Sunday, July 3, 2016

Is Trump Smarter Than You?

Just a pretty face?

I was a teenager when I first started really questioning my Catholic upbringing. I was raised Catholic, went to Catholic schools, and all my life up to that point, I had really only known Christian people. Other religions were kind of a vague concept, and I hadn't had any real contact with atheists as far as I knew. So when I started to become convinced that there was no good evidence to support the Christian world view, the biggest obstacle I had to tackle was not the shift in beliefs, but rather the shift in how I viewed all of the people around me.

The situation, as I saw it, was that either I was somehow wrong, misguided, or misunderstanding something important; or that basically everyone that I knew and respected was mistaken about one of the most fundamental questions of existence. My family, my friends, my teachers, all the people I trusted and respected and had been learning from all my life would have to be wrong, and I was right.

What kind of arrogant teenager would see that situation and conclude, "Yep, they're all dumbasses and I'm the one guy who gets it"? What were the odds that I was special and different in a way that none of the the other people I knew were? Which was really more likely?

I struggled with that for quite a while. It was learning more about other religions, learning about the plentiful existence of atheists and non-religious people, and realizing that I had grown up in a bubble of one particular belief which made me able to reconcile this conflict. These days, with the internet, it must be much easier for a teenager to get access to the kinds of information needed to understand this issue, but for me at that time it was far from obvious.

Nevertheless, even though I now know that plenty of people have gone on the same journey that I did, the fact remains that most of the world's population still holds religious beliefs, and even with an awareness of billions of other humans holding strong, incompatible beliefs, they don't seem particularly bothered by the question, "why am I so certain that my belief is right and theirs isn't, even though I know I have no more evidence than they do, and I'm sure they are as certain in their belief as I am in mine?"

The most important lesson that I've learned from all of this is that there can be issues, often really big issues, that you can see people being very misguided about, but that doesn't necessarily mean they're stupid or ignorant. People can be very intelligent, highly educated, have a wealth of world experience, and yet sometimes they can still believe things that are just plain wrong.

So what does any of this have to do with Donald Trump?

Ever since Trump announced that he was running for US president, I've seen people constantly underestimate his appeal, and assume that only an idiot would support him. They are quick to point out the ridiculous policy proposals he's made, and have assumed that only an uneducated stupid person could want that person as the president.

And yet he has kept defying expectations. The constant predictions that he would lose popularity and be out of the race keep being wrong. Each outrageous thing that he says gets called a blunder that will be his undoing, and somehow his popularity grows. "Are there really so many stupid people in America?", is what commentators keep thinking.

But what if Trump knows something that you don't? What if, in at least some way, he's smarter than you?

What if he has recognized the untapped anger and frustration of a lot of people in the US, and is speaking to that in a way that no one else is? People will forgive, overlook, and excuse all manner of bad behavior if they think there is a base understanding of their frustrations and beliefs.

If that sounds unconvincing to you, consider that the worst thing to happen to the US in the last 15 years isn't any kind of terrorism, but rather the financial crisis of 2007 and all of the damage that was caused to regular Americans as a result. Consider that fundamentally nothing has been changed to stop something like this from happening again, and, in fact, the banks that were involved and largely responsible for this are now even bigger than they were at the time. Now, take the knowledge that Hillary Clinton is deeply in bed with these very companies, and no one actually expects her to make any of the necessary changes to fix these problems. How many people do you see asking how anyone can possibly support Clinton when she has the effective policy of allowing a massive banking crisis to potentially happen again, and to make no efforts to hold anyone on Wall Street accountable for the damage that they've done?

And let's not even get started on the lack of any real policy to stop the killing of innocent people by drone assassination, or holding anyone accountable for the illegal torture of prisoners that the US government tried to cover up but has since admitted to. How could anyone vote for this person? The answer is that they find excuses to overlook these things because they feel that she overall represents their views.

Sure, there are plenty of uneducated people who are going to support Trump for bad reasons, but it's a mistake to think that these are the only people who support him. As I have learned, to understand why people hold religious beliefs, you have to accept that some of these people are intelligent and well educated, and then ask why that person holds the beliefs that they do. It doesn't mean that they are right, but you can't effectively counter something like this until you understand why it could be appealing and convincing to an intelligent person.

And so it is with Trump. Accept that there are intelligent, educated people who are supporting him, and then try to understand why. Until you know that, you really have no idea how many people are actually going to vote for him.

(Note: to clarify, I'm neither a fan of Trump or Clinton. I think they're both bad in very different ways.)