Why have so many American leftists spent the last nine years dunking on Donald Trump’s supporters instead of seeking to understand them? With Trump likely to become the Republican nominee in this year’s US presidential election, it’s a question worth asking.
In many online spaces, Trump supporters are routinely dismissed as cult members and white supremacists consumed with misogyny. In the best case, the idea goes, they want to take America back to the 1950s. In the worst case, they want to demolish our liberal democracy altogether and replace it with either fascism or theocracy.
Of course, there are radicals and bigots in all political movements. But the idea that these intellectual pathologies extend to Trump’s entire voting base is inaccurate and unhelpful. Moreover, these attitudes only seem to further energize Trump’s supporters, who’ve come to believe (not unreasonably) that they’re despised by American “elites.”
In his 2012 book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion, social psychologist Jonathan Haidt argues that our moral reasoning rests on six foundations, which he categorizes as (1) Care/Harm, by which, for instance, we seek to avoid a child’s suffering; (2) Fairness/Cheating, which causes us to hope that someone who cheats at,…