Thursday, March 3, 2016

Talking about Trump in a Way that Works

If you've read my writing over the last couple of years, you know I'm generally an advocate for uncompromising conciliation. Of talking to people rather than just slapping a "backwards" or "wrong, idiot" label on them; of meeting rancor with honesty, of bridging gaps, of trying to create understanding and common ground.

Guess what? That's even more important now, with Trump and his legions, than it has been.

Hear me out, leftists.

Smart, angry people have been pointing out Trump's flaws and biases since he announced his campaign. They've only stepped up their efforts since he became a front-runner, and again as it became clear he was there to stay. 'He doesn't know anything substantial about anything!' they say. 'He's been bankrupt four times! He thinks the nuclear triad is a Chinese cabal! He's a birther, for God's sake!'

And most pertinently for this note, they say 'He insults women! He insults Muslims! He insults journalists! He insults [long list here], and he's biased against everybody, and he's a total fucking asshole!'

So ask yourselves: since all those things are true, and everyone knows them... why do people still support him?

There are a lot of reasons, but in my opinion, a big one is political correctness.

Yep. The big scapegoat of the right.

We, as leftists, are accustomed to using the word 'racist' or 'sexist' the way a mod on a message board deploys the ban-hammer. Like it or not, the ability to label someone as racist or sexist or whatnot--whether it's a fair and true accusation or not--is an incredible amount of power. No one wants to be that person. Universities fire their deans, cancel planned speakers, and negotiate with students to avoid being branded that way. Governments and businesses speak in neutered non-English to avoid offending any possible group. Once a public figure is labeled a racist or a sexist, it usually ends their career, or at best cripples it beyond easy repair. Doesn't matter if those labels are justified. We, Internet activists especially, are used to just pointing out that flaw in a person and then watching their support melt away.

So reason #1 not to say "But he's a racist, sexist asshole!" is because it doesn't work. Everybody knows that at this point. His followers either agree with him or have rationalized that those things don't matter compared to what they like about him. Unlike just about everyone else, (justified) labeling doesn't work on Trump. We can't just keep saying, rather desperately, "But he's RACIST, don't you see??" and expect his supporters to come around.

And reason #2 is that some of his supporters actually LIKE it.

Say you're the kind of angry white person who forms Trump's backbone, who thinks that the Democrats are trying to lift up illegal immigrants instead of lower-class, badly paid, no-college citizens like themselves. You don't see political correctness and the racist/sexist ban-hammer as a tool to deliver justice and punish the wicked. You see it as something the Democrats use to smash the people they don't like. Something that keeps the silent majority silent. As a tool that keeps people from pointing out what's wrong with this country.

And now you see a guy who maybe is a little extreme in his beliefs, yeah. But he's speaking to all those issues you feel strongly about, but have been largely ignored for years by all the serious Presidential candidates. You don't agree with everything he says, but you love the way he says it. Blunt. Uncompromising. Optimistic, in a way--he reduces complicated problems to simple ones, and says he's the man to solve 'em. And what's best of all is that he refuses to be cowed. He's not going to be intimidated into silence by the mainstream media or the activist left. He's going to stand up and say what he believes. And you know what? You like that.

I'm not trying to convince you to vote Trump in your primary or in the fall. I'm trying to convince you that all those Facebook statuses I see, all those attitudes I hear in my friends--that Trump is a pig, reposting that John Oliver monologue, all the variations--it feels good, but it doesn't solve the problem.

The problem is millions of people believing in Trump, and at this point, waving the ban-hammer around in the air hasn't solved it.

So the next time you come across a Trump supporter, don't scare them off. Don't cause them to oyster up by waving your hammer around. Don't assume they're dumb (you pretentious dick) or that they support Trump because they have half a high school degree. Maybe that's true, but pointing it out will not change their mind.

Instead, if they seem willing to talk, ask them what they like. Draw them out. Let them talk. Let them draw those rationalizations--"He probably doesn't mean everything he says"--out into the open. And once they're out there, start nibbling delicately away at them. Present counter-facts. Refute with statistics where you can. There's an art to it; be coercive without confrontational, as if you were taming a colt.

Is it a lot harder than turning away? Of course. Will you convince them? Maybe not. But you have a hell of a lot better chance than if you automatically shut them down.

And if we want to avoid a President Trump in November, sooner or later we'll have to start having those conversations.