President Joe Biden gives a statement about the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan in the Roosevelt Room at the White House in Washington, D.C., August 24, 2021. (Leah Millis/Reuters)
Let’s say you regularly interact with connected pairs of people you like and don’t like – say, a sister you love and a brother-in-law who gets on your nerves. Or one close friend, and a friend-of-a-friend who always struck you as a jerk. Or a manager you like and your manager’s assistant who strikes you as an unctuous, insufferable, duplicitous suck-up.
The human mind likes consistency and predictability. Many of us instinctively recoil when something happens that challenges our moral sense of things – whether it’s someone we think highly of disappointing us, or that classic Clickhole headline, “Heartbreak: The Worst Person You Know Just Made a Great Point.” We want the world to make sense. We are challenged when we see a person we like making a bad and harmful decision, and people we dislike making a good and helpful decision. It’s a painful signal that we don’t understand them or the world as clearly as we thought we did.
So when the sister does something stupid that bothers us, we’ll think through a way to conclude it’s really the brother-in-law’s fault. The close friend who disappoints us must have been steered in that direction by the jerk. The manager who makes a terrible decision must have been led astray by the terrible assistant. Consciously and subconsciously, we’re inclined to find a way to transfer blame from the people we like to the people we don’t like.
Anybody with eyes can see that the way President Biden has handled the withdrawal from Afghanistan is a disaster. One of the world’s most brutal and malevolent factions is back in power, the humanitarian crisis is off the scale, a country’s worth of women are back into oppression, we’ve lost a massive portion of our intelligence capabilities on the ground, al-Qaeda leaders are coming back out in public, Islamists around the world are thrilled, the Haqqani Network now runs Kabul, God knows how many American citizens and green card holders are stuck behind Taliban lines, our allies are furious, and Russia and China are laughing so hard they’re peeing themselves. Geopolitically, militarily, socially and morally, this is a humiliating defeat.
For any good Democrat – or Biden fan of any stripe — this is embarrassing, even mortifying. The guy who was supposed to replace Donald Trump and restore order is just bringing a different kind of chaos. Meghan McCain said yesterday, “I once thought I truly knew Joe Biden and he helped me through pain and grief, for which I am grateful. This man on tv giving this speech, I do not recognize this man. God help our country. God help the Americans we have abandoned.”
But for Democrats and Biden fans, acknowledging that he completely fumbled one of the biggest decisions of his presidency would mean acknowledging that their high opinion of Biden was wrong, and that Biden’s critics were right about him, at least in some ways. So some people’s brains go on an emergency mission of rewriting what they perceive — reimagining that what we’ve witnessed over these past two weeks was a well-executed Biden policy that was hindered by Trump’s deal (a factor, no doubt, but not a justification for Biden’s decisions and actions), the collapse of the Afghan army and government (which Biden assured us wouldn’t happen, and that came after we removed their air support) and by Americans who ignored warnings to leave (that ran contrary to Biden’s expressions of faith in the Afghan army).
In the end, a loyal Democrat can’t allow themselves to believe that Joe Biden led his country to a disaster, and that he isn’t the wise, empathetic, trustworthy statesmen that they spent 2020 praising. Because if loyal Democrats could be so wrong about that… what else could they be wrong about?
Thus, in the minds of many Democrats, the villain of the story must be conservatives, and the lesson of all of this must be that conservatives are bad.
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