Saturday, March 12, 2016

Virtue Signaling and Cross-Tribe Arguments

Last week I went to a gathering that, for whatever reason, was less conversation than performance. Instead of discussion, it was a series of soliloquies designed to highlight the speakers' erudition and gravitas. And that's fine: a series of soliloquies can be entertaining. People seem to enjoy The Vagina Monologues.

Many of the soliloquies were against Donald Trump. So I had this fresh in my mind when, the next day, I read on Arnold Kling's blog:

Denouncing Trump is a form of virtue signaling. That is, it is a cheap way to try to raise your status among well-educated people.
This is why Trump-bashing appears so boorish to me: it risks nothing in an attempt to appear brave. Many Trump criticisms are nothing more than a recitation of his name in the most derisive voice possible. When pressed for specifics, his critics respond with generalizations (sexist, racist, crazy, et cetera).

I'm not trying to defend Trump. I'm not a fan. But I want his critics to use arguments, not mood affiliation. Because mood affiliation is easy to dismiss when from someone outside your tribe. And the way to stop Trump is not to make sure that all his critics tell the same anti-Trump jokes to each other, but to win over members of his tribe.

If I'm going to criticize those speaking in generalities, I should try to be as specific as possible. So here goes: I worry about Trump's tendency to bully his critics. Either through lawsuits or public ridicule, Trump does not respond reasonably to criticism. His recent call for liberalizing libel laws (or would it be the tightening of anti-label protections?) is worrisome. A president who has thin skin, has a long memory, holds grudges, and controls the regulatory and prosecutory apparatus of the nation is not a positive for supporters of liberty. Trump as Sulla would include Sulla's proscriptions.

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