I was recently reading a somewhat problematic essay by Sartre titled, “Anti-Semite and Jew.” It is not Sartre’s best work, by far. As mentioned in the foreword to the copy I read, it seemed as though this essay was rushed to publication. Sartre’s intent was to write a piece in solidarity with Jews who were undergoing persecution under authoritarian regimes, as well as those facing discrimination in France at the time. The essay, however, did contain one gem that is incredibly relevant in the time of an increasingly virulent strain of ignorant passion displayed by the far right wing of US politics.
“Never believe that anti-Semites are completely unaware of the absurdity of their replies. They know that their remarks are frivolous, open to challenge. But they are amusing themselves, for it is their adversary who is obliged to use words responsibly since he believes in words…”
This applies incredibly well to those acolytes of internet-trolling, Alt-Right pedants and diehard Trump supporters. It is incredibly easy to relish in an argument that has no basis in fact because they could care less about facts. When presented with evidence that would call into question their fragile worldview, they demur by attacking their perceived adversary personally.
As someone who believes deeply in words, this has been difficult for me to reconcile. It is easy to become flustered while arguing with someone who cares not about the topic, who cares not about the truth or decency; rather placing the whole of their energy behind impassioned proselytizing through tribalism.
The point of me writing this was not to condemn every Trump supporter as an anti-Semite — though many of his allies are Alt-Right trolls, White Supremacists, and literal Nazis. The point of writing this was to call to attention the fact that it is a waste of time and energy to attempt to reason with those who are rooted in hatred for others; in their xenophobia, egocentrism and, in some cases, patent racism. No election in the history of the United States has been about changing the minds of those who are on the “other side of the aisle.” It is about the mobilization of those who share your beliefs when it comes time to cast a ballot.
The time spent trying to convince an anti-Semite that his beliefs are repugnant is a time that would be better spent registering a voter. Time spent arguing with a troll on Twitter is better spent volunteering for a candidate that supports democratic ideals — or, better yet, running yourself.