One consequence of the growth of social media is that the most successful way of building a big online following goes something like this:
- Find a partisan audience and tell them what they want to hear.
- Adopt a confrontational or preachy manner that’s guaranteed to get up the nose of your chosen audience’s outgroup.
- Use the inevitable backlash from that outgroup to boost your own signal.
We’ve seen it from people all over the ideological spectrum from right-libertarianism to leftist social justice activism. It’s the tried-and-tested method of the tub-thumping TV evangelist. It works, but it comes with a social cost. “Othering” entire demographics never ends well no matter who’s doing it, even if some criticism of that demographic’s stereotypical behaviour is justified. It makes us forget our common humanity when we divide ourselves up into ingroups and outgroups. Not only does inject a form of party politics into places where it doesn’t belong, such as workplaces and social spaces, but it makes it far easier for those with insufficient empathy to justify doing horrible things to people.
Then we see Donald Trump doing the same thing. And the size of his platform makes him genuinely dangerous.