Sometime during the GOP primary races–probably after I wrote this— I started to sign on to the view that we need to stop “understanding” Trump supporters and focus on defeating them. I had forgotten two things.

First, while “defeating” (and winning over) the opposition are the principal goals in a political contest, it’s not always about “defeating.” It’s also about trying to live in the same world with others, being open to what they have to say, and when possible, convincing them to listen to what I have to say.

Second, understanding the opposition is always important. There’s the utilitarian reason. You’re more likely to win if you understand your opponent. But there’s also the intrinsic rightness of aspiring to empathy. People are people in their own right. I never said and never really believed that Trump supporters were the caricatures of racist reactionaries that others portrayed them as any more. But I probably acted that way.

Trump supporters have their own feelings and their own complex views of the things in their lives that affect them. They are humans just like me, though on average they probably got a lot fewer breaks in their lives than I have. I don’t mean that last point condescendingly, either, as in “they are so underprivileged that they must turn to somebody like Trump.” But it’s probably the case that I stood and stand to gain a lot than they from the type of policies that Clinton would have enacted or maintained. (It’s probably also the case that from a purely personal perspective, I stand to gain a lot from some policies Trump supports.) I also have resources to fall back on should I experience some reversals in fortune. So maybe I should withhold judgment when someone sees things differently. That’s what I ask of others before they judge me.

I do maintain some fundamental disagreements. Whatever their personal views, people who voted for Trump at the very least determined that his racist and sexist-bordering-on-pro-rape-apologetics statements weren’t deal breakers. For me, they would have been deal breakers even if Trump’s views aligned with my own on other matters. Some of my nieces, nephews, and in-laws are Latino or black. Those statements of Trump suggest either that they don’t have a place in our society or that their “proper” place is below white males. (That said and while I don’t know for sure, one of my Latina in-laws probably voted for Trump.)

I need to get out of my bubble more often. As the cliche goes, to understand someone is to forgive–or at least legitimate–them. “Understanding” can sometimes lead to apologetics or agreeing with that with which I should not agree. But it can also put things in perspective and force me to recognize others’ humanity.

Category: Statehouse

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10 Responses to Back to understanding

  1. Road Scholar says:

    Yeah… this is lovely. Very open-minded and liberalish. But I *don’t* live in that bubble. I actually live and work in that *other* bubble. The online world of OT and HC is my mental sanctuary from the sea of Trumpy bullshit in which I swim daily.

    The stereotypes truly aren’t that far off and there’s really not much empathic understanding to be had. Of course that doesn’t apply to everyone that voted for him. For many it was voting for “generic Republican,” for others it was “Never Hillary,” or “God, I’m sick of the Clintons.” But for those who enthusiastically embraced Trump the man there isn’t much excuse.

    Right now I’m having to process the knowledge, based on Facebook shares and likes, that my brother embraces the Alt-Right. I genuinely don’t know what to do with that.

  2. trumwill says:

    Defeating them is pretty important. Understanding them is important to that end. In the middle of a race is a bad time to try to pivot like that, and so I was not especially flexible. First put out the fire, then worry about the electrical wiring.

    Race is over now. Now we need to figure out what to do doing forward. Figure out which ones can be flipped and how (without sacrificing principles).

    I plan to lay out my thoughts on this further somewhere, but when we talk about Trump Supporters, we need to specify whether we’re talking about the Conspicuous Trump Supporter (the guy with the confederate flag and offensive t-shirt), the Median Trump Supporter (check the statistics), and the Margin Trump Supporter (the ones who aren’t committed, could be persuaded).

    That’s a start. Some of the CTS’s are there for different reasons than others. Same with Medians. Same with Margin.

    • That’s true. I especially agree with your last paragraph.

    • ScarletNumber says:

      Defeating them is pretty important. Understanding them is important to that end.

      Yeah, why bother understanding them for the sake of understanding them?

      Stay classy.

      • trumwill says:

        When they lit the fuse they lit, the whole game became more goal-oriented. That’s the cost of being politically significant.

        • ScarletNumber says:

          This is very dishonest and manipulative of you.

          I mean, I’m not surprised, but I still want to point it out.

          • trumwill says:

            Not really. At least a part of it if finding out where they might be accommodated so that they don’t see Trump as the answer. Some of it involves finding ways to pursuade others that maybe they’re wrong.

            That’s the nature of politics. Trump is going to be president now. Either he turns out to be a lot better than I think, or trying to minimize the damage is more important than academic or intellectual interest.

      • One point I agree with what you (seem to be) arguing is that I believe understanding others–and the concomitant empathy and compassion for them–is necessary in its own right and part of our obligation to treat others as ends in themselves.

        However, I do believe that sometimes the stakes can be so high–the fire can start and become so potentially dangerous–that understanding for tactical reasons ought to outweigh understanding as something required in its own right.

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