MITCH BENN: Conservatives take a dim view of their supporters
PUBLISHED: 18:00 12 April 2019
Like Trump fans, Leave voters aren't dismissing themselves as less intelligent. It's their own leaders who think they're ignorant.
As active and vocal Remainers, we are often reminded of the importance of not yielding to the temptation of dismissing Leave voters as stupid or ignorant (and, moreover, of congratulating ourselves on our supposed intellectual superiority) if we’re to win over those Leave voters who may yet be brought into the Remainer fold, as we will need to should another Brexit vote be held.
This is all well and good, and I – and most of the professional and semi-professional Remain community – have tried hard to observe that rule (God knows it’s not always easy). But what are we supposed to do when it’s not us accusing the Brexiteer contingent of stupidity, but rather the Brexiteer contingent themselves?
Whenever there’s a communication breakdown between progressives and conservatives, the narrative is always about the failure of progressives to ‘reach out to’ and understand conservatives. Nobody ever suggests conservatives should try to reach out to or understand progressives.
In the USA right now, the early stages of the battle to find a Democratic candidate to (hopefully) unseat Donald Trump next year have produced a bewildering number of aspirants, and the debate already rages in the American liberal mediasphere as to which pretender has the best chance of ‘reaching out to’ the disaffected white suburban and rural voters who (one way or another) installed Trump in 2016.
The idea that the people who voted for a workshy, mendacious, gluttonous, narcissistic, race-baiting braggart and self-proclaimed sex pest might gain something from ‘reaching out to’ or ‘trying to understand’ those people who chose not to help elevate Literally The Worst Person In The World to the most powerful job on the planet genuinely doesn’t seem to have occurred to anyone, or at least no-one who’s saying it out loud.
Meanwhile, over here, we read every day about how it’s incumbent upon us Remainers to understand Leavers’ ‘concerns’, however baseless and imaginary those concerns may be. Nobody ever – ever – suggests that Leavers try to get their heads around our point of view, despite the fact that each new dawn provides yet more evidence that we were right about the whole Brexit thing being a terrible idea, and that those who trumpeted it as the cure to all the nation’s ills were lying, crazy or both.
The reason this intrigues me is that there seems to be a tacit acknowledgement – by conservatives – that it’s the responsibility of progressives to bridge the communication gap because progressives are smart enough to understand those they disagree with, and conservatives aren’t. “You have to address our position,” the conservative argument seems to go, “because we’re too dumb to address yours.”
What further intrigues me is that:
a) conservatives seem perfectly content to dismiss themselves as less intelligent, and... b) if this is indeed the case, somehow, encouraging smart people to think like less smart people is more desirable than the reverse. Why?
Of course, this isn’t the case. Just as neither side has a monopoly on patriotism or ethics, nor does either side have all the brains. Trump voters and Leave voters aren’t dismissing themselves as less intelligent, nor indeed are their political opponents. It’s their own leaders who think they’re ignorant, and want to keep them so.
The message the Brexit ringleaders (and Trump and his little helpers) send out to their supporters is not “Don’t consider the opposition’s point of view; you wouldn’t understand it”; it’s “You don’t need to consider the opposition’s point of view because you already know it’s wrong”. What they of course actually mean is “For God’s sake don’t look at the opposition’s point of view because if you do you might notice it makes a lot more sense than ours does”.
That’s why progressives aren’t afraid to consider the opposing position; we already have considered it, and found it lacking. That’s how we arrived at our position in the first place. I don’t know anyone who’s Remain because of some blind loyalty to, or ‘faith’ in, the European Union. By and large we’re Remain because we looked at our position in the union, realised that we had a peach of a deal and would be foolish to give it up.
Conversely, those Brexiters who are still Brexiters seem to have arrived at their pro-Leave position as a matter of faith, which is why they’re still Brexiters. Remember the posters? “Vote BeLeave”? Not “Vote Think”, not “Vote DoABitOfResearch”, just “BeLeave”.
It takes a lot of reality to shake someone from a faith-based position, but ‘a lot of reality’ is precisely what’s been bombarding the Brexiters of late. If polling data is anything to go by, as time passes, more and more Brexiters are, finally, coming to consider our point of view, whether their leaders credit them with the intelligence to do so or not.
Here’s hoping it’s not too late.