'ON DONALD TRUMP, TO THE APATHETIC: IT'S TIME TO TALK'
BY TAYLOR KIGAR
How was your Thanksgiving? If you spent most of your evening barely touching your food because you were locked in a heated debate over the 2016 election, then good for you. But if you spent the day feeling slightly ill and keeping your mouth shut while listening to your family spout some racist, sexist, or otherwise insensitive pro-Trump nonsense, here are a few points to consider before Christmas.
If you heard someone say they were voting for Trump during the election and said nothing, you’re guilty. If you’re sitting around now while your relatives say ignorant, racist, sexist, xenophobic, homophobic, or simply uninformed things, you now have a responsibility to speak up. And if you decided not to vote at all because “your vote doesn’t matter” or “both candidates were equally as bad,” may I formally invite you to move your next holiday party to Communist China or North Korea, because even though our democracy is often cumbersome, corrupt, and straight up ineffective, it’s still a unique and important privilege to have a choice in electing the leader of your country. So, it’s time to talk.
But how do you actually engage with people who don’t want to listen? How do you try to explain the dangers of a Trump presidency to someone who truly feels like he’ll *deep breath* make America great again?
It’s not easy. It takes the patience of a saint, and if it’s someone close to you it’s usually awkward as hell. I still haven’t figured out how to talk to my own mother—who voted for Jill Stein in a swing state—because she believes that the Clintons are controlled by a large organization of actual aliens called the Cabal. And no, I’m not kidding. Your relatives may be a little more down to earth, but it still won’t be a walk in the park, so here are a few things to keep in your pocket to start a constructive conversation.
1. The most important thing, above all else, is to listen as much as you talk.
Be exceedingly conscious of flipping perspective in your own head— if someone flat out argues with you without listening to anything you say, will they change your mind? Of course not. So don’t do the same to them, and stay genuine. Unless you have a relative who was in the actual KKK, they are likely being misinformed or simply unaware of what’s happening around the rest of the country. They are putting their needs above others they know little about— which tends to be our default setting as human beings. Start out by finding common ground, and be sure they know that it isn’t about political parties. Share that you are sincerely worried a Trump presidency won’t benefit them either. Ask them to hear you out. And be sure you hear them out, too.
2. Without a doubt, one of the first responses will be about the protests.
First, explain to your relatives that this has nothing to do with Millennials being sore losers and cry babies, because this isn’t just about politics. It’s beyond politics. It’s humanism. Say quickly that you don’t condone violence, remind them that the acts of a few shouldn’t undermine a movement, but also be sure to keep these photos on hand if they tell you Republicans didn’t protest when Obama won. Because they definitely did.
Ideally, you’ve been to one of the most recent protests yourself, but if you haven’t, take a chance to talk to someone who has so you can humanize the events. Of the protests I went to, there was no violence at all. Most attendees were young people of color, immigrants, and LBGTQ kids who were peaceful, quiet, and terrified for the civil rights of themselves and their friends. Even though we were blocking traffic we weren’t met with much derision. It was raining, and we were weaving between taxis and public buses with their passengers all but abandoned. A few people honked their horns as we passed by, but in an encouraging way. I had a quiet moment with an older man who was sitting on a bus, not quite prepared to leave it yet for the rain— he gave me a peace sign and held it up to the window, I returned the gesture, our fingers almost touching except for the thin pane of glass. It’s the small moments like that will help us see eye to eye. Refuse to be diminished to a faceless group of protestors. Remind your family that every person fighting is an individual with their own story, and are no different than you, or them, or another family member that might be at your very own table.
3. Next, let’s tackle the “Make America Great Again” slogan.
Chances are this slogan will be said many times, and often as a blanket statement. It’s most frequently associated with reforming the economy, getting corruption out of office, bringing jobs back, and making the government work once again for the working man. A fair point to combat this Trump vision is to discuss his administration appointments. His Secretary of Treasury pick is a former Goldman Sachs executive, Steven Mnuchin, who has no government experience. He will be joined by Wilbur Ross who has been called the “King of Bankruptcy” due to his reputation for profiting from and preying on companies that have been beaten to a pulp. But even when faced with the facts about Trump’s appointees, a retaliation narrative has been established that claims Trump has picked them specifically because they know the corruption from the inside. That they’re going to take all that knowledge and use it for good.
