I almost believed a few — Collins, Flake, Graham — might stand up and do the right thing, but I forgot that if you compressed all the GOP moral fortitude into a single tangible object and put it in a matchbox it would rattle like a bee-bee in a boxcar.
      You can’t run away from this and claim the Donald is a better alternative to anything. Ok — maybe he would make a better President than Mike Pence. I live in Indiana and I can say from experience that Mikie has been a remarkably horrible Governor.
      The good news for “patriots” like yourself is that you’ll get a chance to see — up close and personal — how totalitarianism looks and works. And your boy will have as his mentor, his international political advisor-in-chief, his banker, his savior: Bad Vlad Putin.
      72% of eligible voters did NOT cast ballots for Donald Trump. It will interesting to see if enough of America’s version of “the resistance” will grow a pair — or if we’ll retreat to TV, pro sports and violent video games and pretend it will all go away.
      Democracy (not socialism — at least as compared to Europe and Scandinavia) vs Autocracy.
      The “rumble in the bungle” — tune in. It should be more philosophically brutal than Game of Thrones.


    • Anson,

      You sometimes mischaracterize my actions and you did so again. Let me address a big one, as far as I’m concerned:

      You spent the last eight years defending each and every Obama decision…

      No. I did not. It’s true my instincts are to defend Obama, since I mostly agree with him on the issues that matter. So it’s no surprise I spend a lot of time taking his side. But I spent some considerable time criticizing his dealings with Republicans over budget issues. It turns out, as far as I’m concerned, that I was right and he was wrong, at least in terms of how the public perceived the dysfunction in Washington, as demonstrated with the Trump Electoral College win.

      I find this no small matter. Republicans were successful in mucking up the government, a task they have been working on at least since 1981. In Obama’s two terms, their project got so far as to be effective enough for enough people to turn toward a fascistic buffoon and employ him to “fix” what is broken. The problem is that Republicans broke it and they will get rewarded for it, rather than punished. And Obama did not, I repeat: did not, do enough to make it clear that Republicans did break Washington and they did it on purpose. He said so a few times, but his protestations were much too muted and couched in too many careful phrases (like “Congress” instead of “Republicans in Congress”). This is why he is at least partially to blame for Democrats losing a lot of down ballot seats. (Democrats themselves did not yell loudly enough about the way Republicans were sabotaging good governance.) Obama could have campaigned a lot more aggressively, in my opinion, against Republicans in the off-years particularly, when much was at stake. And his reaction to the “shellacking” in 2010 was absolutely the wrong way to react. And I criticized him for it.

      As for your “socialism” charge, I have refuted it time after time and see no point in doing so again. You refuse to be persuaded with the facts, which is your prerogative. I can’t make you register the proper deductions; I can only provide you with the factual premises. Suffice it to say, if Obama is a socialist he had a funny way of showing it, and real socialists don’t much like him. But so be it.

      As far as me accusing you of being a “right hand dumb bell” or of being a bigot or a xenophobe, etc., I have never done the former and would only do the latter if merited. I obviously can’t control the reaction of others. But it is possible to express some bigoted opinions without strictly being a bigot and to express some xenophobia without strictly being a xenophobe, just as it is possible to express anti-Islam sentiments without being an Islamophobe. I try, when necessary, to make that fine distinction, although it is sometimes lost in translation.

      Finally, you are right that we won’t agree on whether Hillary with Democratic control would have been worse than Trump with GOP control. And this is where I remain most disappointed with your response and analysis. You continue to pretend that Trump is just a normal Republican and a normal Congress will be working with him. You are wrong on both accounts, but you are most gravely wrong about Trump. You continue to fail to see, despite his behavior both before the election and during the transition, that there is something seriously wrong with his brain. His reaction, for instance, to Meryl Streep’s criticism of him last night is just the latest example. He is a sick man. He is disturbed in ways I fear to contemplate. International leaders can see this and many are lining up to take advantage of his mental disability and instability. Most prominent among them, of course, is Vladimir Putin. I would think, given your background, that you would find Trump’s treasonous flirtation with and refusal to condemn Russian interference in our elections so appalling that you would be apoplectic. But, no. You seem to treat him just like he was an ordinary Republican.

      I don’t get it. And I suppose I never will.



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