“I don’t have to feel bad for them. I don’t have to be ‘understanding’ of their situation. They aren’t at all understanding of others’ situations—look at the chaos they are causing in real people’s lives!”
This is the general response I hear from my left-leaning friends and colleagues when I appeal for a more, shall we say, cordial approach to politics. Articles like this one have become immensely popular on my feeds and it breaks my heart. Not only are those who have this response shutting themselves off from very important conversations, they’re also harming their own cause.
As I wrote about last week, it is critical to be able to bring others to your side of an argument. In order to do this well, you must understand “the other side”—what do they want? What are they worried about? What drives them? Go deep. If you find yourself scoffing or otherwise dismissing what you find, you likely haven’t uncovered enough to the point of common ground.
(Side benefit: By being open to others’ points of view, you might even see your opinions changing and open your own eyes to new things.)
I don’t intend to give the impression that liberals can easily pull the wool over conservatives’ eyes by a disingenuous level of personal knowledge. This can be done on any side of an argument—conservatives can just as easily apply this to bringing liberals over to their side. The purpose of this approach is to uncover that common ground and understand how to build a fruitful discussion from there.
I want to emphasize the importance of genuine curiosity and openness in this scenario. You must be willing to have an open conversation, including calling into question your own views and assumptions. A deceitful approach meant only to “win” someone over will likely backfire and harm your cause. It’s likely that you’ll discover the need for a compromise.
Take Obamacare, for example. The plan hasn’t worked for everyone—so how can we make sure those who need healthcare can affordably get it, while not penalizing those who still can’t afford it even with subsidies? To many, the passage of Obamacare seemed like another slap in the face to poor people by liberals who thought they knew better. Most of those against the law aren’t actually against people having the option for healthcare—it was the aspect of a requirement that in many cases meant a higher monthly payment, higher deductibles, and the risk of rejection by their physicians that caused the reaction.
Trump received nearly 63 million votes, and while I can already hear the Clinton supporters clamoring about their win of the popular vote, hold on a moment and take a step back. 63 million people. While that might seem like a small drop compared to America’s 231 million voter pool, that is still a huge component of the population.
Imagine how much easier it would be to pass legislation you support with an extra 63 million people behind it. Especially when these are voters who are largely in Republican districts. Rallying people in Democratic districts at this point isn’t going to sway things much—but start putting real pressure on Republican congressmen, and things will start to shift.
Now, let’s be honest. There are some topics that some people are just not going to move on. But to lump all 63 million of these people together into one big bucket of “no” and to blatantly ignore the power this group can bear is an enormous missed opportunity for liberals. It’s also painful to watch a group of people who claim to see the value in every person chomping at the bit to put another group in a giant box and ship them off to sea.
To ignore the nuance and humanity of these individuals, and to crow out that you will forever ignore them, is doing very little to help the causes you care about. And, even worse, you are actively turning away and insulting those who could easily be supportive of many of the things you care about.
I know many Trump supporters. And while there are some that may be beyond reach (just as there are some liberals who are not open to any contrary conversation), most are concerned about the same things as liberals are—they want to feel safe, they want to have opportunity, and they want their kids to have a shot.
If you want Trump out of office in 2020, it will be much easier to do so with even a portion of that 63 million on your side. But denigrate them, and you are making your battle unnecessarily difficult.