Memoirs of a Superfan Vol. 17.11: Do Trump Supporters or Their Opponents Have “Good Hearts”?
By Ravi Chandra. Posted on October 6, 2022
Where are our good hearts when our minds and votes are in conflict?
“Our longest journey is from the mind to the heart.”
We are in “an era of warring mind states” as a friend puts it. This puts enormous tension on our humanity and our capacity to maintain “good hearts.” A good heart is certainly a high priority for me in the journey of life, perhaps even my ground, seas, skies and stars. It feels like everything. It can feel as close as my own heartbeat and music in my ears, and light years distant. And both, at the same time.
But what is a “good heart”? What happens to our good hearts when we are in conflict at the ballot box? Inquiring minds want to know.
As a psychiatrist and humanist, I define a good heart as one that is essentially kind, related, loving, compassionate, and fearless in alleviating suffering and standing up for human dignity, especially for those not overtly “like ourselves.” A good heart tends towards selflessness and service. How do we relate to vulnerability, distress, interpersonal conflict, and change while cultivating our good hearts? For me, cultivating compassion and maintaining and deepening close friendships and relationships as best I can is equivalent to my sense of humanity and my personal sense of a “good heart.”
We are all works-in-progress.
My mother lived in Rome, Georgia, for 30 years, and she always praises the people she knew there as friendly and hospitable. “If I needed help in the middle of the night, I could trust my neighbors.” At the same time, some 85% of Rome, Georgia residents voted for Donald Trump in 2020, and they sent Marjorie Taylor Greene to the House. This poses a quandary for me as I think about the citizens of Republican-leaning precincts across the country. You might be kind and trustworthy to your neighbors, but where does that go when you pull the voting lever against other people and their neighborhoods? What happens we end up in extreme political disagreement at this critical juncture of U.S. history? Do our political and media systems channel our worst selves? Has voting become less about serious consideration of the issues and candidates, and more about sending our angriest birds and most vicious emoji’s to fight those whom we have been led to hate or don’t want to understand?
Once again, we are all works-in-progress. We each see the world through our own eyes. We are in a time of great and continuing stresses politically, which leads to questions about what qualities we support, nourish, and cherish within ourselves, what qualities we support in our relationships, and how we respond to other people’s words and actions. For me, the qualities I work to burnish within myself determine whom I support in politics, and the kinds of questions I carry into my interpersonal relationships. I absolutely recognize that no one person, group, or party can adequately create the conditions for good hearts to thrive. That’s ultimately on each of us. I take my personal responsibility quite seriously. If good hearts do not thrive, we are all in great peril indeed. I take the question of a “good heart” as a matter of personal and societal survival.
Full disclosure: as readers of this series have discerned, I am a lifelong Democrat, though I have been frequently disappointed by a historical bipartisan lack of clarity on how catering to powerful moneyed interests impacts mental health, the common good, and vulnerable individuals and groups in society. This has led to a difficult predicament in how we discuss the issue of race, in particular, but also immigration, poverty, international relations, diversity and a more just economy. In my humble opinion, I do not think that dismissing, denying, deflecting, and avoiding these questions is a sign of a “good heart.” Simultaneously, it is quite difficult in 2022 to maintain a good heart and also be on the receiving end of such dismissal, denial, deflection, avoidance, paranoia, and defensiveness which has become characteristic of the most visible Trump supporters and those complicit with their agenda. Dismissal, denial, avoidance, deflection and defensiveness become salt in the wounds of the suffering, tools of abusive, callous, careless, selfish factional power.
Dismissing the concerns of Black people is one of the three unifying features of contemporary Republican voters according to the Pew Research Center’s 2021 report.
“Racial injustice remains a dividing line in U.S. politics. Perhaps no issue is more divisive than racial injustice in the U.S.”
– Pew Research Center, 2021 (See references.)
The other two unifying features of the Republican electorate have been small government and support for the military – both of which seem cartoonishly oversimplified in Republican parlance, and linked to a distaste for concerns of vulnerable people both here and globally. In other words, linked to racism. Moreover, these three “touchstones” have been foisted on the public by manipulative leaders, and linked to American myths such as extreme individualism, extreme capitalism, American exceptionalism, and contempt for diversity – all of which support wealthy White Christian male supremacy.
