It has oft been said that in order to win an argument with someone, you need to understand where they are coming from. Some recent interactions have prompted some thoughts and insights that I think are applicable in understanding where those who are support Trump — namely, the white male contingent — are coming from.
I have a friend who is strongly into social justice. This friend is hyper-sensitive to privilege issues, to micro-aggression, and all the similar ilk. This friend is also active on the nets, and often writes about these issues. Through these discussions, I’ve become sensitized as well. I don’t always agree 100%, but that’s the nature of human thought; I respect this friend enough not to express any disagreement in their discussions.
Recently, however, I lapsed. I ventured into the dangerous waters and expressed an opinion that I thought was sensitive and in agreement (but slightly broader). I’m still smoking a little around the edges from the response. In thinking about this, I gained some insights.
There are things that we can easily change about ourselves: how we think, how we view society, how we interact with society. There are things about ourselves that can be changed with a little more effort, if we really want: our religion, our gender expression, our eye color, our hair color. Many of the things in this latter category are superficial changes — they may change how society perceives us, but may not change our internal perception. Basically, we’re just making the outside agree with the inside. Then there are things about us that we cannot change, such as our skin color, our ethnicity, our ancestry, the behavior of our ancestors. Attacking or disparaging someone simply because of a characteristic they cannot control is problematic. To put it another way: I happen to have been born a white male to a Jewish family. I can’t change that.
If you are like me — a white male — society has changed around you. You are often being criticized for something you cannot change. You did not create white privilege. You did not create the oppression that your ancestors may have done. You did not create the societal attitudes that were acceptable in the past but are unacceptable now. Although you may have taken advantage of the opportunities that society has provided, you didn’t specifically ask society to provide them to you. You just tried to live your life.
And what has happened to you. Everytime you turn around, you’re being blamed personally for the ills of society. You’re seeing ways that made you comfortable in the past disappear. You’re seeing everything you thought you knew change around you.
I’m not trying to say that the change is wrong. I’m not trying to say that we aren’t moving in the correct direction. I’m not trying to say that the increased sensitivity is a bad thing. I’m not trying to say that how minorities and people of color and other marginalized groups have been treated or viewed in the past was correct. All I’m saying is that this change, which is happening very fast, is making people that were formerly comfortable in their lives uncomfortable. Very uncomfortable.
When you are uncomfortable, what do you want? You want the pain to go away — to be comfortable again. You want things to be they way they once were, when you perceived you were safe and secure and you knew what was going to happen. I emphasize the you there: your concern is making you, personally, feel better; nevermind that it may have been an uncomfortable time for many many others.
Along comes a man who promises to return you to that time. A man who promises to build a wall to keep the change far far away. A man who promises to bring you back to that time when you felt great, when you weren’t being castigated for what you were born into. A man who promises to restore the order, to put the classes and groups that you grew up with being in power back in power again. A man who promises to restore the world you grew up and felt safe in. Note the emphasis on what this brings you ; there is no concern for the impact of this on the other . It is very self-centered.
You now understand many of the supporters of Donald Trump. They are supporting Trump to bring society back to a time when they felt comfortable and safe, irrespective of the impacts on anyone else.
By the way: the supporters of the other leading candidate (the one I support). They are the ones who are concerned less about what the candidate will do for them, and more for what the candidate will do for the others. What the candidate will bring those who have traditionally been marginalized. They understand that there are people who come from the classes with inherent privilege who still work for change, who still work to make the world a better place for all (such as A. Lincoln, F. Roosevelt, L. Johnson, B. Clinton). They understand that although change may make them personally uncomfortable and unsure, in the long term society will be better and stronger for it. While they may be religious, they have internalized religion’s concern for the other: Remember that you were once a slave. Remember that you were once poor and downtrodden. Help your neighbor. The focus is outside yourself. In Jewish terms, they are working to make the world a better place for everyone.
Think long and hard about this difference and distinction. Now think about how you might need to craft an argument to reach the other side. Got it. Good.
By the way, this should give you a strong insight to the point of political discussion, and of much discussion in general. Your initial objective is not to find a large enough stick to beat up the other side. It is understanding of their view, and perhaps why they feel that way (irrespective of whether you agree or not). Through that understanding, you can learn to talk in such a way that you might actually be able to hear each other. Hearing each other is the first step along the path of changing an opinion.
[And now that I’ve got this musing and this thought out of my head, I can focus on other things…]