I spent a week in the far-right Donald Trump echo chamber - this is what I learnt

Research suggests it is Democrats, not Republicans, that are most likely to retreat into a politically homogeneous bubble. 

Sign Up

Get the New Statesman's Morning Call email.

My uncle has deprived me of a liberal luxury: the assumption that Donald Trump voters are all untold thickos. Unfortunately, he is at least as intelligent as he is pro-Trump. He divides his time between being an anaesthesiologist at a top hospital in Atlanta, Georgia, and an amateur propagandist for the US President.  

"I had similar liberal views to you when I was your age," he told me last week. “But life and some realities have just hardened my views.”

Our dialogue has scarce been this restrained in recent months. On election night I messaged him and his children in a fit of hysteria about how mercilessly I would mock him when Hillary Clinton eventually won.   

Only once Hillary had done no such thing did he reply: “Trump had wiped the floor with you!  Basically you are a socialist. You are entitled to your own opinions. But somehow you think yours are superior to mine and half of every member of the USA... just like the protesters who are marching. Can't accept the result of a free and democratic election.”

It took a month for me to resurface after the event. The silence between us spoke volumes - I had been served a humble pie of American proportions and it took time to digest.

I'm not alone. Bien pensants are bad losers, so unable to tolerate ideological dissonance they would rather pretend it didn’t exist.  

Research by the Public Religion Research Institute reveals that after the election in November, 30 per cent of Democratic women and 14 per cent of Democratic men “blocked, unfriended or stopped following someone” for their unsavoury views. This compared to 10 per cent of women and 8 per cent of men who voted Republican.

So, in my next conversation with my uncle, as a sign of my steadfast humility - and humiliation - I committed to switching off my liberal media and spend some time living inside his Trump echo chamber to see what it was like. I pencilled in a week on my alternative Facebook.

I knew where to start. Over the last year, I have been bombarded by my uncle’s posts from conservative and alt-right pages, including “Georgia Gun Owners”, “The Angry Patriot”, “Extremely Pissed Off Right Wingers” (he is all of these things), “Nation in Distress”, “Second Amendment for Life” and “Pride of the South”. 

Of course, in my week inside the right-wing echo chamber I observed a lot of anger. But anxiety and anger are often two sides of the same coin. Almost every post I encountered reflected its own corresponding fear or distress with the world.  

Jeff Carson is a Utah farmer whose poem Suck it up Buttercup - a diatribe against students and political correctness - betrays this aggression and vulnerability with startling exactitude. It has been viewed a million times. 

Carson stands by bales of hay and begins by railing against the so called loony liberals who didn't get their way and students "scampering around in skinny jeans". He continues: “I don't care what Bernie said, there is no such a thing as free: see when something's given to you, it's been taken from folks like me."

It’s a similar white vulnerability which says: "It's time to wake up and rise as one in Jesus' name against the attack on Christianity." (Anti-Corporate Media, 747,000 followers).

It’s one which cries: "The enemies of freedom are real and we need to be ready”  (NRA Institute for Legislative action, 5.5 million followers).

And it’s one which asks: “Hey Starbucks, instead of hiring 10,000 refugees, why don't you hire 10,000 veterans?" (Prepare to Take America Back, 680,000 followers).

I put some of this material to my uncle, who clarified that he neither supports everything on the sites he follows nor everything Trump stands for, such as the Muslim ban. "But," he continued, "Trump will make America Great Again."

This short circuit feels relevant. Trump’s strength is his emotional connection with white America. He speaks their language: pro veterans, pro-border-control, pro-taking-back-our-country. 

No liberal scrutiny of Trump’s policies - and not a single one of my missives to my uncle - will unsettle that support, unless it connects with the same sense of anger and loss. 

In the same study cited earlier, PRRI found that US Democrats were not only more likely to unfriend people on social media. They are a stunning five times more likely than Republicans to avoid family members because of their political beliefs: 2 per cent to 10 per cent.  

I can’t imagine spending talking less with my uncle - Trump has ironically drawn us together - but at times I feared our relationship would be compromised. Prior to the election, I made a particularly ill-judged comparison between him and a Nazi voter in the 1930s. We are both Jews.   

He raged in response: “In my opinion, you are a disgrace. you have telescopic vision, you’re immature, with a restrictive view of the world. It's seems to me that you and and only your opinion is the right one.”

This cut to the core of the dissonance between our respective camps. Liberals want Trump voters to be quiet and listen. They want to be heard. 

Free trial CSS