How to Move Forward and Fight Better Political Battles (Starting Right Now)

Last night, I posted the following status update to my Facebook account:

 

Wait, there’s been reports of racial harassment to people of color from Trump supporters? Well, we shouldn’t be surprised.

I mean, when white Republicans send candidates to the White House, they’re not sending their best. They’re sending a candidate with supporters that have lots of problems. They’re bringing crime, and they’re racists, and some of them, I assume, are good people.

 

It was my tongue-in-cheek way of trying to get conservative Republicans who feel defensive about accusations of racism to see how it feels to be targeted rhetorically, and then to remind them that guess what? Your choice for president said this, and much more.

But satire is always a risky proposition when it comes to making a point, and most of the time it ends up serving as a way to signal congratulations from people who already agree with you. Last night’s post was no exception. A bunch of my Facebook friends who knew what I meant, laughed. (One friend said she laughed so hard, she ran out of capital letters. “HAHAHAHAHAHAHAhahahahahahaha,” That cracked me up.)

On the other hand, a few of them responded somberly, aghast at the ideological divide that this election has revealed. They wanted to stick up for people they know who voted for Trump who they feel are good people who agonized over a difficult choice and just made it differently than I did.

I get that.

I still think they’re wrong for choosing Trump, but I get it.

Today is Veteran’s Day, and it’s an important reminder that America is something that many generations of people have shed blood, sweat and tears trying to preserve. And those of us who do not serve in the armed forces still have an important role in doing so, and it starts with the way we interact with each other.

I realize that this is going to come off as platitude-ish, and perhaps you’re tempted to tune out because you’ve seen similar pieces all over the internet. This will hopefully be different. I’m not asking you generically to “come together” or “put aside our differences.” Our differences are super important. For most of us, they are the reason why we’re fighting.

Regardless if you’re liberal or conservative, I don’t want you to stop fighting for what you believe in.

But any good marriage counselor will tell you that although fights in a marriage are normal, it’s important that you learn how to fight fairly.

(And when I say fights, I mean verbal conflict. If your marriage is a place where physical abuse is a normal occurrence, you need to get out.)

Here are some tips on how I think we can fight fairly in our rhetorical exchanges, either online or in person, and thus help move the conversation forward in a more productive manner. These are good for politicians, and they’re good for citizens.

And if you find something particularly useful, you have my permission to cut-and-paste these words into your Facebook conversations (provided you give me credit, either with a link or by mentioning my name).


  1. Don’t hit and run.

    Like, not literally. (Well, don’t do that, either.)

    But don’t do the thing I see on Facebook a lot, which is, “well, I’m not really here for a discussion, but I just think that…” Just stop. If you’re not willing to meaningfully engage with people who might disagree with you, then just keep your comments to yourself. Sometimes I troll. My example above is a good example… but it’s trolling with a specific purpose and a willingness to engage. It’s like when Bomani Jones wore his Caucasians T-shirt. I’m not saying don’t hit. I’m saying don’t hit under the pretense that you’re not hitting. Don’t hit and then try to escape the repercussions of your actions because it’s more fun to do the hitting than it is to do the explaining.

    (Also, if you want a more conservative example of biting satire, the Babylon Bee just posted an item about police quelling millennial protestors with participation trophies. If you share that, you better be willing to have a conversation about it.)

  2. Diversify your sources.

    Right now, my Volvo has a glitch in its electrical system that affects my stereo. Literally every time I start the car, the radio goes by default to the local talk/news FM station, which airs a lot of conservative programming. At first, I was annoyed by that, because my default talk radio preference is the local NPR station. But after awhile I came to appreciate the extent to which it helped to broaden the perspective I was getting about the election. (Plus, I think Markley and Van Camp are funny sometimes.)

    If you want to be well-informed, you must dispense with the fiction that there is such a thing as objectivity. Only then can you begin to evaluate the biases and perspectives of the media sources where you get your news. Find a few that you like on either side of the ideological spectrum, and then begin to compare them. If you do it long enough, you’ll probably realize that in any given story that opposing sides are reporting oppositely, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle.

    Also, read sources from outside the U.S., and find out what people of other nations think about the issues that Americans are grappling with.

