As a Christian and political conservative, I wince nearly every time Donald Trump opens his mouth. But the hyperbolic liberal knee-jerk fear reactions to Trump’s every stupid statement, and his “surprising” popularity reveal something interesting – that liberals, and many moderates, just don’t get conservatives at all.
The TEA Party: A History of Liberal Fearmongering
Supposed Racism and the TEA Party
As the Taxed Enough Already (TEA) Party grew in influence, and created a voter surge that brought a majority to both houses of Congress (previously only the Senate was majority GOP), liberals got freaked out and started demonizing the TEA Party. 1
They cried racism! But as a Washington Times poll showed, while 61% of TEA Party opponents viewed the TEA Party as racist, only 7% of TEA Party supporters thought race was a motivating factor. 2
I personally attended a TEA Party rally, and not only were there a few (too few) black supporters there, they were welcomed, praised and thanked for their courage to buck the slurs of Uncle Tom from liberals, and generally included without further regard for their race.
Fears of Violence and TEA Party Gun Advocates
If you ask me, open carry advocates go beyond the pale when it comes to the Second Amendment, but nevertheless, in open carry states, TEA Party attenders proudly displayed their right to carry a gun.
The problem for liberals? Except for a few minor incidents, no violence or shootings occurred.
They were partly right – because Second Amendment conservatives are willing to use their guns – but not in fearful racist or anti-government rage, but as a valid, principled, and last resort against government tyranny. Liberals fundamentally miss the restraining principles within the conservative mindset, and think we are going to act as they would. But we don’t.
Projecting liberal motives and methods onto the TEA Party
Here’s a very important factor in the liberal misunderstanding of conservative gun advocates. Liberals project their value hierarchy onto conservatives, and then fear what they see. And well they should, if conservatives shared their values.
But of the five public possible ethics values available (see footnote), liberals primarily value fairness and harm, while conservatives also value respect for authority, moral purity, and ingroup loyalty. What this translates to in real life is that: 8
1. Liberals overestimate the risk of conservative violence
because they fail to see the conservative respect for authority and moral purity, values which they themselves undervalue, comparatively. This respect restrains vigilantism and violence. Conservatives like a good fight, but they want a moral one, not just a rebellion against the powers that be. Liberals, however, when trying to view things from their value system, ARE more prone to violence, as the comparison of the OWS and TEA Party movements certainly shows. But the truth is, conservatives don’t think like that
2. Liberal approaches to the use of force are more pessimistic
in that they trust humans less, and so limit their freedom more in order to safeguard society. They believe that if everyone had a gun, we’d be the old west, with a shootout on every corner. They certainly would not want to ask people to develop virtues like self-control (not to mention chastity or modesty). And so when they see conservatives with guns, they jump to the conclusion that violence will erupt. Except it almost never happens (as it does at liberal gatherings where vandalism is a mainstay).
Conservatives stress responsibility and freedom (again, valuing moral strength), and so promote gun use for protection and insurrection. But they are not keen on insurrection, only as a last option. Those steeped in the ideas that brought the bloody French Revolution think revolution is nigh in these communities, but conservatives again have restraining principles and values that liberalism lacks. But they project onto conservatives their own value system, and so poorly evaluate the risk.
3. Liberals more severely misunderstand their political opponents
The research of Jonathan Haidt (see his Ted talk), the author of The Righteous Mind:Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion observed this:
The results were clear and consistent. Moderates and conservatives were most accurate in their predictions, whether they were pretending to be liberals or conservatives. Liberals were the least accurate, especially those who described themselves as “very liberal.” 9
The Jeffersonian Thread in the Gun Movement
The presence of guns at these rallies had nothing to do with racism or violence, but are a warning to liberals that we take our freedoms seriously enough to echo the founders in the Declaration of Independence:
With a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.
We are willing to die for our freedoms, and take the admonition of Jefferson to heart when resisting tyranny – and the initial tyranny of Britain over the US was merely about taxes and quartering soldiers, mainly, not anything as serious as disarming us.
It’s About Freedom and Disarmament
In the minds of conservatives, these two items fit together. When conservatives threaten to keep and use arms, they may seem like a danger to those on the liberal side of the fence. But that’s because liberals think that conservatives would be quick to violence (more like themselves, or socialist (leftist) dictators whom they admire). Don’t believe me? Listen to this short NPR interview with gun advocates on what they thought of Trump’s careless remarks:
Trump Guilty of “Stochastic Terrorism”?
Donald Trump made a remark that can clearly be interpreted as a veiled threat, or more precisely, a vague encouragement to gun advocates to kill Hillary, especially if she wins. This type of vague incitement can be called stochastic terrorism. 10
The liberal media is, as they often do, fleeing in a panic, again, misunderstanding what is actually going on in the minds of conservatives. 11
His remark was careless, but I do not think intentional incitement, though some edge crazies may take it that way – that is a real, if not slight risk.
Let’s not give Trump too much credit, but he may have actually been referring back to gun advocates last choice – as advocated by Jefferson – to overthrow the government if it the Trump campaign fails to attack the corruption.
He was more likely referring to the main principled motivation behind gun advocacy – protection from tyrannical governments, and a willingness to preserve freedom with the cost of our lives.
That is, he was making an inside joke to conservatives, who have no intent on killing the president (if Obama has survived all of the conservative hatred and supposed racism without an attempt on his life, perhaps we’ve overestimated the hate), but who understand that Trump’s campaign is in many ways a last ditch effort to break up the hegemony of corruption in our government. If that fails, we may be left with only Jefferson’s suggestion.
The bottom line here is that while Trump’s statements could be misinterpreted by fringe crazies (which makes his statement irresponsible), it’s not terrorism, nor it is incitement as defined by law (see Three Types of Aggression) 12
Trump is a loose cannon. In a nuclear world, that’s the last thing we need. But when he attempts to make a half-serious overture of understanding to gun advocates, he is not intentionally, nor actually encouraging the rank and file to kill Hillary. Because conservatives (unlike by comparison, liberals) have a respect for authority and law, there is no real conspiracy to kill Hillary that we have to be careful not to feed. This isn’t Islam.
- Electoral history of the Tea Party movement (wikipedia) ↩
- Poll of Tea Party perceptions (washingtonpost.com) ↩
- Black TEA Partiers Speak (theroot.com) ↩
- Blacks stand up for “tea party” (washingtontimes.com) ↩
- Over 2,400 Tea Partiers Arrested (dailysignal.com) ↩
- Occupy vs. Tea Party: By The Numbers (headcount.org) ↩
- *Updated* OccupyWallStreet: The Rap Sheet, So Far (breitbart.com) ↩
- Conservatives VS. Liberals (ethicsdefined.org) ↩
- haidt: conservatives understand liberals better than liberals understand conservatives (theindependentwhig.com) ↩
- Were Trump’s Comments ‘Stochastic Terrorism’? (merriam-webster.com) ↩
- Trump’s Assassination Dog Whistle Was Even Scarier Than You Think (rollingstone.com) ↩
- SERIES: Three Types of Aggression (wholereason.com) ↩