What is it that Trump has done, when looked at through the lens of compassion?

Trump has nurtured a paranoid false reality in which people are helpless victims of a Hostile and Malevolent State. He has maintained and occupied this Alternative reality for enough time, and convincingly enough to drag other people into paranoia with him. Trump has, for four years, held the biggest megaphone in the world. As a result, he has been able to convince most of the people who could be so convinced. These people now number possibly in the millions.

Do they react when he points to the source of their imagined dangers? Are they scared of the people he tells them are dangerous? Of course! It doesn’t matter what else you think of them, they are a terrified group on the brink of panic.

To be clear, panicking groups are extremely dangerous! And this one has been driven to the exact sort of extreme reactive state that you would expect from any panicking group. What we have in this nation is a crisis, manufactured on the foundation of people’s own fears. There are at least thousands of people who have been made so scared they are willing to risk the violent response we saw from the police all last year on nothing more than an indication from Trump that they might possibly be able to do some non-specific thing about the imaginary Evil State.

This fear has been building for many years now; the only thing Trump did was to make it salient enough that people might actually act on it. The panic recently reached a peak on January 6th. It ends when we identify the real fears and concerns that allowed Trump to take advantage, and we solve or dissolve them.

The State will not do this work for us. It will be too concerned with protecting itself against the insurrection; working against the possibility of another event like the one that desecrated one of its most sacred spaces and threatened the safety of its members. It will act to punish somebody - anybody - as an example of what happens to Traitors and Insurrectionists, though its ability to act against Trump himself is extremely limited. We cannot depend on the State to cure this disease of fear.

Corporations have begun to help. Finally acting after years of pressure from people who have noticed the problem and worried about its spread, Twitter and Facebook have taken steps to protect the general population from Trump's dangerous delusions, such as they are able. The State cannot take such actions, bound as it is to respect Freedom of Speech. We are lucky in this case that corporations have no such principles, though they failed to act early enough to prevent tragedy.

If we continue to allow events to take their course, we may find ourselves in a civil war. There are two fronts on which we must act to prevent this.

To the State, we must make it clear that we expect compassion for those who have been driven to violence by Trump's paranoid delusion. Write your representatives in Congress (both House and Senate) and demand a tempered response to the failed coup. They should act to defend the State, of course. And they must also remember that they are dealing with people who are terrified that the State is a Hostile and Malevolent Force that will stop at nothing to crush it's enemies. Those whom the State labels Insurrectionist are by others labeled Patriot. That last will become Martyr if these people are not handled with the most obvious possible care and consideration for their humanity. Even Trump deserves this much! The State often refers to us as Constituents. Since we constitute a part of the state, we are partly responsible for its actions. Work to make sure you can be proud of that.

To our neighbors, many of whom had a bad 2020, many of whom have long been frightened of the Corrupted State, many of whom are shocked and appalled by what happened on January 6th, many of whom found that event hopeful... To all our neighbors, we must listen. Learn what they love and value. Learn what upsets and frightens them. Learn what makes them angry: anger is a tough front for softer feelings of distress, usually fear. Fear can only grow alongside love (clarification). Don't tell them they are wrong when you disagree with their conclusions! Tell them you "hadn't thought about it like that", or "always saw that a bit differently" and ask if you can share your honest and thoughtful view on the topic. Tell them that you "can totally see where they're coming from" when that becomes true. Use "yes, and" more than you use "but" or “no”. Show them that you value their opinion, their perspective, even if it differs strongly from yours. Show them that you value them as people, neighbors, friends, and even allies.

Then the healing can begin.

This post came to me after consideration of another. Thank you, Impassionata.


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27 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 4:44 PM
Fear can only grow alongside love.

This part didn't sound quite right.

Great piece, btw. There were parts I disagreed with, but it was interesting to read your perspective.

Thanks, Pattern!

Yeah, that sentence came out a bit poetic. I feel like it would have broken the tone to say something like, "In neurotypical situations, fear comes from clinging to an object that someone holds dear, and anticipating that object's loss", though. Maybe there's a middle-ground way to express it?

With that explanation, it makes sense. So you could link to your comment above, or perhaps something like:

"Fear can only grow alongside love. (We fear losing what we love, after all.)"

I don't believe that a substantial portion of Trump supporters would see people who are put into prison because of being charged with treason for attacking the United States Capitol as martyrs or heros. There's room for a bipartisan consensus that attacking the United States Capitol is wrong and should be punished by law.

The rule of law should be the prime driver of the reaction towards violence whether it comes from Trump supporters or Antifa.

I mostly agree! I just don't have an awful lot of confidence that the state won't over-react and do something stupid to these people. Their fears there are not entirely unjustified, I'm afraid: the US has a history of messing up criminal justice pretty badly.

I have already heard people "in the wild" referring to those who broke into the Capitol as Patriots, though. That's just one step from Hero.

Solid work.  

