The American aversion for psychological complexity

By | February 15, 2019

Dahlia Lithwick writes:

The launch of the 2020 presidential contest has triggered yet another round of uniquely American anxiety around the stability of character.

We’re only a few weeks into the nascent primary campaign, and already the public discourse is mired in a debate that seems to be consumed with which of the Democratic candidates is in fact tricking us.

Amy Klobuchar appears to be a sweet Minnesota girl, but is she secretly a crazed, potentially abusive harpy? Elizabeth Warren holds herself out to be a wonky economic populist … so then why did she dabble in all that bonkers Native American ancestry stuff? Kamala Harris says she’s a genuine liberal, but she was also a brutally tough prosecutor. Cory Booker is trying too hard to be an Obama reboot. Beto O’Rourke seems like he could be the real thing, except that he also seems like he was hatched in an underground lab to simply seem like the real thing. Kirsten Gillibrand says she’s a feminist but she was for gun rights before she was against them, and Julián Castro is Hispanic but he also might be too Hispanic, but then is Kamala Harris really black enough and don’t get me started on Sherrod Brown and whether he’s a folksy blue-collar guy or just a rumpled blue-collar guy.

It is deeply strange, this American fixation with political “authenticity.” We would rather have a flat, one-dimensional stick figure run for office than sit with the possibility that human beings are multifaceted and evolving and—by necessity and design—apt to show different faces to different people over the course of a political lifetime. This transcends the much-ballyhooed American proclivity to prefer presidents whom they can have a beer with. It’s not so much that we want a president who is like us; it’s that we abhor the notion that our politicians may appear to be one thing sometimes but are something totally different at other times. [Continue reading…]

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