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Flawed Leaders and their Devoted Followers
Many readers have written to me over the years to express their appreciation for my posts about how certain people blindly follow those that they revere as Gedolim, failing to see the flaws in their leadership, no matter what the consequences. These readers see it as being very important to try to dissuade people adhering to a tribalist, cult-like mentality in which they refuse to be open to the possibility that their leaders could be flawed and that their chosen ideological movement might have its problems, and in which dissidents are persecuted as heretics.
The strange thing is that some of these readers seem completely unaware that this is also true of them.
Last week, I criticized Trump's role in causing the Capitol riot and the harm to US democracy. It's not so much due to any particular sentence that he said at the rally; rather, it's the cumulative effect of months of riling up his devotees that the election would be, and was, "rigged" and "stolen" by terrible people who want to destroy America, and that they must do something about it (and all because he's simply incapable of ever acknowledging that he could lose at something). Uttering a few sentences about how "we will peacefully protest" are rather beside the point. It's like standing in a crowded theater and screaming "A deadly fire has broken out! It will kill us all if we don't get out in time! Will everyone please proceed calmly to the exit!"
In response, some readers went apoplectic. "He didn't do anything wrong!" "It was Antifa!" "But BLM!" "But the Democrats!" Some went even further, accusing me of being an ingrate for all the good that Trump has done (which is a very strange charge; Jewish tradition has always maintained that even great people can do wrong and are called out for it). And some issued the ultimate disqualification: "You're a leftist!"
The last criticism is particularly fascinating. I'm not American, but I know of many, many Americans who are right-wing Republicans, who voted for Trump and even campaigned for him and in some cases were even hired by him, yet who are nevertheless highly critical of him for his role in the Capitol riot. We're talking about people such as White House Director of Communication Alyssa Farah and Nikki Haley. It's just absurd to condemn anyone criticizing Trump for this as being a "leftist."
But I guess it's like those who condemn people disobeying the rulings of charedi Gedolim as being heretics. When you're single-minded in your devotion to a person or a cause, you can't be open to any criticism at all, no matter how legitimate. The strange thing is how some people can recognize this problem in others, but not in themselves.
Here's a way to figure out whether you suffer from this problem. Do you get outraged when people criticize your leader? Do you attempt to utterly disqualify those who issue criticisms? Are you able to acknowledge the problems with your chosen "team" and the strengths of the opposition?
I've lost some supporters and donors due to these types of posts. But my mission involves encouraging people to be a little more open-minded, to be nuanced thinkers, to avoid black-and-white conceptions. I might be naive, but I hope that people can recognize where how they might need to grow in this area.
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