Daily Dose: How do we talk to Trump supporters?

July 21, 2017

Be honest. What was your first response when you read the phrase, "Trump supporter"? What image popped into your brain, without you even having to "think" about it? Was it something like this?


 It was most likely something like that. Everywhere you look on social media, Democrats and progressives get very creative with ways to call Trump supporters stupid, ignorant, hicks, etc. While some of it is borderline humorous, to be brutally honest in terms of how we win elections and right the ship of democracy, we (as progressives) are our own worst enemies in this case. If we are to truly connect with our neighbors, change public discourse, and bring people together for a more progressive future, we must change our own worldview of many Trump supporters. 


Why? Because most of the people who voted for Trump are human beings like us who just want a better future for themselves, their family, and their community. And as progressives, the core value that drives our behavior is empathy. If we want people to believe that empathy (or caring for others as ourselves) ought to apply to every issue, and be at the foundation of our democracy; then what kind of message are we sending people if we don't act with empathy towards others?


In addition, it shouldn't surprise anyone that the term "liberal elite" was first coined by the 1968 Nixon campaign. It is still an effective way for conservatives to frame progressives as being arrogant, uncaring, and having an agenda to "keep down" the "working man." Progressives' knee-jerk response to Trump voters fulfills that conservative frame!


So - it's time for brutal honesty. Many of the rural Americans who voted for Trump once voted for Barack Obama, and other Democrats in their respective states. And in many parts of the country, Democrats will have a hard time winning again if they don't sway some of those Trump voters. Besides, for many of you reading this, Trump supporters are your neighbors, or even your family. If we are to have any kind of a prosperous future as a people, society, and nation, we're going to have to find common ground and start connecting with people. The only way to connect with people is through shared values - and virtually everyone has the capacity to feel empathy. In fact, even in conservatives it is present - it is merely repressed by the more dominant authoritarian/self-interest frame (conservative). The solution is to act on, and speak through, our authentic progressive value of empathy - I call it "the politics of caring."


At this Spring's Grassroots Festival in Mazomanie, I had the opportunity to participate in a great discussion section with Kathy Cramer (UW-Madison) and Mike McCabe (Blue Jean Nation) about overcoming the "politics of resentment." Here is the full video - there were a lot of great ideas and questions. It's a good starting point to build on:



The solutions to beginning a dialog are relatively simple - but more difficult in practice. I hope we can have a discussion online, or in a future webinar:


  1. Start with making a pledge to NEVER post a derogatory comment about a Trump supporter again. True empathy starts with connecting and understanding people's experiences and needs. What are they?

  2. Find and make opportunities to participate in events, festivals, and benefits that provide service to the community - AND put you next to Trump supporters. Then, instead of talking about your hot button issues, talk about what matters to you in the community and how you can work together towards a better community.

  3. Read and listen to conservative media - and look for their authoritarian/self-interest/immoral government conservative values and frames on issues. Then think of (and even make note of) how empathy, democracy, and progressive freedom apply to that issue. It is important to understand that conservatives view issues from a different moral perspective - and many people are "biconceptual" (having both frames present - only one active at a time) on many issues. So there is opportunity to evoke progressive empathy and strengthen it in people.

  4. When you are in the presence of Trump supporters, it is important to consciously think of them as human beings who are seeking many of the same things out of life that we do - so talk to them about hopes and dreams for the future. This gives you the opportunity to act and speak on how caring for each other will help make that future a possibility - just as it does in a family.

This is a start - what are your ideas to act and speak with empathy? Feel free to comment below!


Have a great weekend, and "see" you Monday.

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