How to Talk to Your Liberal Relatives at Thanksgiving
An open letter to my liberal cousin.
As we all enjoy Thanksgiving dinner with family, many of us will attempt to avoid political conversations with our liberal relatives. But what if you can’t? Well, we here in our humble shop don’t typically write in first person, but I’m going to break out of that mold today. My own liberal cousin recently asked my perspective on the election. Her questions essentially amounted to a cry, “Is our nation really full of ignorant bigots?” So maybe my letter to her will help provide a template for a civil Thanksgiving dinner discussion about assumptions and perceptions rather than division and accusations.
First of all, I’m glad you asked my perspective on the election and am thankful that you’re at least seeking to understand the other side. I could write a book answering your questions, but I know you’re a busy mom and teacher, so I’ll try to be brief.
I know good people who had good reasons for voting for either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. As for the general electorate, I’m going to make some sweeping generalizations, but they’re important for perspective.
Liberals (and I think I’m being fair to include you) see government as the best and biggest possible force for good. You see injustice in the way women, minorities, gays, the poor, etc. are treated. You want equality. You see people killed left and right with guns, and you want to protect your family and your school kids. And you want to rectify all of that where it’ll make the most difference for everyone — from Washington, DC.
It’s really important for you to realize that conservatives see the same things. We want to solve those problems, not create or defend them. Obviously, however, our solutions are different, and there are some disagreements over what the problem actually is.
We want to protect our right to defend our own families. We want a rising tide to lift all boats — JFK said that about tax cuts — and we want good schools, good jobs, fair pay, equal justice and opportunity (which doesn’t mean equal outcome) for everyone. We just don’t think DC is the place to accomplish that. Our families, churches, local communities and states are better suited because we’re nearer to the problem than some distant bureaucrat or corrupt national politician.
So to the election.
This election was a reaction to the last eight years. During that time in particular, anyone who didn’t support massive growth of government through ObamaCare, financial overhaul, the stimulus, increased minimum wage, same-sex marriage, etc. has been told they’re not just wrong but horrible people.
To be sure, there are some haters who claim to be on the Right — people who troll the internet to say awful things to and about liberals. Heck, they say awful things about other conservatives if they’re not “pure” enough. I’ve been called plenty of ugly things by Trump’s truest believers whenever I’ve written the slightest criticism. And I can only imagine that you, along with many liberals, minorities, women, and others, felt that Trump grossly offended your humanity with some of the horrible things he’s said.
But to Trump voters, it’s the liberals in power — whether in media or elected office — who are smearing regular Americans who just want to be left alone.
For example, this sentiment from Slate columnist Jamelle Bouie: “There’s no such thing as a good Trump voter: People voted for a racist who promised racist outcomes. They don’t deserve your empathy.” That column has well over 100,000 shares on Facebook, so it’s not just one dude’s opinion. He evidently struck a chord for liberals.
But 700 counties voted for Obama twice. 209 of them voted for Trump this time. Are they now racist?
Liberal philosopher Noam Chomsky, in apparent seriousness, calls the GOP “the most dangerous organization in world history.”
And of course Hillary labeled Trump supporters a “basket of deplorables” who are “irredeemable.”
When was the last time you reacted kindly to someone who completely besmirched your character? Who assumed the absolute worst about you? And not only that, but someone in power who wanted to force you to do things their way?
Reactions can be bad, too, though. “That jerk just cut me off in traffic!” Well yes, but maybe he was just distracted as he rushed to the hospital because his wife is dying. Was it right to cut you off? No, but maybe he needs a little grace. The same can be said of politics.
Trump voters look around and see corruption in government, factories moving to China, illegal immigrants taking their jobs, riots in major cities — and a media complex that blames them for it. You certainly don’t have to agree with those voters to realize that if they see things that way, they’d latch on to the vehicle they think will best rectify those wrongs.
You asked specifically about the margin of white evangelicals voting for Trump. First, I’d say that the term “evangelical” is so broad as to be mostly meaningless. There are seemingly countless denominations that don’t even agree on what it means to be a Christian, much less about political agendas. That said, certainly some evangelicals were really for Trump, which may be perplexing given his glaring character flaws. But I suspect most are like the believers I fellowship with every Sunday morning: They were against a woman who supports abortion without restriction, funded by taxpayers; who is no friend of religious liberty; and who would nominate Supreme Court justices who agree with these positions. This election perhaps more than any I’ve ever read about was a “lesser of two evils” election, and Christians chose according to their perceptions of that “evil.”
Next, you asked about Trump’s incoming chief strategist, Steve Bannon. Here, I’m going to quote The Wall Street Journal: “We’ve never met Mr. Bannon, and we don’t presume to know his character, but maybe one lesson of 2016 is that deciding that Americans who disagree with you are bigots is a losing strategy. Politics would be healthier if accusations of racism in the country that twice elected the first black President were reserved for more serious use.”
Really, that sums up my answer to your overarching question: What happened? I believe Trump voters simply tired of being told how awful they are, and many of them didn’t bother to share that with pollsters in advance. They just voted.
Finally, I really appreciate you asking these questions. Obviously, you’re interested in hearing what I have to say, and responding to you has helped me consider things from your point of view. I suppose remembering that perceptions influence our thinking at least as much as facts will help when considering that people don’t see things the same way.
I’m certainly not trying to convert you to conservatism with one simple letter — though you’d be welcome into the fold — nor do I expect you’ll even agree with my framing. But I do hope I’ve shown that a handful of hateful people on both sides of the political aisle don’t define the vast and overwhelming majority of Americans.