    All of this will help you to…

  3. Do your own fact-checking.

    I’ve had interactions with people who voted for Trump, and they defended their decision with a litany of complaints about Hillary, and most of them weren’t just exaggerations or stretching-the-truth kinds of things, but they were outright lies and fabrications, many of which can be easily fact-checked. And when I or others have used Snopes as a source to disprove one of those allegations (like for example that Hillary had been disbarred, when she has not), the response I typically get is, “oh, well you can’t trust them.”

    Okay fine, then look in several places and compare! There’s a reason why Google gives you a whole bunch of options when you search for something. Don’t just accept the word of a source with a clear ideological angle. If you think Snopes is too ideologically biased, give me your proof. Show me how you can tell. Don’t just say that it’s biased because someone else (who’s also biased!) told you so.

    If you give up fact-checking because you think everyone is biased, then you’re really just outsourcing your thinking to someone else. That’s not being “independent” … that’s being a drone.

  4. In any situation, consider the context.

    One of the complaints I’ve heard more recently from conservatives is that a lot of the media coverage of Trump took his comments out of context. That is, there were times where he said something insulting to minorities, then tried to walk it back a little to explain more about what he meant. I think there is something to this complaint, because as we all know, Trump is not a polished politician. The fact that he is an unskilled orator doesn’t mean that he shouldn’t be held accountable for the recklessness of his words, but it does mean that we should take them in the context in which they were said.

    That should be true of anyone. If you have a problem with a situation, make sure you get the whole story. Who was in the room? What kind of venue or situation was it? If your complaint is about a book, movie or a TV show, make sure to differentiate the theme of the show or the voice of the author from the voice of a character. If it’s about a piece of music, learn about that music before you judge it. Life is so much richer when we understand the power of context, because if you change the way something is framed, you can make just about anything look like its opposite, like turning Luke Cage into an episode of Family Matters.

  5. Clarify your terms.

    I firmly believe that 50% of the arguments people have on Facebook come from a misunderstanding of terms, and if we could agree on what we mean, we could agree more easily on everything else.

    For example, there is a big difference between racial prejudice and racism (the latter is a system that requires the misuse of institutional power). There is also an important difference between white privilege and white fragility (one is a set of undeserved advantages in society, the other is the reluctant inability to discuss issues surrounding said undeserved advantages). There are also important differences between race (which is a construct), ethnicity (which is tied to a cultural tradition), and nationality (which specifies a connection to an actual sovereign state or nation).

     

    So if you’re trying to have a conversation and you’re not sure which terms to use — ask! Or look it up. Or propose a temporary working definition, to be revised later. But don’t argue needlessly when you’re using the same words to mean different things.

  6. Be guided by principle rather than partisan habit.

    I saw a headline on Slate the other day that I swear could’ve just as easily been on Fox News or Breitbart if the word “Trump” had been exchanged for “Clinton.” It was something about some media agency being “in the tank” for that candidate… maybe it was about the recent People magazine controversy? Anyway, it just felt so similar to what I’ve heard from conservatives for years complaining about Obama is a rock-star candidate and the media was “in the tank” for him. When you’re in an echo chamber, it becomes so much easier to chime in, knowing there are others who are already predisposed to agree with you. Resist that habit. Even though you might agree with a lot of what you read in a particular source, don’t just forward it or share it out of habit. Examine each situation and treat it on its own merits.

    I really liked Senator Bernie Sanders’ response to the Trump election. He said (and I’m paraphrasing): to the extent that Donald Trump wants to create policies that benefit working families get out of poverty, we are ready to work with him. To the extent that he wants to oppress minorities, we will oppose him. See the difference? He didn’t say that he would oppose everything Trump wants to do. He didn’t say his number one priority was making Donald Trump a one-term president (remember that one from Mitch McConnell? Out of context, but still bad). He is being guided by his principles first, and partisanship takes a back seat to the duty of governance.  Chris Christie took a beating for how quickly he got on the Trump train, but I always thought his finest moment was in 2012 during Superstorm Sandy when he jettisoned partisan politics in order to get relief for his state.

