I am starting to wind down my debriefing of the Trump victory. Another blog or two and I’ll move on. Today I consider how divided America has become, and I offer some suggestions on productive steps to correcting the situation.
The election seemed to prove three things in a manner that is hard to miss:
- American is growing increasingly divided
- The two (or more) political camps demarcating the American divide really have absolutely no idea how the “other guys” understand reality
- Too many people, in general, have no idea how to disagree with each other
That America is divided couldn’t have been made any clearer in this last election. The issues that divide are no longer peripheral issues about how best to pursue a common vision for their future; rather, Americans have a wide diversity of views about which future to even pursue in the first place. A married couple might disagree about what color to paint their living room, but if they agree about the house they live in, the city they live in, and the family and career choices they have made then such a couple is likely to survive for the long haul.
But if the couple cannot even agree about which city to live in, and whether they should live in the city or the country, then the color of the living room is irrelevant. That couple is almost certainly doomed.
This divide in American politics will only grow stronger in the future, I predict, and it will only serve to make America weaker. At least, until one side persuades the other side of their perspective. But they will not be able to persuade the other guys because they don’t even understand the other guys.
Which brings me to my second point: that the two camps are largely ignorant about each other. This couldn’t have been made more apparent than by the absolutely ignorant claims that Trump is doomed to fail because he is racist and sexist. As I showed in the exit poll statistics in a previous article, that explanation holds water about as well as a sieve. Because that hypothesis was so demonstrably false, that means that the anti-Trump crowd is demonstrably ignorant about the pro-Trump (or, more correctly, the anti-Clinton) crowd. The fact that Trump lost white voter shares and gained minority voter shares, and that Clinton lost voter share among women despite being the ideal, quintessential, feminist candidate, speaks volumes to just how ill-informed they really are if they say a vote for Trump was a vote for racism and sexism.
I would suggest those on the political right are also rather ignorant of those on the political left, but because Trump won it just happens that the ignorance of the left is somewhat on display at this particular junction of history. But don’t be fooled, this is not a one-sided problem.
One should naturally ask how they could be so ignorant, and how would one might correct such ignorance. It begins with actually talking to the other guys, which leads us to my third point; people have no idea how to disagree.
Because people have no idea how to disagree – and I am far from the only person to make this observation – they also don’t talk to each other. When they don’t talk, is it any surprise that they don’t understand each other? It’s a cycle; they don’t talk, so they don’t understand each other – they don’t understand each other so the “other guys” are increasingly seen through an “us versus them” lens, and therefore they don’t talk to them.
Instead of talk, what do we get? Protests. Violent protests, in some cases.
And if the “other guys” are violently protesting, does that make me think to myself, “gee, I sure would love to sit down with them and discuss these issues over coffee?”
Oh, heck, NO! The protests lead to fear and segregation as the two sides move, rather quickly, apart from each other. Which, ironically, is what those same people accused Trump of doing; creating a divisive atmosphere. Because Trump is divisive I’m going to protest and make the atmosphere even more divisive.
And how’s that working out for you?
All-in-all, this has been one of the most mixed up, backwards elections in a very long time, and it reveals some of the most mixed up, backwards realities about the American public. The very people who push the idea that Trump is divisive are, themselves, one of the most divisive forces in public life.
Given these multifaceted elements of the problem, how should we proceed?
A solution (or part of it, anyway)
To describe a full solution to the problem would require an entire book (hey, look, I wrote just such a book) so I’ll keep this short. Below are some good first steps to solving the divisiveness of present-day politics. As a side note, this works for Canadian politics too. As an additional side note; these observations apply to both sides of the political divide; I’m not just picking on progressives here!
- Don’t assume that those who disagree with you are evil or ignorant. And don’t treat them as such. Assume that you simply don’t understand each other and that you would both gain a whole lot of clarity over a cup of coffee.
- Don’t confuse the embarrassing fringe elements with the mainstream. The right-wingers have their KKK, and the left-wingers have their “truthers.” Both sides have those crazy cousins they really wish wouldn’t show up at family gatherings so for the sake of the overall discussion please ignore them and don’t pretend that the fringe represents the group.
- When you read a news article assume there’s a 50% chance something in it is either false or misleading. If the headline is sensational, assume there is a 75% chance something in the article is either false or misleading. If you read something on social media assume there is a 95% chance that what you are reading is either false or misleading. There is no science behind these numbers; just a relative need for caution and vigilance. Truth is growing increasingly difficult to come by in a media atmosphere where sensationalism = readers = profit (for social media, insert “popularity”). Truth doesn’t pay well.
- Don’t ever engage in discussions on these subjects digitally. By all means email each other interesting articles and, for the love of freedom of expression, start a blog like I have (maybe you’ll even get more than three readers; hi mom!) but never, ever, dive headlong into conversations in comment boxes, chat rooms, Twitter, Facebook, email or any other such digital medium. The only time you should ever have these discussions is if the two of you are physically sitting in the same room, looking at each other, breathing the same physical air. Coffee (or similar) helps, but is optional.
- Never describe feeling offended, scared, hurt, angry, excluded, or any other of the long list of emotional blackmail buzzwords that get thrown into the conversation the moment somebody has decided that “it’s too hard to persuade them so maybe I’ll just guilt them.”
- Never accuse anybody of racism, sexism or any other “ism,” nor homophobia, xenophobia, transphobia, or any other “phobia.” First, you are almost certainly wrong, and second, namecalling is for two-year-olds. Grow up.
- Never attend a protest. Nobody cares about protests anymore (except the media, see above point) because they have been so overdone again and again and again.
- Make sure you actually talk to people you disagree with. Because of the “birds of a feather” instinct of all humans (yes, even my fellow right-wingers) we don’t tend to cross paths with those we disagree with. Make a point of doing so. Treat them to coffee and abide by the above-listed guidelines. And, of course, everything else I say in Arguing with Friends.
Yes, go and buy my book right now; help feed my children. Er, I mean, help heal the massive rift that divides Western Civilization. Yeah, that’s it…
What I’ve written above not the whole picture, of course, it’s just the obvious low-hanging fruit. But if everybody started by following these rules I can guarantee that the temperature on these conversations would plummet rapidly to something closer to room temperature. There is a chance we might actually listen to each other, we might actually understand each other, and perhaps even have some of our cherished views challenged in the process.
Gasp! We might have to rethink our beliefs.
Trust me; it’s a liberating experience. It’s painful at first, but like pulling a splinter it’s a whole lot better than protecting the status quo.