Is an incapacity to understand or care about the concerns of Black and other BIPOC people compatible with having a good heart? I have my doubts. At the very least, these voters and their leaders have staked very questionable positions on our collective future, because they have not been led to think about the ways their opinions and actions on racism and other matters affect everyone else. At the extreme, there seems to be a contempt for those raising issues of racism – and contempt is probably the most dangerous emotion in relationships and our collective psyche: contagious, powerful, and potentially deadly. (I explore the “spell of contempt” in MOSF 17.12.)
Living out a life of contempt for others is certainly not a sign of a good heart.
The only way we will get unstuck from adversarial positions, and get back to our “good hearts” is to talk about these issues. Republican leaders and anti-democratic forces seem to have bailed out on the discussion a long time ago. And not just bailed out of the discussion – but sabotaged it.
American politics and media coverage has hardly been the ideal venue to discuss either human values or even rational policy making for the common good. The horse race on our screens has outpaced the heart race in our inner scene. It then falls to each of us as individuals and individuals in community to cultivate who we are to ourselves and to each other. These are intrapsychic and interpersonal pressures. It would be great if one could “solve” these issues in one’s own heads, but that’s not the reality of being human or a social being. We all get input from a variety of sources. We all affect each other. Ideally, we can comfort each other when we are in distress, and empathize with one another’s distress – and these are qualities of the “good heart.”
Comforting and empathizing do not happen easily when you have political parties and relationships that are “high attack and no repair.” These people and forces tend towards idealizing either themselves and manipulating their followers into believing the other side is unacceptable, threatening and even subhuman. “High attack and no repair” relationships are distinctly not qualities of “good hearts.”
There are also those who don’t openly attack, but are simply avoidant of the necessary tasks of soothing, empathizing, and repairing. They become essentially complicit with those who are “high attack and no repair.” Soothing, empathizing, and repairing require bravery, humility, mutuality, and active compassion. All are required for a “good heart.”
I take it as a given that individually, we all have limits on dealing with intrapsychic, interpersonal and political conflicts. Many would rather dote on someone who makes us feel good in some way. I think this may be “at the heart” of why some Trump supporters line up behind him. Mike Rothschild, author of The Storm Is Upon Us: How QAnon Became a Movement, Cult, and Conspiracy Theory of Everything recently stated that a Trump rally is like a mutual love affair between Trump and his crowd (see references). Donald Trump makes his rallygoers feel good, at least temporarily, and that helps them set aside the intrapsychic pressure of dealing with actual reality and relationships, particularly with diverse groups. But feeling good and feeling loved or validated are not the same thing as having a good heart. I think they are being misled, and I feel very sorry for them.
Change and growth come at the pace of relationships. I hope that the pace of relationships in this country can avert the disasters that loom. I hope the pace of our good hearts can task our horse races to run, for our lives and love.
I think we can use our political and personal conflicts to work towards our own good hearts, and from this work, try to create a better future where all of us can feel like we belong and feel safe in this great and troubled nation.
For further reading/viewing:
Chandra R. Rome, Georgia: The Small Town Capital of Nice. Psychology Today, October 5, 2016
Where Democrats and Republicans agree, disagree on abortion, police, climate and more. PBS NewsHour, November 9, 2021
Beyond Red vs. Blue: The Political Typology. Pew Research Center, November 9, 2021
Deep Divisions in Americans’ Views of Nation’s Racial History – and How To Address It. Pew Research Center, August 12, 2021
Trump’s embrace of QAnon raising concerns about future political violence. PBS Newshour, September 23, 2022 (For Mike Rothschild interview)
Chandra R. Eight Types of Humility Needed for Cognitive Clarity. Psychology Today, September 8, 2022
Chandra R. Eight Questions for Understanding and Healing Resentment. Psychology Today, August 26, 2022
Chandra R. Which of Six Power Types Will You Embody and Support? Psychology Today, September 15, 2022