After Trump won the election, I resolved to be a kinder person when talking politics. Clearly, the hate, vitriol, and divisiveness hadn’t gotten us anywhere.
It seemed the best way to initiate this dialogue would be to ask honest questions. I was hopeful that my approach would help to cultivate a more productive exchange, focusing on the things we agree on instead of what separates us. Hell, perhaps the simple gesture of just reaching out would be appreciated on it’s own.
(Courtesy NBC News)
So I asked questions like: “what makes you excited about Trump?” Or: “What should liberals like me understand about the conservative world view?” If we got beyond that, I’d ask: “what would it take to disavow your support for him? Where would you draw the line?”
I also clarified my intentions, saying: “I’m honestly interested—not asking these questions to be mean or divisive. I believe one of the things that can make our country a better place is if we try to understand each other and our differences.”
And I began writing this piece as a sort of mea culpa, an apology to conservative America, a pathway to a fresh start and a less divisive political discourse. But after spending a couple months asking conservatives these questions, seeking to understand the world from their perspective, I find I can’t offer that apology.
Because I didn’t find people who were earnestly seeking to be understood. I didn’t get good reasons why they voted for Trump. I didn’t even receive a measure of the kindness I was offering. There were no honest, straightforward answers, no moments of the kind of clarity and mutual understanding I’d hope to kindle. Nope. Mostly what I got was a bunch of dickery—snide remarks, condescending GIFs, but more often than not, just straight up personal attacks, whether on me as a person or against liberals in general.
(one of the memes I was sent–at least it was funny)
Disappointing, but also an opportunity to learn. And because I personally knew many of the people with whom I was interacting, it got me to thinking about what kinds of people tend to skew conservative. The answer was obvious: bullies and losers. The kids in high school who were privileged (by money, good looks, athletic ability, etc.) and popular, or the kids who wished they were privileged and popular. They were dumb, sheltered, uncurious people then and the only difference now is they have a chip on their shoulder, perceiving every unharmonious thing that happens in their life as a slight against them; every job they don’t get, every time a careless driver cuts them off, every time some fancy pants liberal talks about privilege or inequality, they take it personally.
It’s not personal, of course, but they take it that way nevertheless. The Women’s March on January 21st, an overwhelmingly peaceful, uplifting event, was a perfect example. For while most everyone lauded the march, many conservatives reacted with anger or derision. Note: they didn’t respond by discussing why they feel the way they do about abortion, or with any kind of legitimate critique of the issues central to the march—they were just pissed, basically, that people disagreed with them. It’s like: “how dare you think your rights are being violated,” even though it’s clearly the intent of the Trump administration to shrink or abolish American women’s access to health care and their reproductive rights.
Now please understand, I’m not saying EVERY conservative or Republican fits these stereotypes. I’m sure there are many out there with whom we could have excellent and productive conversations. My guess is that this type is simply less likely to voice their thoughts on social media or in public.
However, what I have taken away from my experience is that no amount of compassion or understanding matters if the person you’re interacting with is an asshole—and a lot of conservatives are just that: assholes. It doesn’t help either, that most of their beliefs–especially their political beliefs–are an absolute fucking farce. Here’s a list:
Climate change is real; conservatives believe the opposite.
Trickle down economics doesn’t work; conservatives believe the opposite.
More guns and less gun regulations make everyone less safe; conservatives believe the opposite.
But these are difficult concepts to understand, and since most conservatives have fallen into the mental trap set by conservative media that if they don’t agree with something, it isn’t true, my links above don’t matter.
Thing is, conservatives also just get a lot of basic facts wrong. Polls show that a majority (52%) of Republicans still think Trump won the popular vote. 67% of Trump voters think the unemployment rate went up under Obama, even though it’s dropped by almost 5%. 38% wrongly think the stock market went down during Obama’s Presidency, 60% incorrectly believe there’s widespread voter fraud, and 73% hold the insane belief George Soros pays anti-Trump protestors.
But if you point any of this out, most conservatives will start calling you names and screaming stuff like this: “Would u prefer I read the lib rags u read? I’ve seen your posts, we clearly have opposite views on pretty much every issue. Please save your long winded, lib talk for someone else’s thread.”
What do you even say to that? I can’t just abandon what I know to be the truth, and yet there’s no convincing these people?—?who are objectively and provably wrong?—?that they’re wrong.
Which brings me to my next conclusion: one of the big reasons many conservatives feel so disrespected is that many of them just aren’t all that smart. I mean come on, if you can watch hours of Fox News, listen daily to Info Wars or Rush Limbaugh, and regularly read Breitbart, shouldn’t there be multiple points at which any somewhat intelligent person says, “wait a fucking second,” and starts asking some serious questions like: so EVERY TIME there’s a liberal protest, it’s George Soros bussing people in? And EVERY TIME it appears that Republicans do something anti-American it’s just the liberal media blowing things out of proportion? And EVERY TIME a police officer kills a black person he was right for using force?
No. The truth is no one who’s thoughtful or smart would buy into such hackery—at least not anyone who’s a decent or honest person.
And if you think about it, this makes sense—right? If you’re an asshole, a bully, a loser, and/or an idiot, who’re you going to vote for: Trump or Clinton, Republicans or Democrats? The answer’s pretty obvious.
Again, to be clear: I am not saying all Republicans or conservatives are dumb assholes who were bullies or losers in high school. But a hell of a lot of them are, and that’s only going to become more true as Trump’s missteps further distill his supporters into just that kind of person—someone who’s dumb and angry enough to believe whatever he and Spicer and Conway cook up, while buying into whatever excuse or logical fallacy conservative media trots out as a justification.
Still, it is worth confronting these people. Not because you’re going to change their minds, but because other people are listening, and it’s important they hear our argument, as well as the truth. And hell, if you find a conservative who’s willing to talk about politics in a rational and honest way, that’s great! In fact, I’d recommend starting every conversation with our political opponents as politely as possible, because it demonstrates compassion and goodwill…
Just don’t expect it to be returned. Hillary Clinton was right: an awful lot of these people are deplorable—tribal, angry, mean, and dumb. Not the truth I hoped to find, but the truth nonetheless.
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