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June 01, 2015

Relationship Expert: The GOP Is Doomed As a Party, Should Seek Divorce

Actually no relationship expert said that, not really.

I was observing the rift between Rand Paul and John McCain. Really the rift between Paul and most of the party, and that got me thinking about the rift between the RINOs and the Tea Partiers.

It reminded me of what relationship expert/marital counselor John Gottman called The Four Horsemen of a marriage destined for divorce.

When couples came in for counseling, he knew they were likely irreconcilable when they began showing four key signs: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling.

The first horseman of the apocalypse is criticism. Criticizing your partner is different than offering a critique or voicing a complaint! The latter two are about specific issues, whereas the former is an ad hominem attack: it is an attack on your partner at the core. In effect, you are dismantling his or her whole being when you criticize.

...

The second horseman is contempt. When we communicate in this state, we are truly mean - treating others with disrespect, mocking them with sarcasm, ridicule, name-calling, mimicking, and/or body language such as eye-rolling. The target of contempt is made to feel despised and worthless.

You can read the others if you like. Defensiveness is obvious enough; stonewalling is withdrawing from conflict, not giving answers to questions, etc. Basically absenting oneself from further participation in conflict resolution in a relationship.

Stonewalling basically says, "Think what you like, I'm done."

A couple of years ago I frequently chided both the Establishment and Tea Party wings to stop treating each other as hostile forces. We speak to opponents (and actual enemies) very differently from the way we speak to friends and allies with whom we have a conflict. In the latter case, we are courteous and still warm; we have a disagreement, but we're trying to find some points of agreement, because we implicitly acknowledge that the relationship is more important than the instant dispute.

We don't do that with opponents and enemies. With opponents and enemies, we can be as rude, raw, and insulting as we like, because we're unconcerned with the feelings of the opposite party. The dispute is all that matters -- there is no higher priority of maintaining friendly relations, as there are none to maintain.

I thought the Tea Partiers were getting excessively hostile and mean in their criticisms. But then the Establishment lived down to its reputation. Rather than taking the long and sober view of things -- that a political coalition depended on at least some reserve of intraparty amity -- they showed their full contempt of the Tea Party and essentially declared them enemies.

The GOP won the elections of 2014 -- and lost their future. The Establishment basically declared war on the most vital and numerous part of the coalition, and stopped even pretending to tolerate them.

We're seeing that again with the Paul/McCain dispute. Jim Geraghty notes Paul's history of "alienating hyperbole," essentially using the same sort of insulting political language we use for the other party for our own alleged allies.


Here are three recent examples:

"People here in town think I'm making a huge mistake. Some of them, I think, secretly want there to be an attack on the United States so they can blame it on me."
"ISIS exists and grew stronger because of the hawks in our party who gave arms indiscriminately, and most of those arms were snatched up by ISIS. These hawks also wanted to bomb Assad, which would have made ISIS's job even easier. They’ve created these people."
"These people who call loudest to criticize me are great proponents of President Obama’s foreign policy, and they just want to do it ten times over. I’m really the one standing up to President Obama, and these people are essentially the lapdogs for President Obama, and I think they're sensitive about that."

Meanwhile, John McCain, as egotistical and pointlessly confrontational an asshole as you could imagine, returns his own contemptuous fire.

"I know what this is about -- I think it's very clear -- this is, to some degree, a fundraising exercise," McCain said, according to Politico. "He obviously has a higher priority for his fundraising and political ambitions than for the security of the nation."

As Daniel Hannan recently wrote, when British Labour accuses British Conservative politicians of being stupid, greedy, evil, etc., they're not of course just insulting the politicians. They are also insulting the millions of people who have voted Tory, or who are considering voting Tory.

Rand Paul is not just criticizing his named enemies in the Senate, then. He's criticizing the millions of GOP voters whose instincts tend to be more conventional and interventionist than his own. And when John McCain calls Ted Cruz a "wacko bird," he is of course telling millions of GOP voters that they themselves are "wacko birds" -- worse than that, really, because at least Cruz is his own wacko bird. Cruz' fans, in McCain's insult, are merely the crude-minded follower of a wacko bird.

This is not statecraft. It's conducting a blogwar from the well of the Senate.

This reminds me of why I don't like capital-L Libertarians. Put to one side the policy differences, which in the main are not a source of actual emotional discord as policy differences can in fact be discussed dispassionately, intellectually, coolly.

I don't like capital-L Libertarians because they approach conservatives like myself with actual open contempt with a dismissive and demeaning hostility, and I do not think this is just some accident or character defect.

Rather, and this is the important thing, I believe that that open contemptuousness is not merely a defect, but an essential, foundational part of capital-L Libertarianism.

We define ourselves not just by our heroes and devotions, but even more by our enemies and our anathemas. I believe that it is foundational to the capital-L Libertarian creed, whether they realize it or not, that conservatives are enemies on an emotional level and to be treated with contempt and jeering. A large part of capital-L Libertarianism, many have noted, seems to be a sort of performance art of ritualized disdain for the Squares and Stiffs of the right.

Now, when I say this, my point is not to criticize Libertarians, though it certainly sounds that way.

My point is that there is something very basic about human group dynamics. Something very elemental about team-building -- and Other-defining.

And I would imagine that Libertarians would make most of the above criticisms about me, or about other conservatives -- that rather than simply discuss the issues with them, I have myself often resorted to the rhetoric of disdain, and I've barely grappled with their various claims on an intellectual or moral level, preferring to discredit them as persons by the techniques of mockery, jeering, and coordinated ridicule.

I wouldn't argue too much against those complaints, either.

My point in this is not to throw blame here or there, or to blame Paul, or to blame McCain, or the Establishment, or the Tea Partiers, or the Libertarians.

Though, I have to say, if I were to lay blame, I'd put most of it on the Establishment; I expect rabble-rousers to rouse rabble, but if you're going to pretend to be a power-brokering Establishment, I'd expect you to have a higher emotional IQ and keener understanding of group dynamics.

Political unions don't fall apart because of dissidents and heretics; there are always dissidents and heretics. Political unions fall apart because the Establishment, the leadership, the allegedly cool hands at the wheel, prove themselves to be incompetent and let once-mendable tears and rips become irreparable.*

But, that aside, my point is that this is how people who despise each other and who do not want to be united with one another behave.

It's not the Libertarians' fault they treat conservatives with performative contempt; playing the role of Goth Fonzie is how they show they're not with the squares. Nor is it the fault, really, of the Establishment that they dislike people who don't find them as irreplaceable and important as they themselves do.

It is the nature of every power elite, after all, to be smug and walk with unearned swagger.

My point is, again, this is simply human nature; this is how people act when they intend to signal "If you were to die, I would not shed a single tear." This is how people draw their friends in more closely with warm words and affirmations, while pushing their opponents away with venom and truculence.

I thought a couple of years ago this rift could be healed.

But I don't think it can any longer.

And I don't think that bodes well for the future. You can't combine against an enemy when you view the other factions of the right as the enemy.

* It's amazing to me that these "leaders" see that people aren't following them and keep coming to the same conclusion: "There must be something wrong with these followers."

No wonder they get along so well with Obama.


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posted by Ace at 04:58 PM

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