Sunday, July 3, 2016

"The Asshole Friend": Why Trump's Supporters Will Put Up With Literally Anything

The Huffington Post reports:
If a candidate solicits big money from special interests, that candidate is on the take. Or so argued presidential candidate Donald Trump — the same Donald Trump who now, as the presumptive Republican nominee and despite that year-long stance, is nevertheless soliciting big money from those same special interests...

...A HuffPost/YouGov poll found that a full 64 percent of Republicans who had voted for Trump in the primaries reported they were “not bothered at all” by Trump reversing himself on accepting special interest money — even though 75 percent of those same Republicans had moments earlier said they were more likely to support a self-funding candidate. Only 3 percent said the new position bothered them a lot, while 30 percent said it bothered them a little.
Something strange is afoot, everyone is mystified, and I find myself eagerly raising my hand toward the front of the classroom, certain I know the answer.

One of my oldest musician friends is a serious hustler. He's a master of political maneuvering, and does everything in his power to make every single person he meets love him, freely doling out shoulder massages and kind words, cultivating the Mr. Warmth image required to get ahead. You can't actually count on him for anything, and he's actually pretty dark inside, but this is his shtick, and it works (he's a top guy, making good money). Most of his friends and colleagues are similarly full of shit. I, alone, am not (full of shit), and I've always been a great curiosity to him. For 25 years, he's been awed by my sincerity and honesty, while I've been awed by his indefatigable weaponized charm.

One day a couple of years ago, amid some trivial discussion, he decided I was posing somehow. I honestly don't think I was, but he was sure of it. His eyes lit up like roman candles and he created a scene in a restaurant, screaming "You are totally full of shit!" over and over, to my confusion and to the shocked horror of others at the table. I retraced my last few sentences, but there was nothing there, so it dawned on me he was saying that I'm full of shit just generally. Apparently, some veil was lifted. We've never spoken again.

Again, nearly all of his friends are impressively full of shit. Full-of-shittedness is no disqualifying factor for his love or friendship. But I'm the honest guy, so I can't get away with it. Not even the appearance.

If you're the honest guy, or the unselfish gal, or the "go-along" person, your relationships are forged around those roles. So if, at some point, you tug even just a bit the other way (or merely appear to), you will jeopardize your relationships. A wildly emotional friend who angrily tells you off can be tolerated, but a normally quiet, controlled friend doing the same probably won't be. It's a firing offense.

There's a steep social penalty for high-mindedness - for honesty, generosity, equanimity, and kindness. While assholes get tremendous latitude because they are what they are, the righteous must carefully watch their every move. And it scales. The more of an asshole you are, the more latitude you get (and the more high-minded you are, the less tolerance you receive).*

Donald Trump, to his supporters, is that asshole friend who says all sorts of crazy shit. You put up with his bigotry, his lying, his bragging, his nastiness, and his pettiness because that stuff is unsurprising, having been on display since day one. Those who've chosen to remain in a relationship with him chose, early on, to tolerate it. You don't fire your asshole friend for being an asshole.

* - That's why it's a time-tested negotiating strategy to cultivate an image as the biggest possible asshole, to stake out leverage. This, of course, is the famous "North Korea Strategy" .

This same counterintuitive effect is certainly at play for people who remain in abusive relationships. It's not necessarily a matter of dysfunction or self-destruction. Even healthy relationships require cultivating the ability to turn a blind eye, and to tolerate what's normally intolerable.

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