I was talking to a friend last week, and during our conversation she referred to people who followed Donald Trump as “sheeple.” Although I understood the temptation to do so, the Red-Headed Menace and I tried to tell her how offensive the term was. I don’t think we succeeded.
Because I do find “sheeple” — when used non-ironically to refer to group of people* — very offensive.
This had nothing to do with the current political climate. Leaving aside that I have been told I was one of the sheeple for my support of Hillary Clinton, I have always hated the word.
True, “sheeple” ranks far behind other slurs equating people with animals: Jews as pigs, blacks as apes. It is milder, implying merely a meekness and want of intelligence, not dirtiness. But it still says “look at these people, they’re less than fully human. Real people are smarter than that.”
Sheeple ignores why people act the way they do. It gets the rest of us off the hook — when I said that Trump voters were in many cases acting out of fear and uncertainty, she said it didn’t really matter, that they were still sheeple. If you can dismiss people’s fears because you view them as simply following the herd, you can ignore them. You don’t actually have to work with them.
You don’t have to take them seriously.
It makes alliances difficult, if not impossible. Who would work with someone who said you were a brainless animal? For that matter, why work with people you have such a low opinion of?
Many people in this country, regardless of political affiliation, have a great many things in common. All too often what we disagree about are the means, rather than the ends. They want to live free, be able to put food on the table, and give their kids a better life. So do we. Yes, I think the way Trump people want to go about that is wrong, but that’s on me to try to convince them otherwise.
There are unbridgeable divides. Abortion is one; same-sex marriage another. I suspect immigration is rapidly becoming another, fueled by fears (again!) of lost jobs and terrorism. But shouting past each other and calling each other names gets us no closer to fixing all the other problems.**
It misleads and divides us when what we really need is unity and understanding.
*Sometimes I use “sheeple” sarcastically, when talking about conspiracy theorists: “Yeah, I guess I’m one of the sheeple who believe in vaccinating kids, that men really landed on the moon, and that chemtrails are simply water vapor.”