Russian Orthodoxy treasures the yurodivy, or “holy fool,” an ascetic who behaves in ways that seem insane to normal people, but who, in so doing, reveal Christian truth. The New Age guru and Democratic presidential candidate Marianne Williamson is not a holy fool according to the usual definition, but I can’t help thinking that to some extent, she’s playing that role. We all love to laugh at her, because she is something of a kook … but she’s onto something important about us.
In last night’s Democratic debate, Williamson spoke of the “dark psychic force” of “collectivized hatred” that Donald Trump draws up and exploits. Here’s the clip:
I know: ha ha, what a ding-dong! But she’s not wrong, except in that she pins this entirely on Trump. David French says that yes, it’s obvious that Trump stokes and weaponizes this stuff. But in pointing out that the other side does too, French — an original Never Trumper — is not trying to whatabout the discussion. He writes:
At the risk of incurring Williamson’s wrath by getting a tad wonky, there is a nerd term for Williamson’s psychic force. It’s called negative polarization, it’s rampant, and it’s used to rationalize and justify all manner of excesses and outrages. Essentially, negative polarization means that individuals are drawn to their political party or faction primarily out of a spirit of opposition. They hate the other side more than they love their own.
As I’ve written many times before, the evidence of that hate is everywhere — especially in America’s most politically engaged citizens. A recent study documented some rather alarming statistics. For example, “42 percent of the people in each party view the opposition as ‘downright evil.’” A stunning 20 percent of Democrats and 16 percent of Republicans believe “we’d be better off as a country if large numbers of the opposing party in the public today just died.” And if the opposing party wins the 2020 election, 18 percent of Democrats and 13 percent of Republicans “feel violence would be justified.” A More in Common survey found that 86 percent of Republicans think Democrats are brainwashed, 84 percent think they’re hateful, and 71 percent think they’re racist. The Democrats were even more disdainful of Republicans — 88 percent think Republicans are brainwashed, 87 percent think they’re hateful, and 89 percent think they’re racist.
Each side has its own narrative — pointing to real incidents and real bigotry — that justifies its increasing disdain. And don’t think for a moment that this is a phenomenon that started with Trump. Pew Research Center data from 2014 shows an astonishing rise in polarization even before Trump. Republicans and Democrats not only grew further apart ideologically, they hated each other more. The percentage of Americans holding a “very unfavorable” view of their political opponents more than doubled between 1994 and 2014, on both sides.
The Left (so far) has not produced a national politician as capable of embodying and mobilizing negative polarization as well as Trump has. But it will. It does so very, very well in other areas. I don’t think there’s much value in arguing over which side is more guilty of it than the other. But here’s a very important point made by the black scholar Glenn C. Loury today, who laments the Democratic Party’s embrace of the racist Al Sharpton. Loury reminds his readers that Sharpton is unquestionably an unrepentant anti-white, anti-Semitic hater who has led racially charged, violent mobs. Why would the Democrats suck up to a devil like Sharpton (presidential candidates Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, and Elizabeth Warren all tweeted favorably about Sharpton when Trump attacked him last week)? Loury writes that Barack Obama brought Sharpton in from the fringes:
In short order, Mr. Sharpton became a political kingmaker. In 2011, he got his own show on MSNBC. Between 2009 and 2014 he’d visited the White House 61 times. All of this has left the Democrats joined at the hip with an exemplar of failed black leadership.
The second reason Democrats have rushed to Mr. Sharpton’s defense is South Carolina. Given the critical importance of that state’s early primary election, and the crucial role the black vote is sure to play in that contest, Democrats running for president have had to kiss Mr. Sharpton’s ring — and cover his derrière.
The third, and most powerful, reason is that Mr. Sharpton now has the right enemy: Donald Trump. Democrats seem unable to do two things at once: condemn Mr. Trump and refuse to defend ideas and people that are not worthy of being defended. Instead, anything he criticizes, however plausible that criticism, becomes something they feel compelled to rally behind.
This is a losing strategy. Progressives have been bluffing on the race issue for years now: downplaying black-on-black urban violence, ignoring the polarizing effects of racial identity politics, maintaining a code of silence on the collapse of the black family and more. Mr. Trump knows it.
There is a certain satisfaction in watching Trump, who is as shameless as Sharpton is, put the Democrats in the position of embracing Sharpton, because they refuse to see any enemies at all to the Left — even a racist grifter like Sharpton.
But let’s not fool ourselves: Trump, like Sharpton and his identity-politics-besotted enablers in the Democratic Party and the left-wing establishments, are trafficking in “dark psychic forces.” For years in this space, I have warned that leftist identity politics are summoning demons. So is Donald Trump. People like to say that it’s too bad Tom Wolfe has died, and isn’t around to chronicle the identity-politics insanity of 2019 America, but it’s becoming clearer that what’s going on isn’t really something that satire can deal with appropriately; we need a new Dostoevsky.
I strongly urge you to watch the first 50-minute episode of a six-part 1980s-era British television documentary about the Spanish Civil War. This episode explores the roots of the war, which broke out in 1936, but which started, in effect, in 1931, with the declaration of the Republic. This is what happens when negative polarization consumes a society. At the 33:20 mark, a former Nationalist army officer says that he wasn’t political, but conditions had reached the point where peace was no longer possible — that Spain had reached the point where “we couldn’t stand each other.”
Along these lines, Hannah Arendt tells us that cultivating hatred of others was key to the success of 20th-century totalitarianism. Put that way, it’s a banal observation, but when you read Arendt, you see how totalitarianism — a system in which dissent is impossible — requires unifying people through hatred of the Other. Orwell understood this principle well. In 1984, the totalitarian state keeps everyone in line by stoking their rage at Emmanuel Goldstein, and also external enemies. This is standard operating procedure for totalitarian societies. Last night, an immigrant from the former Soviet Union told me:
The policy of Soviet government was that America was our enemy, our deadly enemy, and that capitalists and Westerners in general hate us. While we are a very peace-loving country and we want nothing but world peace, Westerners hate us so much that we have no choice but to hate them too.
There you have it. How far are we from that? While we are a very peace-loving party, and we want nothing but peace and justice, the Other Side hates us so much that we have no choice but to hate them too.
Dark psychic force? You’d have to be a fool not to see it. And you’d have to be completely self-deceived to think that only one side has a monopoly on it. I get extremely nasty comments all the time here on this blog — comments that none of you ever see, because I spike them. There is no difference at all in the vitriol from extremists of the left and the right. I believe the capacity for this kind of hatred exists within every human heart. What we are losing is the sense that it is a destructive passion to be resisted.