As promised in an earlier post, below are excerpts from an online dialogue I initiated after the Trump election of 2016. I joined a liberal, “safe persons” discussion group, not to gloat or be a troll, but to help foster understanding.
The possibility of mutual understanding now seems almost hopeless to me. From this discussion I learned that much of the left actually believes that half the country really is hateful and immoral, or at least does not care about oppressed people. This discussion was 3 weeks after the election, and many of these people were truly hurting, depressed, and afraid. This Instagram post sums up their reasoning more concisely than anything else I’ve read:
On the bright side, this discussion gave me hope that some people can be brought to a place of seeing a different perspective. It was not easy. It required overlooking a lot of insults and condescension; a small price to pay in my opinion. My aim was not to convert people or to justify myself, but to simply enable “progressive” people to see outside of their own frame of reference.
The discussion was quite lengthy. I’ve tried to keep only the meatiest parts. If you’re here to see mud-slinging and insults you’re at the wrong place. I see this as an attempt at a respectful discussion between caring, intelligent people.
THE DISCUSSION (My comments in bold)
I began with this comment, in response to a group member who authored and posted an article in Forbes. Here I asked the admins if they thought it would be helpful for me to post my why-I-voted-for-Trump blog. No one thought it would be helpful:
ME: It is very helpful for me, a “religious conservative” to hear about the deep, negative, emotional impact that this election has had on others.
It is helpful to me because I had been misreading the motives of the left, (at least the rank and file left,) for the past 8 years. I confess that I suspected that the progressive campaign to label everyone who disagreed with progressives as “hateful,” “bigoted,” “anti-gay,” “racist,” and “anti-woman” was simply a political ploy to get religious conservatives to shut-up and leave the public square. In other words, I didn’t think liberals/progressives actually believed that half the country was morally clueless. Now I see that many people actually do believe this.
I would be depressed too if I believed this. I want to take care that I do not attempt to invalidate the feelings of those who are hurting. I see and understand that the feelings are real. At the same time, is it fair to assess the beliefs behind the feelings? Would it be helpful to offer evidence that half of American voters are not KKK-supporting misogynists?
I don’t see how comfort and healing are possible if the only possible comfort is political agreement with those who are hurting. I believe the solution for America is a return to pluralism within the constraints of constitutional government. Within those constraints I believe we can at least trust each others motives, even if we respectfully disagree on public policy.
This quote from the above article breaks my heart:
“I cried for a long time because I got hit hard with the realization that so many people would choose a man who is hateful, anti-Constitution and wholly unfit to head, just to keep a woman from being in charge,..”
Not only am I saddened that she apparently actually believes this, but that her feelings are based on something that is so far from the truth.
If it would help to foster understanding, I would be happy to post my blog post wherein I explained why I felt like I had to do the unthinkable and vote “for” Trump.
Admins? Would this be helpful?
Here is one of the “no” replies that was well stated:
PAMELA: No, echoing Annie, it would not be helpful for this simple reason: those who chose to vote for DJT either (a) didn’t care about what he said about nearly every group in society other than straight white men or (b) decided he wasn’t actually serious and something else was more important than acknowledging others’ basic humanity. This is why it hurts so deep, to me, and why it still does, three weeks later. As someone else put it: “We can disagree and still love each other unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist.”
The distrust was so deep that someone accused me of going ahead and linking my blog post against the wishes of the admins, when in reality the link was to the Forbes article to which I was referring. One woman was fair minded enough to point this out:
ELYSIA: I think it is fair to point out that the link on the post above is not to his blog, but to the article he referenced as being helpful for understanding others’ emotions. But Scott, I think the feedback you received on the other group was accurate. Don’t expect to convince people here that your vote was justified.
ME: Elysia – Thank you for clarifying what I linked.
While I don’t believe the dichotomies that were set up in the feedback from the other group are accurate, I understand why people would feel the way they do. But I do agree with you in that I don’t expect to convince anyone here that my vote was justified. It remains to be seen if even I believe my vote was justified. I have not been trying to justify myself here. My hope was to simply foster understanding. I thought it might be some small comfort for people to be able to understand how, for many, voting for Trump had nothing to do with hate, bigotry, etc; that the picture is not as dark as it seems. But I see now that this would not answer their concerns. I asked a question. The answer is no. I accept that.
Following is a reply from a progressive PhD student and adjunct professor at a Presbyterian theological seminary:
MIKE: Well, you’re half-way there. It’s nice of you to finally accept that people’s beliefs and fears are actually genuine and not just a “political ploy.” Now you just have to just take the additional step of accepting that their fears and moral judgments are based on legitimate concerns and not just “based on something that is so far from the truth.” Because right now, by trying to tell people that their fears are not based in reality, you are basically engaged in gaslighting.
The reality is that people’s fears and moral judgments about people who voted for Trump are based on the ACTUAL things that he and his supporters have said. Actual policies, actual words, actual intentions. These actual things are what we are afraid of. These actual things are what we are judging to be morally reprehensible (“clueless” is way too soft to cover the things being advocated). Yes, we are saying that if one supports such things, one is acting immorally.
