A Note on the Perils of Caricature

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.


Here’s a snippet from “Bernie Sanders in Trump Country,” airing tonight on the Chris Hayes show:

Bernie may not believe that, but an awful lot of people probably do. This is, obviously, one of the big problems with American politics right now: both sides over-respond to extreme caricatures of the other side. So at the risk of insulting you all with a really simplistic diagram, here’s the real world:

In every country, probably since the beginning of time, populations have lived on a continuum like this. Some people enjoy cultural change and look forward to it. Some are apprehensive of cultural change and resist it. At one extreme end you have stone racists and xenophobes, and at the other you have the Occupy Wall Street crowd.

But they’re actually a pretty small part of the population. Standard issue Republicans and Democrats are closer to the middle, and it’s just human nature that there’s a limit to how much change they can accept. If you push past that limit you’re going to run into political blowback.

I’d add that I suspect some of us are less open to change than we think. For example, I’d probably put myself at about an 8 on this scale intellectually. But emotionally I’m more like a 5 or 6. I’m a creature of habit, and not especially thrilled about exploring new and different places, but I’m not especially afraid of cultural change either.

In any case, my fairly obvious point here is twofold. First, both sides should try to respond to the standard issue folks on the other side, rather than pretending that they’re all represented by the loudest, most extreme voices. It’s easy to mount arguments against the extremists, but those arguments never actually persuade anyone. Second, we liberals should keep pushing for more tolerance of cultural change, but we should also recognize that lots of perfectly nice, perfectly ordinary people get nervous about it a lot faster than we do. That doesn’t make them bad people, it just means they’re a few notches away from us on the bell curve.

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate