Public Platform, Not Face-to-Face
I can imagine that many, upon hearing it proposed that going after our fellow citizens who support Trump, might picture the task as consisting of us as individuals engaging in persuasive argumentation with those of our neighbors or family members who are on the other side of America’s great divide.
People would be understandably unwilling to take on such a task. So let me say right out front: that’s not at all what I have in mind.
Ever since mid-way through W’s presidency, almost everyone I know who has attempted such a task has found it fruitless– or worse. The right-wing propagandists have created a political culture that’s as big on dogma as it is short on critical thinking. A one-on-one conversation will almost surely fail to persuade. And the friction that such an encounter produces is unpleasant to experience and erosive to human bonds.
That’s why all over the nation, for well over a decade, friends, families, neighbors have agreed to avoid dealing with the political matters on which they disagree, in order to maintain the peace.
I expect that everyone has places in their lives — or has heard from other people — where such avoidance has been a matter of tacit agreement.
No, “going after the Trump 37%” ought not to be conducted for the most part in a face-to-face fashion. Better to have the mode be one in which they receive the messages in the privacy of their own consciousness, without any response being required of them.
Anyone with a public platform — political leaders, media figures, celebrities, etc. — should address them. And anyone can get a kind of public platform with letters-to-the-editor. And anyone can encourage their political leaders, etc., to speak out to the 37% with messages designed to move them away from the crazy, destructive place from which those on the right are coming now in their politics.
Having our public discourse become dense with messages directed toward the 37%, from those who see that something has gone wrong on the right, would be a change, would it not? By which I mean: how many voices from the anti-Trump side (liberals and otherwise) does one hear actually speaking to those on the other side of the divide? It seems that liberals talk to liberals, and the people speaking to the 37% are the likes of Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, and the rest of the right-wing propagandists.
As I said earlier in the series, as far as I know, I’m the only liberal pundit who regularly (or really, at all) is writing with a conservative, Trump-supporting audience in mind.
So I guess we might take my weekly messages to the conservatives in the very red VA-06 as a kind of drop-in-the-bucket illustration of what I’m proposing be done on a much, much larger scale.
The Tapping of a Finger, the Slamming of a Sledge Hammer
But how good a case can be made on the basis of what I’ve been able to accomplish with my messages from my small public platforms?
Even though, as I wrote earlier in the series, one would not expect any of the members of the right-wing political subculture to show publicly if anything they heard or read loosened the grip of the orthodoxy on their thinking, I think there’s a good chance that my impact has been small enough that multiplying that impact manyfold still wouldn’t amount to anything earth-shattering.
But I maintain that’s no reason to conclude that the “futility” argument wins the day. And here’s my reason.
After my run for Congress in 2012, I described the Republican base– specifically in my District, but presumably more generally– as “the Uncracked Nut.” I realized that my efforts to make inroads in that Republican base had been thwarted. I had (mostly) failed to persuade them– not by their having heard and rejected what I had to say about how their representative (Bob Goodlatte) and his Party were betraying them, but by virtue of a salient characteristic of that political subculture:
That subculture has taught them to ignore whatever isn’t certified by their authorities.
The first task is to break through the tough shell of that Uncracked Nut. That is, to make it impossible for them to just ignore the sound of someone knocking. For such a purpose, one person, like myself (as either candidate or columnist), is wholly inadequate. It’s like they’re inside a coconut, and a hammer the size of one’s thumb is rapping on the outside. Even a hundred such hammers will not break through.
But that doesn’t mean that there’s nothing that could strike hard enough — like a sledge hammer — to crack that Nut. Their well-ingrained habit of ignoring what challenges their dogma does not mean that nothing could get their attention.
That’s why what should take up the task is something of the magnitude of a movement. That’s why a collective effort that’s as big as possible should make the problem of the 37% a major topic in the national conversation.
The days of those people being able to escape feeling challenged about the dark place they’ve gone to must be brought to an end. The days when Liberal America keeps leaving them to their deceivers — like Limbaugh, Fox News, and Donald Trump — must come to an end.
The messages to address what’s gone wrong in their political consciousness should be abundant and loud enough to discomfit them. America needs for them to be awakened, and the alarm clock must get through their earplugs.
What Should the Messages Be?
The two main goals of the “Trump’s 37%” movement that I propose are:
- to bring those people — who have bought a picture of our political world that is, to an extraordinary degree, built with lies — to a better contact with reality; and
- to bring those people — who have been led into a state where they are driven, in their politics, by their fears and hatreds — back to the better angels of their nature.
What would the best-designed social movement for achieving such goals look like?
I’ll admit right off, I don’t know.
In some ways, the task would seem to be one of education: if ignorance and error could be replaced by true knowledge, that would go a long way. But it’s clear that mere exposure to the truth does not penetrate the orthodoxy of falsehoods.
So it also seems that part of the task is one of deprogramming, in the way that sometimes the minds of people need to be moved away from an attachment to a cult and its beliefs. But deprogrammers do their work once people have been separated from their cults, whereas the 37% are and still will be ensconced in their communities of like-minded people.
Yet another dimension of the task may require some of the skills employed in therapy, individual and/or interpersonal. The ways in which resentments have been misplaced, anger re-directed, to serve dishonest powers are somewhat reminiscent of dysfunctional families with their exploitive parental powers and their scapegoats.
All of which leads me to the belief that what is called for is not any single kind of messaging, but rather a diversity of messages– some of them challenging, some of them supportive, some of them bridge-building, some of them battle-waging.
My own approach has been to construct messages in which truth-telling is built upon a foundation of the values I know the people in my target audience believe themselves to hold dear. That’s my approach not because I know that to be the most effective of all possible ways of addressing them, but because that’s what’s in me to do best, given who I am.
Other people will be drawn to deliver other kinds of messages. I can almost say that I feel confident that if everyone in Liberal America put their shoulder to the wheel in their own way, the combination of all such efforts would serve us well. Almost– because Liberal America has displayed a characteristic error of excessive mildness, excessive nicey-niceyness.
Cracking the Uncracked Nut is likely to require a degree of confrontation that seems not to come readily to the American liberals of these times. So with that corrective adjustment, let a thousand flowers bloom.
The Road Ahead
The ideal scenario, as I see it:
Between now and the 2018 elections would be a time for such a movement to organize itself and prepare for the post-election period. (Except for any approaches which might be helpful for the election, such as whatever would lead the 37% to say home on November 8.)
Recruit leaders. Develop media strategies. Plan for marches such as have happened post-Inauguration, and post-Parkland.
I hope there are people whose gifts are for such organizing and planning who will step up and help make something like this happen. Whoever is up for doing this, or even just looking into the possibility of doing something, please use the comment platform here to make contact with each other.
I think the key is to focus on Russia. Focus on the fact that Vladimir Putin is, in essence, a Russian mobster. And that Trump is in debt to him. According to Daniel Kahneman in his book Thinking Fast and Slow, the best way to change someone’s mind is through narrative. The Russian story is the one the 37% needs to hear. They should have some deep ingrained suspicion of Russia dating back to the Reagan era and before. Russia attacked our country. Russia is continuing to attack our country. They can only brush off this message for so long before it will begin to resonate.
The narrative you propose, Poorly Animated, seems to me a good one. The idea of selling out the nation to a hostile power should register still in the minds of all those people who fly the American flag in their yards and their bumperstickers. The trance into which they’ve been put quite likely does not pervade their consciousness so thoroughly that they can look at such a betrayal of the nation without it registering somewhat, and evoking a degree of outrage.