Yesterday, over on Facebook, I shared a meme from the group No Labels, a movement for people who are fed up with the dysfunction in Washington, and will no longer put up with a government that does not represent the interests of most Americans. The meme consisted of four lines:
- I put my country first.
- I vote for the person, not the party.
- I respect everyone’s opinion, even if I do not agree.
- That’s what it means to be an American.
Hoo, boy! You should have seen the responses. Yes, it wasn’t worded exactly correct (which memes are); in particular, line 3 should have been “I respect individuals, and I tolerate everyone’s opinion, even if I do not agree”. But still, it made me realize that I have a number of progressive readers that, while they profess tolerance of a wide variety of dimensions — religion, skin color, orientation, size, etc. — they don’t extend that tolerance to the political or idological realm. If you are a Conservative, if you are a Trump support, especially if you are on the far right of Trump supporters, they won’t tolerate you. They feel obligated, in some ways, to belittle and insult, to scream yell and fight. I’ll note that I haven’t heard much on this from my few Conservative readers — I don’t know if they are the same way for the folks on the far left. I’d expect they are.
This baffles and bothers me no end. I have always been taught that repentance is always possible. One can turn away from evil ideologies and make restitution. There have been numerous cases of White Supremacists doing exactly that, and turning around and working against the ideology. This has happened because they found people that accepted them as people, and convinced them of the errors of their ideology. They were treated with respect and not dismissed.
I believe there is a large undercurrent of Trump supporters that support him not because they necessarily agree with all he says, but because they are pissed at how Liberals have treated the Conservatives. They see us dissing and disrespecting them, so why should they listen to us at all? I’ve seen people who have voted for Trump, or for similar politicians, for the reason that it would piss off the Liberals, not because they like the politician. Why do many Liberals behave this way? Because the Conservatives behaved that way when Obama was President, dissing and disrespecting the Liberals. And they did it because of how the Liberals behaved when Bush was President. And the Liberals behaved that way because of how the Conservatives behaved when Clinton was President. See the pattern. We’ve got to break it.
There were some good articles of late relating to this. In an opinion piece about Robert DeNiro’s “Fuck Trump” at the Tony’s and how that turns off voters, the author wrote:
You’re right that Donald Trump is a dangerous and deeply offensive man, and that restraining and containing him are urgent business. You’re wrong about how to go about doing that, or at least you’re letting your emotions get the better of you.
When you answer name-calling with name-calling and tantrums with tantrums, you’re not resisting him. You’re mirroring him. You’re not diminishing him. You’re demeaning yourselves. Many voters don’t hear your arguments or the facts, which are on your side. They just wince at the din.
You permit them to see you as you see Trump: deranged. Why would they choose a different path if it goes to another ugly destination?
In an interview with Trevor Noah in the LA Times, when asked about his most important on-the-job lesson, he said:
Many of the people you deal with in politics are doing what they think is right, according to their point of view. There are a few disingenuous bad actors who know how they’re contorting facts or reality or issues to mobilize people in the direction they desire. But it’s really, really hard, and it took me a while to realize, that many people genuinely are pursuing the direction they believe is correct. So I had to learn how to deal with those people in an empathetic way as opposed to in a condescending way. I don’t have to agree with you; I don’t have to think that you are right. But I will do my utmost to treat you as the human being I hope you would treat me as.
I want to emphasize that ending: ” I don’t have to agree with you; I don’t have to think that you are right. But I will do my utmost to treat you as the human being I hope you would treat me as.” We can disagree and argue about ideas and behaviors. We can insist that those are wrong. But the underlying person — whether brown, black, white or green; whether MS13 or Phi Betta Kappa; whether Conservative or Liberal — is worth respecting, for if you dismiss them out of hand, you have no chance of turning them around. Respect doesn’t mean agreement. It means listening to what they say, showing that you have heard what they said, and then based on what they said convincing them of a different viewpoint. It is the exact same respect you have been taught to show for your spouse.
If we want to have any chance of changing the administration to something that approaches something somewhat normal (and remember, when compared to Trump, even such past bad examples as Nixon and Bush 43 look good), we can’t have people voting out of spite. That’s true whether the person is a Trump-ista, a Bernie-crat, or a Hillary supporter. We need to listen, we need to understand their concerns (which are often multifaceted, and not just a particular bad ideology). We need to accept the person, even as we reject the ideas. If we do that, we may be able to move that person (or people observing the discussion) between the partisan divide based on labels alone, and get them to see how close to the brink we have gotten.
Going along with this should be the notion of consistency: If something was wrong for one side, it is wrong for all sides. If, for a given behavior, it was unacceptable for Obama to do it, it should be equally unacceptable for Trump to do it. The “rightness” or “wrongness” of an action doesn’t change “because it’s our guy”. There are numerous examples of this that I’m sure you can think of. Private email servers. Unsecured phones. Attempts by Communist governments to interfere in our elections. Working with dictators and those that impinge on human rights. We need to be consistent on what actions are acceptable and what is not. That also goes for our behavior. If you are behaving in a way that you would have criticized if your political opposite did it, then don’t do it. Did you get upset when Conservatives made fun of Obama’s looks. Then don’t do it for Trump. Be consistent. Consistent approaches as to what is the correct behavior, independent of whether you politcally agree with the person you are criticizing, is another form of respect.
OK. I think this rant is done.