Don’t Become the Issue

This is an essay directed at my fellow liberals. We can, in the coming months, shift the attention of deeply conflicted Trump voters, from President Trump’s behavior to ours. We can turn them into Trump supporters (not just protest voters) if we fix their attention on our responses rather than the actions and statements of the new president.

Doing what comes naturally

That would be a really stupid thing to do, but we’re probably going to do it. Donald Trump is a pathological liar. [1] He is going to continue to say outrageous things and take rash and thoughtless actions. He is going to make a lot of Trump voters wish they had not voted for him and he is going to do it very quickly.

At that point, these Trump voters—not yet Trump supporters—are going to have really bad feelings about their chtrump-1ampion. So far as it is possible, they are going to deny that he really did what all the papers say he did. Failing that, they are going to say that it was an understandable mistake by a new president or that it was well-intentioned by the president but mishandled by his supporters. They are going to say that huge errors are mere foibles.

None of those things are going to work for them for long. When all those defense mechanisms fail, they are going to have to face the fact that they have elected an idiot (a private person) to public office and that it was a mistake. I say “they are going to have to,” but what I really mean is that they are going to have to unless we rescue them.

We can rescue them—and probably will—be turning their attention from the actions of the Trump administration to ourselves. We can make our response to Trump the compelling story. We can be vindictive. We can dismiss Trump voters in a block as “haters” and “racists.” We can act like condescending snobs. We can make ourselves into the story that matters most to them.

And if we do that, they will respond by doing whatever it takes to hit back at us. We are now the story that matters to them. Whatever irks us is “good public policy.” Anything that makes us angry is “the return of values to public life.” The systematic devastation of long-term relationships with our allies is “bold new approaches to foreign policy.”
Please note, in this difficulty I am setting up, that they don’t need to believe any of these things. They just need to calculate what will feel like a slap in the face to people like us and do that. We are now the feedback loop. They aren’t paying any attention to Trump at all any more except to gather enough “facts” to justify his behavior.

In this process, we will have turned a lot of Americans who were deeply divided about their decision to vote for Trump into actual supporters and defenders of Trump. I think that is the wrong thing to do. I think we can do better. [2]

Doing Better

At the risk of making my proposal sound like a therapy session, let me begin by noting that many counselors find it useful to begin with the presupposition that the client is doing as well as he can. The counselor doesn’t blame the client for doing what he has been doing. She just establishes that he doesn’t really want the life that his choices are producing and then she provides him with new ideas and new actions and new feelings to try out. “These will work better,” she says, “but you will need to practice them and you will need to be patient.”

trump-2I am not proposing that these conflicted Trump voters need therapy. I am saying that way down inside their resentments and angers, there are values that are not all that different from ours. If we can find a way to engage those values, we can find a way to affirm them together.

In this article, Wes Jackson rages at the credulity of the farmers of Salina, Kansas in refusing to believe in global warming. [3] He sounds like I want to sound. But his daughter-in-law, Nancy Jackson, sounds the way I am proposing that we all sound. She says this:

 Why does it have to be about climate change? Why not identify issues that motivate them instead of getting stuck on something that does not?

Nancy Jackson is my hero. And if I recall the article correctly (you can check it out and be sure), she got amazing program results that no one else had gotten and I have no trouble believing that at all.

I am not trying to urge my fellow liberals to do what Nancy Jackson has done. It’s too hard. I am only asking that we refuse to get in the road of the reconsideration that events will force on Trump voters, unless we bail them out. We can make “how unfair we are to President Trump” the story that matters to them. We can make our disdain for them—and their current champion—into the story that matters. Or, we can give them a chance to back away gracefully and if we do that, I think many will back away.

trump-3By our generosity, we would be saying that in voting for Trump, they were doing the best they could do. But now that the daily outrages and embarrassments (that resulted from their choice) are too hard to swallow, we can begin to work at finding common values and begin to treat them as potential allies.  No one, for instance, really prefers decaying highways and bridges to safe ones.

In closing, let me just say that we are not obligated to do this. An outrage has been perpetrated on our nation and a lot of poor and angry white people have smacked us in the mouth. We are perfectly within our rights to shove their noses in the mess Trump will make and yell, “See! See what you did!” And that would feel really good.

But it won’t do anything good for America and I think we can do better.

[1] And by using a term that was once truly a medical term, I want to call attention to the pathology. “Pathological” has come to mean “really, really” as if it were just an intensive adjective. That’s not what I am talking about. I think that the man’s awareness of the facts is thin and paltry and that it is often overcome by his commitment to having the effect he wants. He will say the things that get him the effect he is looking for with no awareness at the moment that the “facts” he is citing are generated on the spot. I call that a pathology, although I don’t have a clinical name for it, and that is why I referred to our future president as a pathological liar.
[2] By “we,” I am referring to liberal/progressive citizens. I am not referring to the officeholders we chose to represent us. I think they should respond to the anticipated evil deeds of the Trump administration with “an eye for and eye and a tooth for a tooth.” I think they should be vindictive and effective. That’s their job. It is not our job.
[3] This comes from an essay I posted on October 20, 2010. I called it “Want to save the world? Get out of the way.”

About hessd

Here is all you need to know to follow this blog. I am an old man and I love to think about why we say the things we do. I've taught at the elementary, secondary, collegiate, and doctoral levels. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. I have taught political science for a long time and have practiced politics in and around the Oregon Legislature. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. You'll be seeing a lot about my favorite topics here. There will be religious reflections (I'm a Christian) and political reflections (I'm a Democrat) and a good deal of whimsy. I'm a dilettante.
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