Now maybe you don’t support those things personally. Maybe, as you say, you and millions of others Trump voters supported him for other reasons *in spite of* these other immoral things. But even if that is the case, your vote still indicates that those other things did not seem bad enough to you to be deal breakers. And, like it or not, THAT is what we are still judging to be immoral, and THAT is why we are still afraid of you.
ME: Mike – Thank you for your critique. If I may, I’d like to clarify a couple of points here as I feel you’re misreading what I’ve said.
Please note that I never said I believed people’s “beliefs and fears” were a political ploy. I said that I had believed that the tactic of publicly shaming/labeling anyone who disagreed with progressives was a political ploy. I still believe it was and is for many activists – clearly they see this as a way to shape public opinion, (not a very good or effective way, in my opinion.) What is different is that I now see that many people really believe that those who disagree with them must be doing so out of hatred, bigotry, etc.
Secondly, believe me, I grasp your point about Trump’s “actual” reckless and divisive comments. I can’t defend Trump’s character. I think he’s a horrible presidential candidate and a jerk. My comment about the woman-in-question’s feelings being “based on something so far from the truth” was addressing her specific comment. She is “terrified,” and suffering panic attacks and crying fits because she assumes people voted for Trump “just to keep a woman from being in charge.” That’s wildly incorrect, and it’s not gaslighting to say so.
I’ll respond to your point about moral judgment to the group because I think it eloquently addresses the concerns of the entire group.
I’ll post that response next, but first I want to briefly post an exchange with a self-described queer woman. She shared her experience at length. She was well educated, articulate, polite, and obviously hurting. It was no joke. I think these few sentences sum up the heart of what she shared:
ERIN: … Sir. Your belief that the sincere beliefs and advocacy from people like me was all an attempt to silence you is… honestly, just painful for me to hear. It is painful for me because it mirrors the responses I have heard from my own family about my future in this country. It is painful because it says that you hear the genuine fears of Americans and assume that we are lying when we ask to be protected and welcomed here… Sir, I am heartbroken. I don’t want to listen to you justify yourself now…You are not helping me by justifying yourself. You are not listening to me or to my fears. You are helping me still less by insisting that you were okay, you really respect me,..
I felt there was no appropriate response to this except to acknowledge her pain, to validate her feelings, and to quietly leave. Though she misrepresents my stated beliefs, and even though those misunderstandings are causing her pain, a mere online discussion would not help her at this time…
ME: Erin – Thank you for taking time to explain your story. It is good for me to hear you, and your words do make an impact on me. I cannot wave off your concerns and I see that they touch you at the deepest level. I don’t feel free to dialogue with you since you say you can’t listen to me right now. I accept that and I wish you all the best.
This was followed by yet another exhortation urging me to listen. I feel we can all learn from this. We have to stop talking past each other. We do need to listen to each other. I joined the group in hopes of being understood. These people were open to me listening to and understanding them, so that’s where I started.
ANNIE: Scott, I dearly hope you are listening. The people posting on this thread are pouring out from their pain and working hard to craft the words they share.
ME: I am listening. If I may reply to what I’ve heard, Amber, Erin, Marie, and Mike have all articulated a similar argument that I believe gets at the crux of the issue that is causing so much fear and pain.
Mike stated that even if a Trump-voter doesn’t support Trump’s actual policies/words/intentions, a Trump vote “…still indicates that those other things did not seem bad enough to you to be deal breakers… THAT is what we are still judging to be immoral…”
Amber linked a perfectly articulated, concise summary of this idea. [The Instagram shot I posted above.]
Erin asserts that “This is not a case of there being two equal sides with equal concerns and fears… (My) “two sides not communicating” concept is wrong because it assumes that the fears of the two Americas have equal basis and grounds.
Marie points out what love is not, and ends with, “…we’ve learned that “respectfully disagreeing” is often code for “not wanting to listen, because then I might agree.”
My concern, and the reason I joined this group, is that I am deeply concerned over how divided the nation has become. My hope is that this group can accomplish something unique in this climate. (Yes, I recognize that I am an outsider, and I don’t expect people to warm up to my beliefs.) When I look down the road, I see two options:
1) A permanently divided, polarized nation, wherein the pendulum continues to swing back and fourth every 4 or 8 years. The pendulum increasingly becomes a wrecking ball as the party in power seeks to force its agenda onto the people, only to have its “gains” undone when power shifts parties. Anger, bitterness, and resentment continue to grow, as one group in power seeks to marginalize the other. I think this option sucks. Force does not change hearts. Totalitarianism always creates an underground.
