Donald Trump may be odious, but tarring his voters with the same brush is totally dumb
Don't divide the world into heroes and villains. Not only is it deluded, it is patronising, says Fionola Meredith.
Heroes Versus Villains. That was the theme of the New Year's Eve party I recently attended. It was styled as a way of saying "goodbye and good riddance to this terrible year", the supposedly death-dealing, demon-electing disaster that was 2016.
I very nearly didn't go, and all because of that awful, vainglorious title. Heroes Versus Villains. It didn't exactly get me into the effervescent, Champagne-quaffing, party-going spirit, you know? I hate that kind of thinking because it automatically divides the world into lovely, reasonable, forward-looking and possibly even heroic people - people like us, essentially, the ones on the side of the angels - and evil, deluded, fascist-loving fools, which accounts for everyone else.
It wouldn't matter if this was just the title of a daft New Year's Eve night. But for too many people heroes versus villains - that tribal, cretinous impulse that insists on an absolute divide between good and bad - has become a way of life, a defining worldview.
With the good, enlightened people as the torch-bearers on white chargers, of course, bringing righteous light to the benighted masses. Or, more likely, trampling the masses down and giving them a good flaming on their backsides for daring to vote for Brexit, or even worse, for Donald Trump.
If they won't see sense we'll clearly have to show them the hard way who knows best, right?
The biggest, baddest villain of them all - at least in political terms - will become President of the United States today. Tomorrow this unhappy event will be followed by a gigantic protest, the Women's March on Washington, expected to be the largest mass mobilisation that America has seen in response to a presidential inauguration, according to one US commentator.
Hundreds of thousands of women, and maybe even a few men, will shout their opposition to Trump's misogynist reign. Many of them will be wearing pink hand-knitted 'pussy-cat' hats, intended as a riposte to Trump's obscene, hateful remarks about how he likes to treat women. Scarlett Johansson, Katy Perry and Cher are among the celebrities expected to attend.
In cities around the world, on the same day, people will be marching in solidarity with their American sisters (and brothers). Yes, even here in Belfast, though we have troubles enough of our own you might think without worrying about the imminent advent of the Trumpocalypse.
I have no problem with protests against Trump's sexist and racist agenda. Call him out on it, loud and long, if it makes you feel any better. Show your repudiation. Though I'd stop short of wearing one of those regrettable pink cat-eared hats: it's vaguely depressing that women of the liberal Left so often like to express their most heartfelt political views through the creative use of wool.
But in quite justifiably rallying to express their disgust at a Trump presidency, it's vital that protesters don't slip into a global orgy of virtue-signalling, holding themselves up to each other as paragons of decency, truth and enlightenment in contrast to the loathsome views of Trump.
Don't be anointing yourselves as heroes just yet. After all, almost everyone looks good when compared to the loud-mouthed, narcissistic braggart-in-chief.
And while Trump may be fair game, his opponents have got to stop issuing blanket condemnations of the people who voted for him. Loudly damning them all as villains - homophobes, racists, confused women suffering from 'internalised misogyny' - is patronising and wrong.
The American feminist writer Jessica Valenti is at the forefront of those who decry Trump voters. Valenti insists that vote-shaming is "a reasonable response by those of us who are disgusted, anxious, and afraid" and "there's nothing wrong with being made to feel ashamed for doing something shameful".
Apart from anything else, this is intensely counter-productive: who ever changed their mind because they were abused and hectored into it by somebody who's convinced they know better?
Valenti and her anti-democratic ilk should spend less time insulting half the American electorate and more time trying to find out the thinking behind their votes. Listening, instead of lecturing.
If they shut up for long enough, they might actually learn something. After all, 42% of American women cast their ballot for Trump.
If you aspire to change that fact, and want to avoid a second Trump term, you don't castigate people as dumb and deluded. You start by asking why?
Few of us are villains. Fewer still are heroes. Let's forget these dumb polarities and remember that we're all human.
Even Donald Trump.