If You Oppose Trump, Don't Hate Him

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President Trump is harming this country and the world so we must oppose him. If we want to oppose him effectively we should not hate him. Hatred makes us less able to understand our opponents and predict their behavior. It also harms us mentally, emotionally, and physically Trump himself is filled with hatred but we should oppose him with compassion.

Submitted: October 12, 2018

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Submitted: October 12, 2018

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IF YOU OPPOSE TRUMP, DON’T HATE HIM

Susan L. Rhodes and Charles R. Schwenk

“Hasn’t Trump done hateful things? Doesn’t he hate people like us who oppose him? Why shouldn’t we hate him?” The answer to the first two questions is, “yes.” The answer to the last question is, “He wants you to hate him. If you want to oppose him effectively, don’t do it.”

President Trump has already done great harm and will do a great deal more before he leaves office. Therefore, we both feel we must oppose him using all legal means. It is because we oppose him that we discourage hatred. Our reasons are not based in religion or ethics but in military, political, and business strategy. We are both retired college professors. Susan used to teach political science, including courses on the Presidency. Charles used to teach business, specifically strategic management. Both of our disciplines provide arguments against hating Trump.

Creating sound military or business strategy depends on having an accurate assessment of your enemy or competitor. In his book The Art of War the Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu said, “If you know the enemy and know yourself you need not fear the results of a hundred battles.” It was clear to Master Sun in 600 BC that you need to see your enemies clearly and assess them accurately, as it has been clear to military strategists since then.

An essential part of crafting a sound business strategy is doing competitor analysis and producing strategic profiles of current and potential commpetitors.  If you Googlee the term "competitor analysis" you will find thousands of links that attest to the importance of objective and unprejudiced competitor analysis.  Obviously, strong feelings of contempt or animosity toward competitors hinders objective analysis.  If you Google the phrase "hating your competitors" you will find many articles that make the simple point that you should not hate your competitors but rather learn about and from them.

In politics, the term “opposition research” has come to mean the collection of “dirt” on political opponents for the purpose of discrediting or otherwise hurting them. However, if you Google the term you will see it is actually much broader and covers all attempts to collect intelligence on opponents for the purposes of predicting their actions and responding to them. Objectivity is crucial in opposition research, as it is in military intelligence and business competitor analysis.

If we wish to oppose a person, company, or army effectively, we should not allow ourselves to hate them. Hatred clouds our assessment of our enemies and makes us less able to predict our opponents’ behavior. It encourages us to develop simplistic views of our opponents and competitors and ignore their subtleties. If we can develop a more nuanced and complex understanding we can predict their behavior more accurately. Unless we try to empathize with our adversaries, we will never understand them. This will put us at a disadvantage when we contend with them.

Military, business, and political decision-making is influenced by assumptions, mental frames, and biases. Researchers in behavioral decision theory have identified a number of biases that can be exacerbated by hatred. These include confirmation bias, backfire effects, and escalating commitment.

When we love someone, we often ignore or discount negative information about them. Conversely, when we hate them we tend to ignore positive information. These are examples of the confirmation bias (Kahneman, 2011, Schwenk, 2002). We pay more attention to information that confirms our prior views than information that challenges them. The United States initiated the second Iraq war in the mistaken belief that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. President George W. Bush was too ready to believe questionable information on this topic partly because he had personal animosity toward Saddam Hussein, who had threatened to kill Bush’s father, George H. W. Bush.

As we become more entrenched in mistaken views developed in hatred, we become more resistant to information that disconfirms these views. We may try to discredit the information and in the process become more committed to our wrong views. This phenomenon has been called the backfire effect (Nyhan & Reifler, 2010).

As our commitment to our views escalates, we are willing to invest more and more resources in defending them. The Vietnam War is an example of escalating commitment to a failing course of action. The “Sunk Cost Fallacy” is the term economists use to describe our tendency to invest more in bad projects just because we have already invested in them, or to “throw good money after bad” (Schwenk, 1984; Staw, 1997).

Interestingly, Trump’s own business career illustrates the harmful effects of indulging in hatred. The intensity of Trump’s hatred for his enemies and rivals far exceeds most peoples’ capacity for enmity. His book Think Big contains a chapter entitled “Revenge” in which he revels in the suffering he has caused his enemies and the pleasure revenge has brought him. In fact, his own hatred has hurt his business judgment, causing him to over-pay for real estate in order to beat out his rivals and to alienate potential business allies through his bullying and tantrums.

More extreme hatred harms us emotionally and physically. The more extreme the hatred, the more extreme is the damage it does. Therefore, it weakens us and helps our enemies. Thoughts of hatred can produce depression as well as physical illness and they are often difficult to give up. These thoughts can take on a life of their own and lead to obsession and even physical violence. When we let ourselves fall victim to hatred, we are doing our enemies’ work for them.

When Trump taunts and slanders his opponents, he is encouraging them to weaken themselves by hating him. Since he indulges in hatred himself he probably does not really understand that hatred clouds our judgments, sours our dispositions, and upsets our stomachs. Nonetheless, if he can get his enemies to hate him they become less formidable. Therefore, we who vigorously oppose him should not allow him to fill our minds with hate.

