An article in NPR caught my eye. It was about how friendships and family relationships are ruined by the polarization of politics. Two things I took away from the article are: 1. You should talk more, not less with people who disagree with you. 2. Instead of engaging online, you should seek to find a way to engage in person or by phone.
So, on this particular night, I sought my friend, who just happens to be a Trump supporter. He ticks all the boxes of your average Trump supporter. He’s a white heterosexual male. His parents are both working-class without college degrees. He’s the first in his family to go to college. There are things about him that also don’t tick the boxes of an average Trump supporter. He holds a Master’s Degree. And he is a scientist.
Our conversation began by me messaging him the NPR article and jokingly asking to stay friends. He began our conversation by reiterating that “this isn’t an enemy. I hate you” situation. This isn’t a “You’re a socialist-communist, and I hate you” followed by “You’re a racist Nazi Trump supporter.” We at least pretended to be mature grown adults.
My friend started his conversation by saying he grew up expecting all politicians to be liars. Echoing a sentiment my grandfather (also a conservative) told me ad nauseum. “How do you know if a politician is lying? His lips are moving.” This refrain was familiar to me. And I mentioned to him my grandfather’s favorite line. And he said, yes, he expected politicians to lie to him but it’s not about the lie. It’s about the consequences of the lie.
I kept telling him every lie of Trump’s I had heard. And he said, yes and his favorite was “the inauguration was yuge. We had billions of people there.” The great thing about my friend is he gets the zeitgeist of the moment while also adding in some hyperbole to be sure you understand that he’s got the wit to back up his assertion.
To him, Biden’s lie about the United States being ready for a green revolution was steeped in misinformation and lies. First of all, he said, as a scientist, the science just isn’t there. He explained that you could get funding one of two ways. The first as a scientist is to cure cancer and the second, he said, was for energy. He said, we still don’t have the capacity to completely wean ourselves off fossil fuels quickly, and we still are unable to make renewal energy meet our needs right now. And to make any type of assertion that we’re ready misinforms the public about where the science is at.
I don’t pretend to know anything about science. I got my degree in liberal arts. But, he mentioned that Biden misplayed his hand, a sentiment echoed in think pieces in Time Magazine and elsewhere, which made my friend’s point all the too real. What Biden had said on the debate stage almost a week ago was that damning to him that it motivated him to vote for Trump.
So, I had followed the NPR article, talk more. We talked for almost an hour, him hitting the high points of what it’s like to be a Trump supporter and how he came to his conclusion. The second task of the NPR article was to talk on the phone, which isn’t something that my friend enjoys. So we stuck to texting.
What struck me is that many people think that Trump supporters are ill-informed, racist, low information voters. That might be true for some, but my friend is a high information, high understanding voter, who chooses a worldview that any outsider would see as fair. He mentioned to me that he believes in a safety net, he just disagrees with Democrats about how to get there.
By all accounts, we had a healthy, fair debate about where the country is going. And NPR is right. It works to talk more, not less. I left our hour-long conversation feeling like my friend had genuine reasons to vote for President Trump. I may disagree with the racism, the lies, and the overarching soullessness of the Trump campaign, but I see my friend’s points.
Discourse cannot get better until every one of us has our conversation with a Trump supporter. I hope for your sake it goes as well as mine did.