I listened to Grant Hill being interviewed about being chosen for the basketball Hall of Fame this year. I always admired and liked him – the honor is much deserved. The interviewer turned to discussing what Hill is doing now, and what he might do in the future. He mentioned he might like to go into politics, and I groaned inwardly. I knew where the interview was going next. Most of that was all very standard and uninteresting. I tried to notice his skill, and charm, and willingness to at least try to understand different points of view rather than focus on…well, I already hinted that I’m not going to say. Hill talked with a concerned tone about people who had hard times in their lives, and were worried about jobs and their future, and how they were easily misled in such circumstances. He said it without anger. I have heard such things before, of conservatives being fearful of change, of clinging to their guns and religion – oops, sorry, that just slipped out – and so forth. It’s condescending without necessarily being sneering, or angry, or in-your-face accusing. It is clear that the speaker thinks of himself as trying to be understanding, empathetic, trying to see the other fellow’s point of view.
I thought conservatives don’t talk like this. I couldn’t think of an equivalent flowing in the other direction. A conservative might sound like this when talking about their child or some person they were fond of but disappointed in. Well, she went away to college, and she wanted to fit in, and she’s always been a compassionate person so she got involved in some causes… But more usually, a conservative will be more clearly angry and condemning about people’s reasons for being a liberal or voting Democrat, whether it is because they are single women, or government employees, or black/hispanic/native – or work in a field surrounded by mostly leftists. There isn’t a regretful sigh that it’s unfortunate but understandable. I did just think of another exception. Conservatives will sometimes talk like that about Hispanics having been frightened by the Democrats, convinced that Trump is going to send them all back to Mexico without warning or right of appeal. The anger is not directed at the voter so much as the political operatives and journalists.
It’s an open question which is worse. While anger can be necessary, anger can also be unnecessarily offensive, and in an angry time, people should at least be cautious. Being openly antagonistic isn’t going to win votes, though it may win applause from your friends. On the other hand, I think concern-trolling provides an inoculation against seeing oneself. In my imagination, you could tell an angry person “you are being unkind here” and you might get heard. Yet I don’t think the Grant Hill’s of the world will hear it if you tell them they are being unkind. At least, they don’t seem to have yet. (And not to pick on Hill especially.) They believe they are being kind. Didn’t you hear them?
I used to say “Conservatives make pronouncements. Liberals sneer.” I would like to back down from that a bit, but I do think it remains largely true. First, sneer is too strong a word. Condescend would be better, because it is along a continuum, and sometimes it is quite mild. My father-in-law, a kind and gracious Roosevelt Democrat, would sometimes echo the condescension he got from reading the Boston Globe and the materials the Democrats would forever be mailing to him. Yet he never came close to sneering. (The liberals on my side of the family are another matter – though with exceptions.) Secondly, I think this is blurring over the last thirty years. Liberals become the status quo in the culture and start making pronouncements, conservatives take on sneering more and more.
I relate this to another observation I have made about liberal and conservative protest and violence. Conservatives are defensive. When getting extreme they “hole up with their guns and dare Obama and the gun-grabbers to come after them.” Liberal extremists are more attacking, burning cars, pushing over statues, breaking windows, occupying somebody else’s space (as far back as the college dean’s office in the 60’s), defacing property. They are – or were – less likely to talk about doing damage to human beings. They confined themselves to objects, or to shouting in people’s faces. I fear that both self-limitations are breaking down. Those inclined to violence on the right are increasingly going out into public, those on the left inclined to violence are increasingly attacking humans.
The gross oversimplification is conservatives saying “This is how things are, and how they will stay,” while liberals say “No, we’re taking that down.” It is not only a difference in tactics, it is a difference in personality. Though it may be blurring, as I noted. I don’t have the feel for such things that I used to.
There has been some research on whether one’s personality drives politics, but as sweet as that siren song is, I have been suspicious from the start. Liberals are supposedly more open to new experiences, which fits the “conservatives fearful of change” stereotype. Yet when you look at what they measure, it’s mostly surveys that are begging the questions. Joining the military is a much more different experience than checking out the new Thai-Cuban fusion restaurant downtown. Becoming a missionary in a poor country is to experience more diversity than going to Reed or Oberlin. Thus, while I am offering some personality differences that I think hold for liberals and conservatives, I am also aware it could all be malarkey.
Cross-posted at Assistant Village Idiot.