How To Talk To A Trump Supporter
As we continue to attempt to mend the post-election divisions that run deep within our country, it should be imperative now more than ever, that we seek solidarity. While I have always identified as a hard left-leaning progressive, I’ve recently come to realize that attempting to affirm my ideologies through what I saw to be impenetrable logic does little to no good in getting opposing views (i.e. Trump supporters) to adopt my political positions.
A few weeks ago I came across a TED Talk by Sally Kohn, a self-described progressive lesbian talking head on Fox News, where she discussed this concept of “emotional correctness”. She emphasized that productive conversations cannot begin until both parties feel as if they are being understood, and that goes hand-in-hand with emotional validation.
It can be frustrating (to say the least) on both sides of an argument where opponents cannot conceptualize how the other is failing to see through the lens of their perspective. No matter how many facts you may present and no matter how ironclad you believe your argument to be, the other person refutes your attempts of persuasion at every turn. What I’ve come to understand is that what appears to be stubbornness is more often a mere difference in course of action. And after the argument fails to endure, both parties are left failing to understand that they both want the exact same thing.
To best illustrate the true essence and efficacy of emotional correctness, let me provide the following example. After the President Trump issued travel ban was implemented, it became quite clear that this administration had not ensured refugees that they were welcome on American soil. Like most Americans who were incredibly upset by this decision (i.e. airport protests), I too could not comprehend how any moral individual could support legislation that turned away the most vulnerable victims of the world. I became saddened and enraged at what I saw to be a lack of compassion, but I made a crucial lapse in judgment. I saw the supporters of the ban as amoral people with a complete disregard for those in dire need, when in fact I was prejudging them without knowing for sure where their motivations derived.
I had a close friend who held this view relay to me that although he felt bad for the refugees, his support for the travel ban stemmed from his need to feel secure. He felt that if the US were to allow refugees to enter the country, that some of them might use the opportunity to potentially plot and carry out terror attacks. While I wanted to scream in his face that I believed this to be a cruel approach, I realized that he was just prioritizing his own sense of security over the survival of refugees. This realization was troubling, but after a long discussion I understood that it was unfair of me to label him as someone absent of a conscience.
At this point we could actually begin the conversation. I told him that I understand his desire to feel safe, and that I too shared that need to feel secure. I told him that I thought America would be safer if we let refugees in because a) if we sent them back, they would likely be killed or forced to join the terrorist organizations that they fled from b) terrorist organizations like ISIS would use the executive order as propaganda to recruit and radicalize citizens already inside the US and c) that the statistics (via CDC) demonstrate that you are more likely to die from getting struck by lightning or falling off your bed then you would from a terrorist refugee.
Now I cannot say that this conversation led him to adopt my viewpoint, but he didn’t need to. All we needed to do was understand each other without demonization. I learned that progress wasn’t an on/off switch, but is a process that requires time, experience, and reflection. We may have both disagreed, but at the very least we better understood one another. And that conversation helped him understand my perspective (and vice versa) more than any Facebook rant or shouting match that I’ve ever taken part in. After the election, I saw myself start to loath the very people I loved the most. Although I’m far from perfect when it comes to resisting my knee-jerk emotional reactions, I found a way to love the very same people I was fighting every day; through emotional correctness.