2) A free, pluralistic society wherein competing ideas respectfully coexist and compete in a free marketplace of ideas, within the constraints of constitutional government. I contend that the US Declaration and Constitution answer all basic questions about American governance, and we should leave the rest to pluralism and freedom. Any legislation must constitutionally address the legitimate concerns of ALL sides or else there will always be backlash. Addressing Erin’s assertion in the current debate, racism, bigotry, xenophobia, and sexism are NOT legitimate concerns. I agree with her in this. However, both equal treatment under the law, and religious liberty ARE legitimate, explicitly stated constitutional concerns. If we cannot all agree on this then our situation truly is hopeless.
Hearts are not changed by attempting to force ideology onto people, either by governmental means, marketing, or by shaming/labeling/judging. There must be freedom to dissent. There must be the right of legal conscientious objection. At the risk of triggering some, I have to point out that the current [Obama] administration has been unbending in its refusal to allow dissent regarding its new policies around social issues. Hillary promised to continue the same strategy. (Examples provided upon request.) This overrides virtually every other concern to me, because if we get constitutional government – freedom, pluralism, and conscientious objection – then every citizen gets a voice and a safer America..
Many here seem to be appalled and offended that I saw the hate-shaming, labeling, and name-calling from the left over the past 8 years (well before Trump entered the picture) as a political ploy. Yet the left has widely assumed that religious liberty concerns are simply a political ploy and a cover for bigotry. I would be surprised if anyone here finds this widespread assumption to be appalling.
I don’t have a problem with the moral superiority of the left. I would hope that we all live according to a morality that we consider to be the most sound. What I have a serious problem with is using the irresistible force of government to force an ideology onto an unwilling population, and refusing to allow conscientious objection. It hasn’t worked, obviously. Apparently close to half of American voters, if forced to choose, would choose an unqualified asshole over a skilled totalitarian politician.
I am listening, but since this is a discussion group, I would suggest that I am not the only one here who needs to listen.
The power of a preconception is very strong. My favorite person in the group took THREE TRIES before she finally understood my point. She is the best at conflict resolution in the group. Here is where she gets it:
ELYSIA: Thanks, Scott. I’m still having a hard time understanding. I’ve reread the first comment, and know somehow you are tying this into constitutionality and legislation, but I’m still unclear. Might this be a workable paraphrase : “Racism, bigotry, xenophobia and sexism are troubling, but if we try and legislate them there will be a backlash, so we shouldn’t. Likewise, we shouldn’t legislate religion.” ? Additional correction/clarification welcomed.
ME: No, I’m simply saying that
1) both sides need to hear and understand each other, rather than trying to “hit back harder,” because
2) both sides have legitimate moral, constitutional concerns.
3) bigotry, racism, xenophobia, and misogyny are not conservative values. They are not morally and constitutionally “legitimate concerns.” The legitimate concerns of which I am speaking from the conservative side are 1st amendment concerns. Yet my position is continually portrayed as a political ploy to enable bigotry and hate. I refuse to wear that label because it’s no more true for me than it is for you.
Thank you for bothering to attempt to understand. The practice of offering a paraphrase, and asking if it works is a great way to create mutual understanding. You are a shining example.
ELYSIA: OH!!!!! Seeing your recent reply to Annie, I think you are saying “Being racist, xenophobic, or misogynistic is not legitimate.” But, whew! I sure wasn’t hearing that. Thanks for being patient with me.
With respect to the items outlined in this most recent comment:
1) I agree
3) I know they aren’t codified as conservative values. I fear they are positions shared by far too much of the population, irrespective of political affiliation, and ignored by many more. And (as I imagine you’ve realized in this group) plenty of people feel like ignoring is tantamount to supporting. Having a president-elect who makes statements that align with these “values” sullies the water for all conservatives, whether fair or not…
We’re all flawed. And we all have fingers to point. And somehow we’ve got to find a way to work through all this muck anyhow, so we can be better neighbors, friends, allies, and people.
ME: Agreed. I would suggest that it needn’t even necessarily be about finger pointing. We may simply have differing worldviews from which our beliefs and actions flow. I submit that the way that we live together is to promote pluralism and freedom within the constraints of the Constitution. This precludes the government, regardless of party, from imposing an ideology or religious belief onto the population. I think that anyone, from either side, who goes with “wrecking ball option #1” (above) may find themselves getting unexpectedly bit in the butt eventually by an intrusive government as mores continue to change.
Bigotry, judgmentalism, and discrimination are not tendencies that belong to conservatism alone. They are universal human tendencies that exist wherever deeply felt opinions exist. For those who don’t believe that, here are 3 examples:
[For brevity I’ve edited out the descriptions, but my three examples of judgmentalism and discrimination were: 1) “new atheist” Sam Harris, 2) a conflict between the trans community and radical feminism, and 3) the Obergefell decision.]
My point is that this not a simple liberal vs conservative debate. I can easily live with and value people who disagree with me, or who are different from me. The conflict comes when people attempt to force me to participate in their political ideology or religion.
After this the discussion ended. Thanks for enduring an unusually long post. I hope it was worth your time! I’d love to hear your thoughts below.