Reading a recent op-ed in this publication, published shortly after the election, I was reminded of how nice a break COVID-19 has given me from the sanctimony of academia. No amount of critical reserve should be expected from me in the context of the resentment expressed in the piece to which I am responding. In a particularly unsettling op-ed, Ali Kochik makes the explicit argument that if you are a Trump voter, then you are complicit in any alleged harm that Trump has done to the country. Not only that, but she also claims that expressing the idea that people should not be judged on the basis of their politics is manipulative.
Ironically, Kochik makes good use of the old manipulation method of lumping everyone who voted differently from her for any reason into the same category of “being explicitly or implicitly dangerous.” She writes, “When you filled in the bubble next to his name, you signed off and approved every abusive comment, action and decision he has ever made, or at the very least, you proved that it wasn’t an issue for you.” Based upon this argument, her main thesis is that “regardless of what others say, if you voted for Donald Trump, you contributed to the hate and violence that has been perpetuated by the Trump administration since day one. And people have every right to take issue with you because of that.” Kochik is responding to those of us who believe that there are far more important and interesting aspects of an individual than their politics.
I do happen to be one of these dreaded ones who enjoys the company of people if they are fun to be around, without a care for their political orientation. According to Kochik, however, people like me are actually actively engaging in “gaslighting” by discouraging judgmentalism. Let’s assume that this is one possibility. I am immediately suspicious of another possibility. Maybe people saying that “your politics don’t define you” do so because if it is true, then it is harder for them to justify personal disdain for others based on how they vote and interferes with their ability to nurture the idea that they are morally superior to people like me. If so, those who only consider who one votes for when making value judgments are perverting their own sense of tolerance and decency in the service of hatred for people who disagree with them. You don’t know me. You have absolutely no evidence that I am racist or sexist or homophobic or transphobic. But in your mind, you don’t even need evidence because the fact that I disagree with you on any political topic enough to vote differently from you makes me “dangerous.” I hope it is clear how pathetically cynical this attitude is.
Of course, I also can’t help pondering the possibility that people who believe politics define others do so because they find their own self-definition in their politics. If this is the case, it is relevant to observe that the focus of political activism itself is on the solution of problems via the conversion of the minds of others. This contrasts with the focus on the improvement of one’s own mind, which is much more difficult. The development of individual integrity is, by definition, apolitical, since it involves only the actions of oneself without requiring the approval of, or conformity with, others. For this reason, it may be eye-opening for you to consider that viewing others through the lens of politics is potentially symptomatic of an underdeveloped individual identity in the viewer.
I do not know Kochik. If I met her I would probably find her perfectly friendly. Reading her writing, I have no doubt she feels differently about me. I’ll stick with the idea that bewildering moral advice like Kochik’s is bewildering because it is not moral advice at all. It is rationalization of a preexisting, self-righteous dislike of others who think differently. Being able to judge oneself as morally superior to others is a deep pleasure, but it is not fulfilling in the long term. If I may give counter-advice, I believe it is wiser to judge people based on how they treat others, in their words and their actions, rather than which incompetent clown they think will be less harmful in office. But the only way for you to know which path is right is to try them both out in your life and see which one leads closer to the kind of person you want to be.
Brady Barley is a first-year student in WCU’s master’s program in general psychology. BB909044@wcupa.edu