It is nineteen days until the election. I am confident that most of you are like me and cannot wait for it to be over. I am almost overwhelmed by the anger, shouting, name-calling, antagonizing, and just plain nastiness.
Because my standard operating mode is that of problem solver, I started thinking about this question:
What can we do after the election to bring the country back together?
I have a few ideas. Let me know what you think.
1. Take down your signs and remove your stickers soon after the election is over.
I know, I know: You want people to know either that you were on the winning side or that you voted against the winner, but part of what you are doing is continuing the division that has become so acrimonious.
Instead, take down the signs, peel off the stickers, and put away your buttons so you can sell them on eBay in twenty years.
2. Listen to the other side and ask questions calmly.
(It wouldn’t hurt to do this now.)
I know, you don’t get it. After all of the evil things that [TRUMP/CLINTON] has done, how could anyone have voted for [CLINTON/TRUMP]? Well, it turns out that there are many reasons for people to vote the way they did. You may not think that they were good reasons, but that’s not as important as the fact that your friend did think that they were good reasons.
In my case, my problem with most voters falls into one of three categories:
- They voted for the candidate from their party, very often because that was the party their parents supported.
- They voted based on the press coverage from their favorite news source (and yes, it is almost always one source).
- They voted because they agreed with the candidate on one or two key issues.
So, when I am discussing politics with someone who disagrees with me on a candidate, my first mission is to figure out which of the three categories they fit. If I learn that they are strictly a party loyalist, I start by talking about which of the party’s policies I like–and yes, every rational person should be able to find something likable in each party’s platform–to show them that I’m not completely against them. Once I get past that, I move on to some issues where I have minor disagreements and see if I can persuade them that my position isn’t unreasonable. (I don’t try to convince them I’m right, just that I’m not irrational.) If I can find positions where they disagree with their chosen party, then I might point out that the other side or a third party more closely reflects their views on that. The important thing here is to move from red vs. blue to pink vs. periwinkle.
If the problem is that they are single sourcing, I may find an example where an article has an obvious bias. For example, a Breitbart article today had a misleading headline that greatly exaggerated the number of late-term abortions. The data in the article itself wasn’t inaccurate, but calling 21-week fetuses “fully developed” is a gross misrepresentation that panders to pro-life readers. Now, Breitbart is particularly bad at this sort of thing, but there are sources on the left that do the same sort of thing. My approach with these cases is to point out the flaws in the article, while suggesting another article on the same topic from a less biased source. Unfortunately, much of the time people didn’t even read the article they posted, so they certainly aren’t going to read the article I suggested in reply, so I also try to succinctly paraphrase. Sometimes I even break through.
The way I approach single-issue voters is to try to show them that their single issue is never just that issue. My brain is weird in that I seek connections between issues. The textbook example here is the famous Freakonomics link between legalizing abortion and declines in violent crime. In my experience, there are very few truly independent issues, and those issues are rarely the ones that inspire major disagreements. I approach single-issue voters in a similar manner to party line voters: I point out the unintended consequences of their positions, not to persuade them to change their mind, but perhaps to change the rigor of their stance. Maybe I can convince the person who wants to ban all Muslims from entering the U.S. that this is a bad idea because it might cause majority Muslim countries to ban Americans or American products.
But the important thing is to listen and discuss, politely and with understanding. There are some people with whom I disagree on many issues, many of whom I respect deeply, because our disagreement comes from a difference in core beliefs rather than a lack of understanding of the issues. For example, I am pretty cynical when it comes to thinking that people, in general, act more often out of selfishness than altruism, but I respect people who have a more positive view of humanity and make decisions accordingly.
3. Expand your circle of friends.
I’m pretty weird in that my circle of friends is pretty ridiculously diverse. I have friends who are millionaires, and I have friends who are on public assistance. I have friends of about a dozen religions and no religion. The ethnic diversity of my friends rivals the United Nations. I have friends in New York and Los Angeles, friends in Iowa, Nebraska, and Alaska, and friends in Australia, Norway, Israel, and India.
Locally, I’m a liberal. Nationally, I’m a moderate. Globally, I’m a conservative.
I remember reading a quote from a New York columnist who couldn’t comprehend how George W. Bush won the 2000 election, because she didn’t know a single person who voted for him. Likewise, I have some rural friends who can’t understand how Obama won, since everyone they know voted for McCain and Romney. In contrast, I have friends who are passionate about Trump, Clinton, Johnson, and Stein–and I understand why all of them are voting the way they are voting. It’s probably a big part of the reason why I don’t particularly care for any of the candidates, because I have repeatedly heard about the evils of all of them.
More importantly, it also shows that I don’t pick my friends because of their political choices, and that I believe that deep down we really all want the same big picture goal: For all people to have a decent quality of life and the potential to succeed. We may disagree on what those things mean, but that’s less important than the underlying good we all seek.
Please try to understand that people who disagree with you aren’t disagreeing because they are evil, or because they are stupid, or because they are selfish. More likely, they disagree because they have different ideas of what a good, successful America means and what are the best ways to get there. So after the election, find common ground, make new friends, and move forward together. It will be easier if you don’t call them names today.