When either of us feels hatred for him we remind ourselves of these facts:

  • He has no real friends and he cannot really love his wife and family. He is alone in a way that people who genuinely love other people cannot fully understand.

  • His desire for wealth and attention is insatiable. Therefore, he will die dissatisfied and confused.

  • Now that he is President, people are investigating his past criminal activities and associates. For the remainder of his life he will be dealing with the legal consequences of his past misdeeds.

  • His every action has important consequences. Because he acts capriciously and maliciously, most of what he does has negative consequences. With each malicious act he becomes more evil and more at war with the rest of humanity. We are both Buddhists but we appreciate the wisdom in Christianity. Christians, like the writer C. S. Lewis, believe that those who live evil lives gradually transform themselves into the kind of beings who don’t really belong anywhere but Hell. Buddhists observe that evil hateful people experience a kind of Hell-state while they are still alive. Although Trump is a multi-billionaire and President of the United States he is living in a kind of Hell of his own making.

In short, Trump is a pitiable man. He is harming others so we must oppose him but we can do this more effectively if we realize how sad his life is. Pity is a very unpleasant emotion but it is better to feel pity than hatred.

Another thing we can do if we notice ourselves experiencing hatred is to practice compassion and empathy. Though our arguments for avoiding hatred are not based in religion, techniques developed in religions can be useful in actually reducing enmity. We will briefly discuss a few of these practices in Buddhism and Christianity.

Many Buddhists practice meditation on loving-kindness directed toward all human beings. If you Google “Buddhist loving kindness” you will find instructions for this practice. When practicing loving-kindness, Buddhists explicitly remind themselves that all other people are seeking happiness but that some have based their actions on mistaken assumptions about how to get it. This is certainly true of Trump. By understanding the views of people like Trump we can understand their actions and the reasons they feel these actions will lead to happiness. If their actions are harming themselves and others, we can more skillfully help them to abandon these actions.

Buddhism is not unique in encouraging empathy. The Bible contains advice that helps Christians give up hatred and develop empathy with their opponents. For example, in the sermon on the mount, Christ says, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.”(Matthew 5:44) Some people say they can’t simply switch their feelings for their enemies from hatred to love. Strong feelings cannot be simply turned on and off. However, the sentence quoted above gives four instructions, the last three of which involve specific actions people can take even if they do not already have love in their hearts. Doing good for those who hate us, for example, helps us to develop love, rather than requiring that we have love to begin with. We can bless those who curse us and pray for those who persecute us in order to avoid the self-destructive tendency to curse and persecute them in return.

We are not saying people need to love Trump, but merely that they should try to stop hating him. Meditating on loving kindness, praying for him, and refusing to malign and slander him as he maligns and slanders others can all help in reducing hatred. When we learn about one of his hateful new actions or statements, it is only natural to feel momentary disgust and anger. However, we should not allow this momentary feeling to grow into real hatred by thinking of all the other horrible things he has done in the past and becoming angry about them all over again. Instead, we should use the advice and techniques listed above to cultivate equanimity. Once we are calm, we can work against him with focus and determination.

Perhaps the best way to keep from indulging in hatred of Trump is to maintain our focus on what we are currently doing to oppose him and reduce the damage he does. In other words, we should adopt what some psychologists call a process orientation and not an outcome orientation. We should not ask, “Can I help stop Trump?” Instead we should ask, “How can I help stop Trump?" The first question causes us to focus on our own possible limitations, but the second one helps us to focus on the processes by which he might be stopped.  If you search the phrase, “process vs. outcome goals” you will find support for our suggestion.

When either of us notice feelings of hatred toward Trump coming up we redirect our attention to the actions we are taking to reduce the harm he is doing.  We worked together to decide how to allocate our limited resources to tossup House races, we write pieces like this and make videos explaining why we oppose him, we sign petitions against some of his most egregeious policies, and so on. We may not be able to do much but we can help a little in reducing the harm Trump is currently doing and to repair the social fabric he is tearing to pieces.

To sum up, we should practice charity and compassion toward others, especially those we must oppose. This is a sound strategy for ensuring that we will be able to oppose them as effectively as possible. Instead of hating Trump, we should oppose him with a spirit of compassion. If we can minimize the harm he does in office and remove him as soon as possible we will be helping him as well as everyone else on this planet.

Once Trump does leave office the rest of us will have a world of work to do. We must deal with the climate of hatred and mistrust he has fostered. The two of us cannot do much to help but if we think carefully and choose our actions wisely we may be able to contribute to something positive, perhaps the rebirth of American democracy.

Kahneman, D. (2011) Thinking, Fast and Slow. New York: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux.

Nyhan, B. & Reifler, J. (2010) When corrections fail: The persistence of political misperceptions. Political Behavior: 32: 303-330.

Schwenk, C. (1984a) Cognitive simplification processes in strategic decision-making. Strategic Management Journal5: 111-128.

 

Schwenk, C. (2002) Identity, Learning and Decision-Making in Changing Organizations. New York: Quorum Books.

Staw, B. (1997). The escalation of commitment: An update and appraisal. In Shapira, Z. Organizational Decision-Making. New York: Cambridge University Press. pp. 191–215.


© Copyright 2018 charles schwenk. All rights reserved.

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