We’re living in an age when tweets are taken as fact, and if Trump types it, many of his followers believe it to be true. And sure, in my heart of hearts I want to believe his administration is actually going to take down the system from the inside. But come on. This isn’t the suicide squad, and a bunch of former villains aren’t going to get together and start doing good out of the blue. All we can judge these people on are their past actions, and they’re not great. Trump has officially elected the richest administration in history, and they’ve made it by lobbying, harming the working class, and staying completely out of touch with the everyday American. Steve Mnunchin once foreclosed on a 90-year-old woman’s home over a deficit of only 27 cents. This is the track record we have to refer to. But if you can’t argue with facts, try an emotional appeal. If these people have spent their entire lives making profits at the expense of others, why are they now deciding to help us? What’s changed?
4. Alright-- here’s a big one. Racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia.
These are problems that absolutely won’t be solved in a day. And honestly, I’m not too sure here about the advice to give you. But I do know that the first way to start this conversation is to realize that most of the people who voted Trump are so entrenched in their own world that any harm acted upon oppressed minorities is literally out of sight, out of mind. Often that’s simply because of geography. I got in an argument recently with one of my uncle’s friends. I calmly asked him, without accusation, if he had ever sat down and listened intently to the unique struggle of a person of color, of an immigrant, or anyone in the LGBTQ community. His response was that he does this everyday because he works at a high security prison, and most of the people there are minorities. This is the reality that we’re facing. How do you get through to a person who only accesses minority perspectives by way of criminals, many of whom made so by a system constructed to work against them? At the very start, it can be beneficial to remind people in a non-accusatory way that they are ignoring entire groups of people because they don’t immediately see them. We need to communicate that not caring about the struggle and reality of oppressed peoples is just as bad as actually being racist/sexist/xenophobic, and we need to encourage people to break down those walls. It will be a feat just to begin this dialogue at all.
5. But if nothing else gets you to any kind of common ground, pull out the global card.
There will be no prejudice when the Earth decides to start killing us. Now, if the person you’re arguing with is a climate change denier, honestly just get the hell out of there and eat some pie or something because that means they don’t believe in science and there’s no helping them. But if they can be swayed by reason, remind them that Trump has put Scott Pruitt, the Oklahoma Attorney General who is currently SUING the EPA, in charge of the EPA. There has already been talk of pulling out of the hugely important Paris International Climate accord; about opening up federal lands for logging, mining, and oil; scrapping the Clean Power Act, which aims to reduce greenhouse gases; and pushing the belief that environmental causes are really just a ploy to expand the reach of government. And sure, laws, politics, and biases can be fixed after Trump’s term—but environmental damage is irreversible. It’s actually life and death. For everyone. Regardless of their political party.
if after reading all of this you’re still thinking “why bother?” Don’t leave yet. Consider one last thing.
To the apathetic—I understand because I used to think the same way, too. I thought nothing mattered, that we’re stuck in a deadlocked government where we can make no real change, so why bother trying? On an aimless Saturday night I would sit and watch a movie or read a book, something dystopian or about World War II or any other story of people standing up for what’s right in the face of injustice. I’d hit that last page or hear the music swell at the end of the credits and I’d feel an almost selfish sense of longing—a wish that I could have been alive in a time where dire situations played out in front of me so I could have participated in them. So I could have changed something or felt something or been a part of some kind of resistance that was important and noble. Everything else in my own reality felt pointless.
Well, you wanted a purpose, and the opportunity was just left on your doorstep a month ago. Many people don’t worry because Trump isn’t smart. He couldn’t possibly be the beginning of something terrible because he is not as slick, evil, or sexy as you’d assume a national enemy would appear.
But evil isn’t always smart. Evil doesn’t always present itself with tanks, a unified administration, and a proper knowledge of the system it has entered. Sometimes it creeps in the back door with no overtly evil intentions, just a stupid inflammatory mouth and its own well-being in mind. But that door left ajar can usher in something much worse—and then it’s too late.
It’s time to talk.
-Taylor Kigar @taylorkigar