The term "bleeding heart liberal" sounds musty and outdated, a relic of a time when slogans like "Save the whales" were code for "Worry about everything" and the words "drone strike" conjured up sci-fi, not a progressive president. Still, bleeding heart imagery is emblematic of the associations many people harbor about Democrats versus Republicans, especially the deeply ingrained idea that liberals lead with their feelings and conservatives hew to the facts.
Now, however, the GOP has become the party of feelings. Big feelings. Gargantuan, expansive, overpowering feelings that can tower over logic like the shadow of Chernabog looming over the sleeping village in "Fantasia."
I don't just mean Donald Trump and his tidal wave of dangerous paranoia and xenophobia. Or even John A. Boehner, who appropriated the message of "Free to Be … You and Me's" "It's Alright to Cry" (an anthem of bleeding heart liberalism if there ever was one) as his personal theme. The GOP's status as the "feeling party" goes back at least as far as George W. Bush, who sensed there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq long after all evidence pointed to the contrary. It has played out for decades in the abortion debate, where pro-life conservatives reimagine embryos and early-term fetuses as adorable babies and worry about the emotional ruin faced by women who terminate pregnancies.
And, of course, at the root of the battle over gun control is not just "rights" but, alas, feelings — mostly about safety. On the website for a Texas gun training school called Feel Safe, a student testifies to having been "scared to death all of my life" but now being "able to defend myself if I had to."
I admit that this year the need to "feel safe" has mostly been the purview of the left. College students have demanded trigger warnings for novels and Halloween costumes that might upset them. (In the process, they earned the derision of conservatives and plenty of fellow liberals too.)
Social justice movements like Black Lives Matter and the increasing visibility of the transgender community have led to conversations about privilege and its relationship with safety. Implicit in all the talk is the idea that there's a direct correlation between being born with certain advantages — for instance, being white, male, heterosexual and able-bodied — and going through life with an innate sense of invulnerability. In other words, the more privileged you are, the safer and less emotional you'll be.
But that was before Ben Carson and Trump managed to stir up the GOP base by delivering abject falsities with so much red-blooded emotion (and wildly different rhetorical styles) that the lies almost sounded true. And it was before Republicans' heads exploded because President Obama calmly said things like "We will prevail [over terrorism] by being strong and smart."
It all makes Democrats and their fellow travelers look like a bunch of robots, long on facts but short on emotions, or at least short on the anger and tears that have come to stand for conviction. The divide was only underlined when two especially apoplectic Fox News commentators got suspended Monday for describing Obama's policies with obscenities more commonly used by seventh-grade boys — now, that's passion.
Of course, what's going on is not really that Republicans are becoming more emotional but that some of them are becoming less privileged. The Trump supporters who won't give up on their candidate, no matter how bigoted and bonkers he is, are less educated, less affluent and more vulnerable than other Republicans and many Democrats. In a strange way — and, boy, will both sides hate to hear this — those Republicans share something with college students shouting about safe spaces. They feel as if they don't belong. They share the perception, real or imagined, that they're being looked down upon by the establishment.
The difference is that the students are mostly causing damage to themselves, while the Trump supporters could be destroying their entire party. For the GOP to get back on course it needs to gather up its feelings and bury them deeply enough that they don't surface again until after the election. Because the opposite of bleeding heart liberalism isn't bleeding heart conservatism. It's a party that's bled to death.