  7. Take responsibility for your words and actions.

    This here, right now? This is the biggest thing. Once you make a decision, then own it. Be willing to bear a measure of responsibility for the outcome that decision created. If you offend someone, apologize. And if you’re not sorry, say so. But explain yourself if an explanation is required. If you make a hard call, say so. Yeah, this was my choice. It wasn’t a perfect situation, but I did the best I could. Don’t duck from the press. Don’t hide behind excuses. Don’t let others speak for you if you can speak for yourself. Face the music. Be willing to deal with the consequences.

     


 

This is a universal principle we should all live by, but in this election, it has taken an additional layer of urgency. Hillary’s lack of honesty regarding the email situation and the DNC’s collusion with her campaign were probably the biggest things that did her candidacy in.

But now that Hillary is out, she’s old news.

I want conservatives who elected Trump to take some responsibility for his campaign.

Not full responsibility… but some responsibility.

And let me be clear — I know that there are many issues besides racial issues that propelled President-elect Trump (I still can’t believe I just typed that) into the White House. I know that racial issues are not the only thing here. In my last piece about pain, I articulated several ways in which we progressives need to take responsibility for overlooking the pain of white, working class people, so don’t think I’m letting liberals off the hook.

Nevertheless, racial issues are still a big part of the story of his election, and not because “the media” made it a story, but because Trump himself made it a story. Not only that, but he has done and said a litany of outrageous things that to many of us, caused us to feel like he disqualified himself for the presidency. Slate compiled a list of 230 of them.

So now that he’s been elected, many progressives, myself included, are asking for people who voted for Trump to account for these things, because a vote for him means support for the man that did them. Maybe you think they were taken out of context. Maybe you think they didn’t happen the way liberals said they did. But either way, there needs to be an accounting for them. A reckoning, if you will. This is what I mean by taking responsibility.

Hasan Minhaj of The Daily Show, was featured on a segment where he said that people who voted for Trump might not hate people of color, but they saw that the Trump package included a healthy dose of racism and picked it anyway, so it’s fair to say they just don’t care about people of color.

In this context, it makes more sense that the opposite of love isn’t hate; it’s indifference.

A conservative friend of mine took umbrage when I used the Hasan Minhaj quote to imply that conservative white people don’t care about people of color. He has told me repeatedly that he could not have voted for Hillary Clinton out of a sense of duty to protect the unborn.

To close out my piece, this is my response:

No, I don’t think you hate people of color. But I do think that in your analysis and decision, you have prioritized the potential lives of the unborn over the lives of people of color and other groups that Trump has targeted in his rhetoric. And even when they weren’t targeted, Trump demonstrated inadvertent, reckless, and often maliciously indifference towards them.

Now, you certainly have your reasons for that.

Maybe your logic is, “well, at least they’re alive, so they have a chance.” Fine. Maybe it’s something else. Either way, I want you to own that. Be willing to admit it. It’s not going to offend me.

What offends me more is the silence.

I quote the urban poet Jason Petty (aka Propaganda), who said the following on a Lecrae track::

“Why would we listen when American churches scuff their Toms on our brothers’ dead bodies as they march to stop gay marriage? We had issues with planned parenthood, too. We just cared about black lives outside the womb just as much as in.”

I suppose you could use my logic against me, and accuse me of being calloused and lacking in compassion to the unborn. I accept that. Y’know why? I don’t work, worship, live or go to school with the unborn. I don’t see them on the street, or interact with them online.

But I do know plenty of people of color. I know plenty of gay and lesbian people. I’ve met a few trans people, and I know several who have functional limitations that some would call disabilities. Their lives are a part of my life. I converse with them, share food at holidays, etc.

What I’m asking of anyone who voted for Trump is not to hide behind your privilege just because his words and policy proposals do not directly threaten your way of the life in the way that they do me and mine. I’m asking you to extend yourself to do more to protect those people. I’m asking you to do more for *my* sake. Take an anti-racism training, or read a book if that’s not an option. I can make several recommendations.

But do something further besides deny your role in perpetuating racism.


So there they are. Simple to understand, but difficult to master.

The 7 Highly-Effective Habits For Fighting Fair:

  • Don’t hit and run (rhetorically speaking).
  • Diversify your sources.
  • Do your own fact-checking.
  • In any situation, consider the context.
  • Clarify your terms.
  • Be guided by principle rather than partisan habits.
  • Take responsibility for your words and actions.

If we all find a way to do these things, this American experiment will get better. I guarantee it.

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