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Futile Dialogue: What Would Socrates Do?

Despite years of Donald Trump’s un-presidential, perhaps even criminal behavior, many, if not most of his supporters remain unable and/or unwilling to recognize and condemn his flawed character and incompetence while continuing to maintain their “justifiable outrage” at being deemed “deplorables” by Hillary Clinton. Yet, though I have to admit moments of profound frustration and disillusionment, I am committed to remaining optimistic (at least somewhat), to looking for the best in people, and embracing the Socratic thesis that no human being does wrong intentionally but rather, as a consequence of ignorance or misinformation. 

As a philosopher in the Socratic tradition and educator, I recognize and accept my responsibility to engage in discussion with people of diverse social and political positions, the purpose of which is not to win arguments or to persuade others of my point of view, but rather, through give and take—dialectic—to seek truth from which we all can benefit. Such a process, to be successful, requires that interlocutors have an open mind, that they be free (as much as humanly possible) of bias and prejudice, that they be willing to LISTEN, to use and to follow reason, and, most importantly, to go wherever the argument leads.

Sadly, in political discussions with ardent Trump supporters, I have, in the vast majority of cases, found them unwilling and/or incapable, for whatever the reason, of engaging honestly and sincerely in such a process. When presented with information substantiating Donald Trump’s incompetent, vile, and erratic behavior, a common reaction has been to dismiss such occurrences as “fake news.” Even when confronted with Trump’s own words and video of his actions (“pussy” talk, demeaning the disabledengaging prostitutes, making unsubstantiated accusations against victims of police brutality, etc.), they ignore it completely, characterize it as “a regurgitation of ad hominem attacks,” something of which I have been personally accused, and/or excuse it by claiming that no one is perfect. Trump himself has arrogantly boasted about his Svengali influence over, and hence the “loyalty” of his supporters, when he noted that he could shoot someone in the middle of 5th Avenue and not lose voters.

These “supporters,” while claiming to be patriots and good Christians, are so stubbornly committed to Trump, that they are quick to demean any government/military official or religious leader, even former Trump officials and the Pope, who felt morally and patriotically compelled to speak truth to power. Even what has traditionally been regarded as the most sacrosanct of government agencies such as the FBI, CIA, and other intelligence agencies, in doing their job, have been discredited as agents of the deep state engaged in some conspiracy to “dethrone” him from power. 

I am confident that these observations regarding Trump supporters are not, as some have accused me, the consequence of political bias or an academic elitism. Nor am I trying to convince those who may have a different political/moral opinion that mine is the only correct way of thinking. Rather, my argument expresses my disappointment and dismay that otherwise seemingly intelligent and sincere individuals have, at least in the vast majority of cases, for reasons I have yet to understand, been so mesmerized by Trump and rendered incapable of critical thought, that they continue to enthusiastically support him even as he continues to make scientifically unsubstantiated claims about the deadly pandemic or boasts about shooting someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue.

While I will not allow our differences and my frustration to morph into disgust even hatred, sadly, my philosophical patience has been depleted, and I will no longer engage such individuals as continued dialogue is futile. As a consequence of this experience, however, I am inclined, sadly, to question the validity of Socrates’ intuition about humankind, possibly even my decision to dismiss Clinton’s characterization of Trump’s supporters.

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Common Dreams


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