There’s a great George Carlin bit (a – I repeat myself, b – aren’t they all?) about driving, where George explains that anyone who drives slower than you is an idiot and anyone who drives faster than you is a maniac. This bit came to mind this morning, as I digested the social media shares and comments from friends and acquaintances of various political stripes.

Specifically, 16 months into the Trump term, I’ve mostly figured out where those friends and acquaintances lie on the Trump spectrum. Some lie within a band that’s the equivalent of people driving the same speed as me i.e. we view Trump similarly. There are some disagreements on this or that point, but that’s like being among drivers who drive pretty much as you do. Call that the “sane” band, for now – and yes, I recognize that in this context “sanity” is merely a construct/shorthand for “people that I agree with or can have civilized disagreement with.”

The rest exist outside the sane band. If you’re me, obvious ones are the “Trump is a champ who can do no wrong” crowd, the Trump-Deranged, the sky-screamers, and the NeverTrumpers who wouldn’t give him credit if he parted the Red Sea. These are Carlin’s “idiots and maniacs.” You can decide which is which, but it doesn’t really matter.

What’s the point of this? That, in Trump’s second year, we continue to sort ourselves into various bands of like-mindedness. That, those bands aren’t simply limited to Yea or Nay on Trump. That, those bands have granulized, i.e. there are more of them and each one is tighter than it used to be. And, that, we’re growing increasingly intolerant of those who are refusing to understand that we’re correct, having either been right all along or having “come around” to our current point of view. It doesn’t matter where we reside on the political spectrum, because we are the sane ones and everyone else is an idiot or a maniac. Yes, this is tongue-in-cheek, and it’s certain that some of those idiots and maniacs regard me the way I regard them.

Civilized disagreement is the casualty here. Cognitive bias urges us to hold fast to our original positions, even as conditions and information change, and even as events unfold and provide us with new data. Fewer of us appear open to processing a new development without filtering it through our established opinions and conclusions regarding Trump. We seek out “aha” stories that validate our position, and spike them in each other’s faces. As we do so, we essentially declare that we don’t care about swaying those who don’t agree with us to our opinion any more, choosing instead to knock each other down.

There are exceptions, of course, as evinced by the emergence of what’s dubbed the “Intellectual Dark Web,” itself enabled by the liberty that Youtube and other social media have given us from the curators in the mainstream press. Therein we bear witness to people who may strongly disagree with each other, but who engage deeply, meaningfully, and respectfully. There is some commonality in the IDW, including respect for freedom of speech and rejection of identity politics: principles that run contrary to the current trends in progressivism, on college campuses, and in the mainstream press. These are themselves rejection of the relativism that considers the core liberty principles of Western society as being no better than other cultures’ principles, no matter how oppressive they might be.

Which brings us back to the idiots and maniacs. While it’s fun to portray Carlin’s observation as pure relativism – as having no basis in objective truth – the fact is that someone going half the speed limit on an open, uncluttered highway is an idiot, and someone going 30 mph over, weaving in and out of traffic is a maniac. The parallels to attitudes towards Trump should be obvious.

Unfortunately, the easiest answer to both idiots and maniacs is to ignore them as much as possible. Since at least some are attention seekers or feel they need the validation of showing themselves right by in-your-face demonstration that others are wrong, it can be hard to do, and they make it harder for those in the sane band to be heard.

Idiots and maniacs will always vex us, especially when our leaders prove to be as polarizing as every American President in the 21st century has proven to be. This feels a chicken-egg situation, where our polarization is what produces the leadership we get. The best we can do is try not to be either.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.


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