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  • Reverend James Squire

Not Always Right But Never In Doubt

I am embarrassed to say that for a moment I believed Eastman and Giuliani when they responded to questions from reporters as they arrived to turn themselves in for their role in the conspiracy to overturn President Biden’s election. Even though I had Toni Morrison’s classic quotation “that when someone tells you who they are, believe them.” in my mind. Even though I knew what they have allegedly done, there was a moment when I felt and thought maybe they are right and speaking truth.

I think what draws people to leaders sadly is that some people are not always right but they are never in doubt. In fact, that phrase summarizes how Trump still has the lead in the polls for his followers still believe that the election was stolen. He never says he is wrong about anything and has never apologized. There is immense power in those that believe that they are right in communication with others. The “never in doubt” never seems to get in the way of believing in them.

As I wrote in my memoir, The Times of My Life, I was not old enough to get a library card so I just used my brother’s. I read through a multi volume set of the history of famous Americans.

The books were orange in color which is why I chose to highlight orange on the cover.

I grew up in a working-class American town that was conservative. The same holds true for many of Trump’s followers today. You can easily become a believer in someone who communicates that they are right. My parents were conservative as well as neighbors and classmates. The working-class mindset has little in the way of gray or ambiguity for it is most often looking for answers that are black and right. Someone who thinks that they are right and never in doubt is like a magnet that draws people to them where I grew up.

I vividly recall watching William F. Buckley’s TV show growing up where he interviewed everyone who was a public figure. He took on anyone who would sit for an interview. When I was old enough to understand concepts and thoughts, I read his book Firing Line: The Public Life of Our Public Figures which contained transcripts of his interviews. He never showed any doubt about his positions on government and society. He was always right as he leaned back in his chair tapping a pencil to his chin as he would proclaim the limitations of the other person’s point of view. He was arrogant and smug, but I was captured by his absolute belief that he was always right never giving an inch anyone who would sit opposite him with an idea that countered his way of thinking. I expected what I would get from him during each show. He never disappointed with his arrogance about being right.

I think that the reason that so many people continue to follow Trump has everything to do with that part of human nature that longs for someone/anyone who speaks in terms of black and white and not gray. I remember with my attitude toward Buckley that I never tried to poke holes in his arguments as his “rightness” was a much more forceful draw than his “doubts” because there were none. The town where I grew up has changed. It is a bedroom community for Philadelphia, and the mills aren’t the center of power as much as offices for white collar people.

I don’t know what caused this reflection in me today, but I did revisit Buckley’s book, God, and Man at Yale. I would have been six when he originally wrote it. It was a vicious attack on Yale University where I spent some time. I also read an article that countered his book, The Attack on Yale, written by McGeorge Bundy in The Atlantic November 1951, which was a response to his book soon after it was published.

Bundy wrote: “God and Man at Yale by William F. Buckley is a savage attack on that institution as a “hotbed of atheism” and “collectivism.” I find that the book is dishonest in the use of facts, false in theory, and a discredit to its author.” In addition, Buckley believed that people in general could not be counted on to lead the nation through reality. He thought that a small group of enlightened individuals should be doing that. This was a road to oligarchy that we attempting to keep in check with our democracy. “Collectivism” was a form of government that supported the many and not the few. The book contained ad hominem remarks that demonstrated Buckley in attack mode in similar fashion to Trump.

McGeorge Bundy, where were you when I needed a balanced view or an argument about Buckley’s approach? I could now see “the never in doubt” positions of Buckley in a different light. I still feel that I learned a lot from Buckley who went on to start the Bible for conservatives, the magazine The National Review. I still remember that Buckley chose Malcolm Muggeridge, a theologian and philosopher as his most important interview where Muggeridge pointed out the most important learning that he received in life was through making mistakes and suffering. He was also a devout Christian. I remember it because Buckley agreed with him.

This is not to say that you can come from a “haves” environment such as Buckley and not have black and white thinking and “be not always right but never in doubt.” The irony here is that while Yale caused Buckley to see his view as right, I had my eyes opened when I was at Berkeley at Yale to always try to see both sides of an argument. Courses like those in theology, phenomenology which is the science of how we perceive the world, psychology and counseling, and existentialism opened my eyes to want to see both sides of an issue. I knew right and wrong but discovered that the world is often gray.

In the recent Republican debate Nicki Haley caught my attention when she commented that Biden has not caused the debt. It was Trump. She also said that we need more consensus around the issue of abortion to which Pence responded that consensus was not leadership. Haley was able to see both sides of an issue while Pence operated in the world of black and white which was one of the issues that was wrong about the Trump administration. It was noteworthy that DeSantis went full strength bully attempting to take over the debate and was dismissed by his talking points as a bully being seen as being lost in the conversation. He wants to look forward and forget January 6, but he always seems to retreat to “what I did in Florida.” He is the embodiment of “not always right but never in doubt.”

I have an opinion about Trump’s followers that is from the world of counseling and therapy. There are people who have a fantasy that the therapist will rescue them from the hard decisions and change that they have to make. They are there to be rescued so to speak. At first, they see the therapist as an idealized figure, right but never in doubt. During each session they expect that behavior to be an absolute. It is called transference. They grow confident in that kind of therapist one up with the client one down.

This could be the answer why Trump’s followers are not shaken by any of his criminal behavior. That is what they expect as I did from Buckley’s program. The more criminal behavior, the more there is confirmation bias, and they feel safe. He/They are right and the rest of the world is wrong.

What if people tuned into the Apprentice, and Trump said, “You are a good person! You are hired! What would happen to his viewing audience?

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