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Talk to Trump Supporters

I’ve noticed certain trends in FB arguing over the past few months, primarily revolving around Hillary vs. Bernie and Trump vs. anti-Trump. I’ve seen a wide range of the quality of discourse in the Hillary vs. Bernie arguments from very low to very high. Typically the arguments, regardless of quality, receive a high level of engagement (lots of comments). But the discourse around Trump vs. anti-Trump has primarily been limited to memes/videos from pro-Trump, and utter dismissiveness (“just unfriend me if you are voting for Trump”) from anti-Trump, and a pretty low level of engagement—that is, most such posts don’t result in an argument.

If you share just one political view with me, which is that Trump should not be President, whether you identify as pro-Hillary, pro-Bernie, pro-third party, or Repub/Dem-who-can’t-stand-Hillary-but-also-don’t-want-racism/ higher-chance-of-apocalypse-in-the-White-House, I urge you to engage this election cycle as effectively as possible. I am of the mind that people can be influenced, and there are more and less effective ways to influence them. Therefore, I urge you not to automatically unfriend all your FB acquaintances who are Trump supporters. I do think it is critical that we learn to engage with them and change the minds of those who can be changed. I believe that many people who have been convinced to support him on the basis of weak arguments can be convinced to change their minds based on stronger arguments.

I’d like to suggest the following strategies for being more effective when talking specifically with people who disagree with you. I do not claim all these ideas as my own; they are derived from a combination of books and articles I have read, seminars I have attended, and my own experiences:

1) Pick your battles. I’m not suggesting that you pick fights with people who post angry, illogical rants, or post things that are overtly racist or abusive. Chances are, you have rid yourself of those people already. Not everyone has to be convinced not to vote for Trump. Some people simply cannot be convinced. However, there are some people in your universe—your uncle, your former business associate—that you like on some level, and who, despite their support for Trump, do have other redeeming qualities. They probably like you on some level as well, and can be positively influenced by what you think.

2) Attack ideas—don’t attack appearances. The quickest way to devalue your argument in the mind of your opponent is to include attacks on personal appearances. It may sound funny to you to say Ted Cruz has an ugly face, or make fun of Trump’s hair, spray-tan, or fingers, but those attacks are absolutely unpersuasive to his supporters. They even create more sympathy in their minds because they are so unfair, in the same way that attacks on Hillary’s voice or outfits or Bernie’s hair or suits are unfair. Late-night comedians are especially guilty of this and it takes the power out of their argument every time. They do it for laughs from a group that already agrees with them. But have you ever heard someone tell you a joke that you thought was not funny at all, but rather mean? It makes you dislike the joke-teller.

3) Avoid calling people idiots for what they believe. Also, avoid just flatly telling people they are wrong without support. No one believes that they personally are an idiot. And starting out with an accusation that they are wrong tends to make them dig in their heels at the outset. Even if you prove people wrong eventually, they are unlikely to admit it. Democrats have been, um, bad at not calling each other wrong idiots recently.

4) Share personal stories. This is usually the most powerful way to make your point without attacking someone. It is hard to explain to someone that they are racist for supporting him. It is easier for them to see that they are hurting actual Hispanic and Muslim people by supporting him when you share stories. I know legal immigrants who are afraid their status might be revoked and their families broken up. I know Hispanic and Muslim Americans who have been shouted at in public to “go home.” These stories are heartbreaking and compelling.

5) Ask questions to understand what their arguments are. You can’t know if you are being effective if you don’t understand where they are coming from. You may think there is no good imaginable reason under the sun why anyone would support him, but just because you can’t imagine it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist to them.

Why do you support Trump? Do you agree that he should build a wall? Do you agree that we should ban all Muslims from entering the US? Do you think that freedom of the press should be limited? Do you think we should no longer have free trade with many other foreign countries? Your response is going to be different depending on if they say “yes we should build a wall,” or “I don’t agree, but I don’t think he is really going to do it.” Asking that question first is better than starting out by stating “building a wall along the Mexican border is the most idiotic and racist idea I have ever heard of.” They might already agree.

On the flip side, don’t ask questions that are unlikely to solicit a productive answer. If you ask someone “Is there anything Trump could say or do that would make you not support him?” the answer will almost certainly be “No.” That’s like asking someone “why are you wrong?” They can’t imagine the answer to that.

6) Be prepared to rebut their arguments. There are lots of good rebuttals to Trump’s arguments, and if you are an active newsreader, you have come across them. Many of Trump’s supporters may not read the same articles you read (or any at all!) and therefore may not have ever heard a good, reasoned rebuttal before. They might be convinced if they hear one.
For example, you say “why do you want to ban all Muslims from entering the U.S.?” They will probably say what Trump says, which is “well, somebody has to do something about terrorism!” To this, you could lay out a multi-point reasoned argument, like: 1) our police, military, CIA, and government leaders are always, constantly “doing something” about terrorism, which is why they are exceedingly rare; 2) doing “something” is not an answer if that “something” is unconstitutional, racist, and ineffective. The President can’t do those kinds of things.
They have other arguments, like “he’s a good businessman” and “he’s a good negotiator,” both of which can be effectively challenged. They can be more complex too, and be related to how they disagree with Democrats and don’t want to vote Democratic. I think the mistake we are making as anti-Trump citizens is that we are not even asking his supporters why they support him. It is so clear to us why he is unacceptable that we cannot even entertain the idea that other people have reasons, because the reasons seem unimaginable. Let us find those reasons out and do battle with them.

