Monday, May 15, 2017

How Liberals And Progressives Should Talk To Trump-Voters

I've always been intrigued by the odd blind spots in political arguments, the kinds which hardly anybody points out, because they have been invisible for so long that now they are just background, part of the drapes and wallpaper in the public living-room where we have our fierce political debates.

Examples are how premarital sex and unplanned pregnancies are so often covered:  It is the women alone who are sluts, as if premarital sex is some type of third-dimensional masturbation,  and it is the women who get pregnant without anyone else being involved at all.

I have read umpteen zillion right-wing articles about the need to teach young women not to go out late at night, not to get drunk when there are young men in the same room, not to have sex before marriage lest that turn them into licked ice-cream cones or some other moral equivalent of soiled goods.

But these stories never, and I mean never, give any such advice to young men.  The accepted blind spot in that debate is that boys will be boys and that it's natural for a young virile man to try to have sex with anything that moves.  It's as if we tell the prey to go home and hide, but we give hunting licenses to any hunter who wants one.*

Those blind spots often tell me something about the hidden societal power structure.  In the above case it might be that the hunting is accepted as a right, so all the prey can do is try not to get caught.

Today's example asks when someone in politics should try to understand the opposition's point of view.  I'm sure you have read some of the many articles,  published after the 2016 elections, which argue that progressives and liberals should listen to the Trump voters, should try to understand them, should perhaps even move to the reddest areas where even the goats vote for Republicans and where the poorest of all the poor still proudly pressed the button for the man who is now taking away all the welfare benefits they need to survive.

The blind spot in that example is this one:  I don't recall ever reading a single article which would have urged that conservatives listen to the left or try to understand the lefty opinions.  Republicans don't have to do that, whether they are in power (as now) or not.  Only Democrats are required to understand the opposition, perhaps to empathize with them.

I am strongly for listening to one's political opposition, of course, and even for understanding such enemies as ISIS.  I believe in proper dialogue.**

But that's not what those articles urge.  Rather, they take it for granted that the progressives and liberals are arrogant elitist ass-hats, with all their book learning and atheism and snootiness, and that the Trump voters really are the salt of the earth.

Let's reverse that plea and ask Trump voters to listen to, say, women of African descent, the base of the Democratic Party, to try to truly understand their needs and pains and struggles. 

That does not happen, because who it is we should listen to is determined by that invisible background power structure.  Even whose caricatures are accepted in a matter of fact way (elitist latte-sipping liberals) is determined by that power structure.  It's good to remember here that the poor were more likely to vote for Hillary Clinton in 2016 and the rich for Donald Trump.

I didn't invent this particular argument about the new view of Trump voters as the unexplored wilderness of Real America, by the way.  Frank Rich made the same argument in his interesting take on the elections.  Still, the people who voted for Donald Trump were mostly the same people who voted for Mitt Romney in 2012:  Republicans.


The seeds for this post were sown by something that happened to me over the weekend: 

I was at the local pharmacy, waiting to pay for my chocolate (yes, chocolate), and suddenly the older white man working as the cashier for my line of customers went on a tirade about the elections and his reasons for choosing Trump.

I have no idea what specifically caused his tirade.  I felt very awkward listening to it, for several reasons:  He might get fired for spouting politics at work, he left no openings for anyone to respond to his claims, and people in the line became restless.  Ultimately I left without paying for my chocolate (I put it back!).

But before that I listened.  I learned that the Obama Crime Family had emptied the government's coffers and no way would this man want to elect the Clinton Crime Family back into the White House.  I also learned that one Muslim entering the country with a nuclear weapon in his or her suitcase could kill everyone dead, so Trump had to put a stop to them coming in.  He also said something negative about a young  female Democratic politician who had recently been canvassing in the store.

This experience is not meant to be a representative one, and I don't present it in that light.  Still, I'm pretty sure that I could have spent a year talking with him and we still wouldn't have gotten much closer, because we clearly have different ideas about what the facts might be.

But I must admit that I felt some empathy for the pain or discomfort that must have caused his rantings in a context where he put his fairly low income at risk, just for the chance to finally say what was on his mind in front of customers.  The Democrats must indeed do better for those who earn less.  At the same time, the Democrats must NOT accept sexism and racism as just your Real America features.


* I don't think of most men in those terms, but the writers of the "she-is-a-slut" articles do seem to.

** And this should certainly include discussions about the morbidity and mortality rates of middle-aged white women and men, and the increasing income inequality in the US.  The Democratic Party should go back to the job of caring about the working class individuals, though not only the white ones, while not dropping the ball on fairness and justice for all.