I think that there is one implicit assumption of yours to examine closer, and that is that the State will be especially vengeful or overly punitive.  Most of the punishments that will befall the various rioters are described in advance by law.  

The State in America is a lot more thoughtful and powerful than to make martyrs so casually.  

Those whom the State labels Insurrectionist are by others labeled Patriot.

From a certain point of view this (false) label is the Foreign State.  

Trump will likely be jailed for life.  Without Trump the alternative reality will collapse and subside.  Those who believed in it will stay quiet for two years and then pretend nothing of 2016-2020 ever happened.  

Healing won't happen through conversation, for the most part, because people aren't that good at admitting they were wrong.  Primarily this is done just by dropping the subject.  

The State will pave over this entire thing so deftly it will be as if it never happened.  That is the total power of the State, because the State operates through a much longer timeframe than individual humans.  


To be clearer, I agree with the spirit of your words urging healing, but I believe that the reality is that none of us on the Internet have the neighbors that matter.  I certainly don't.  Even the Trump supporting contacts we do have are likely somewhat atypical!  

if you renege on the social contract that has logical consequences

I'm not sure what you think I'm getting at here, but I was talking about being friendly and opening a dialogue with the people around us with different political alignments. I'd hardly call being a friendly and compassionate neighbor "reneging on the social contract"!

If you think there won't be bipartisan support for whatever revenge comes...

Of course there will be support! We need to urge restraint to reduce the chances of something terrible happening to these human beings!

Trump didn't make this dissent, how did he get elected in the first place if the will wasn't there?

Agreed. That's why, even in the event that the State outright disappears him off the face of the planet, we still have work to do.

Nothing has been altered about the underlying issues so why would their surface presentation get any better?

They won't if we don't have the will or the courage to do anything about it. Reach across that divide!

Firstly, I'm replying to a comment by Impassionata...

I could make a similar claim, but this is a public forum last I checked.

... who I consider antisocial at best.

I'll thank you to keep your opinions to yourself regarding my other interlocutors.

explain to me why I should care about anyone's feelings and esteem

Because doing so aligns with a principle of avoiding unnecessary harm, for a start. Also because it facilitates better communication when you are making an effort to avoid creating more animosity.

There is literally nothing I could ever say to you that will cause you tangible harm.

You, who have read so much history, believe that words cannot cause harm? That's an interesting conclusion.

Ignoring that animosity is a fundamental aspect of this particular conversation

I don't think existing animosity should be ignored. It's very important to acknowledge all the conditions when participating in any conversation, if at all possible. Rather, we should work to avoid creating new animosity, partly for the sake of communication and partly to avoid being even partly responsible for the harms that come to others as a result of our words. We likely won't be successful all the time, because wise speech is hard to do. But, like with everything else, the surest way to fail is to not try at all.

Moreover, I find that the exchange of ideas meets less friction when I try to not antagonize others. That's the goal of conversation, is it not?

This is a public forum, but it is also threaded

You're right; I hit reply from the notification without checking. My bad.

Without Trump the alternative reality will collapse and subside.

I hope you're right about that! And I hope the State will treat its citizens better than others it labels Terrorist. I've heard Guantanamo isn't a great place to be. That aside, Trump only used and amplified existing fears and divisions, he didn't have to invent any of it. Those long term issues are what we need to work on.

Healing won't happen through conversation... the State operates through a much longer timeframe than individual humans.

We can operate on longer time frames by getting better at conversation, at admitting when we're wrong, and by acting as though our actions can have a small but lasting cumulative effect. If we don't even try, then you're definitely right. If we do try, there's a chance we could do better.

The State will pave over this entire thing so deftly it will be as if it never happened.

Here, I think we fully agree. I can't wait to see how history books treat this in a decade or two!

Remember how I said there is more than one reality?

If you believe there is more than one reality I think you have become confused.  Notice your confusion.  

The Cave explains that there is only one reality, but that your perception is limited. I actually think that is an extremely apt parable.

The people who supported Trump did so because they're not driven by care based morality, but by justice based morality. This is a typical left/right split. This is the difference between the swaddling mother and the protection of the patriarch.

the worldviews are irreconcilable at this point

Remember how I said there is more than one reality?

"Correspondence bias (also known as the fundamental attribution error) is the tendency to overestimate the the contribution of lasting traits and dispositions in determining people's behavior, as compared to situational effects. We might see someone kicking a vending machine, and conclude they're an inherently angry person. But maybe they just failed a test, had their driving license revoked, and had the machine eat their money for the third time this week. We think of the other person as an evil mutant and ourselves as righteous actors."

They're still people, Stuart. They still deserve as much dignity and respect as you and I. These happen to be scared people. There are ways to handle scared. If we don't even try to de-escalate, then we've already failed.

I don't have to worry about bias here when it comes to my own ideological framework.

That's an extremely worrying statement. I strongly suggest you examine it closely.