7) Don’t be discouraged if at the end of the conversation, no one tells you “hey, you’re right! I’m wrong!” This is unlikely to happen ever. Most people won’t admit defeat but many will soften their positions, especially over time. And people are more likely to “change their minds in the face of new information” than “admit they are wrong.”

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Why That “Transfinancial” Meme is Terrible

I’ve noticed a meme circulating in some of my conservative friends’ social media posts that is clearly intended to mock the plight of transgender people in view of transgender rights being in the news. It goes something like this:

“I’m Transfinancial. It means I am a rich person in a poor person’s body. Give me money to fix my disorder!!

I’d like to point out why this is a bad analogy for arguing that trans people either 1) shouldn’t have the right to be themselves like everyone else or 2) are pretending to be something they are not.*

The premise of this analogy is that being rich or poor is an identity in the same way that being a man or a woman is an identity. It’s not, but for the purposes of this argument, let’s say that being rich or poor IS an identity on par with one’s gender identity. Here are a few reasons why the analogy is not applicable:

1) You are born identified as rich or poor at birth. However, no one will suggest to you that you shouldn’t be able to change this.

2) If you identify and know yourself to be a rich person and work to align yourself with this identity instead of what society had assigned to you at birth—“being a poor person”–society will not generally mock you for doing so. You are very unlikely to be hated, beaten or killed by others for doing so.

3) If you work toward transitioning from poor to rich, the government will not take official action to intimidate you or to make it more difficult for you to do so. States will not make laws mandating that you stand in a poor person’s line at the bank your whole life so that others may see that you were born poor.

4) Some may see a poor person working to align their deep and personal understanding of themselves as a rich person as “pretending,” but among entrepreneurs, this kind of pretense is actively encouraged, and not shamed. Sometimes you feel that you ARE something inside that has not yet manifested outwardly. If you aren’t harming anyone, what is the problem with pursuing your truth? It is not the whole world’s business how rich or poor you are—it is only the business of yourself and people who are directly interacting with your finances.

5) People born poor who try to become rich will experience different outcomes in the world. Some may have an easier time than others, and once they are rich, no one may ever know that they were otherwise. Some people assigned poor at birth have a harder time aligning themselves with society’s expectations of what it means to look and be rich due to a number of circumstances, but that doesn’t change the truth within their hearts.

Another problem with this meme is the premise that transgender people are asking others to bear some personal burden in allowing them to exist as in the world as people. But they are not asking for money or special rights, or even for positive acknowledgement. They only ask to be able to peacefully exist in the world like everyone else.

And as I asserted previously, being rich or poor is not an identity in the same way as being one’s gender is an identity. In our society, we tend to hold as “identities” things that are somewhat inseparable from our own minds and bodies, such as our skin color, our religion, our gender, and our sexuality. We do also classify ourselves by the outer things we have or do, such as how much money we have, our professions, or our hobbies. Certainly we can “identify” as rich people, as physicists, or as golfers, but what we tend to hold most dear to ourselves, and protect in the form of rights in our country, are our mind/body identities. It doesn’t even matter if our identities are those we are born with or if they can change as a result of choice. You can change your religion as a result of choice and we protect the shit out of that. So comparing someone’s gender identity to someone being rich or poor misses the point of people’s rights being affected by their very identities.

Finally, please everyone stop using bumper-sticker-length arguments to be assholes to other people.

*Note to those already well-read on LGBT issues: I realize that the existence of this meme and my discussion of it is not the most consequential piece of writing on the subject of transphobia; a much bigger problem than the bad meme is the great danger transphobia poses in the actual lives of trans people. However, when bad logic is used to promote hateful ideology, I think it is helpful to deconstruct the bad logic to reduce its power, and that is one way I can contribute. Also, I realize my discussion of trans identity here is cursory and rudimentary, but I believe that most people who would entertain the validity of this meme have an understanding of trans identity that is cursory or rudimentary at best and non-existent or harmful at worst.

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Marching, Civil Disobedience, and Looting are All Different Things

We should make an effort to differentiate between marching, civil disobedience, and looting. They are different things, in the same way that admirable policing and excessive force are different things. After all, our arguments are only as strong as our ability to distinguish and analyze facts, instead of lumping generalizations together. To complain about marching, civil disobedience (i.e., blocking traffic) and looting all in one breath is imprecise.

Most would agree that peacefully marching in designated areas is appropriate and sometimes effective, because no one is breaking the law and sometimes people in power listen to marchers. Most would agree that looting is inappropriate because it is breaking the law, specifically committing an intentional tort or crime against another individual, and nobody listens to looters (because they are not asking for anything, and they have no credibility regarding laws).

Non-violent civil disobedience is a bit more controversial. It usually involves breaking the law or at least societal rules. Examples include 1) blocking traffic, 2) placing yourself where authorities say you should not be, 3) boycotting segregated busses, 4) sitting-in in a segregated restaurant. However, civil disobedience does not involve an intentional tort or crime against an individual. Civil disobedience does involve inconveniencing others. A current complaint I hear about protesters blocking streets is that it inconveniences white and black people alike. The inconveniences are often frustrating. Sometimes, they have serious consequences. A black or white person stuck in traffic on a blocked road could be late to work and get fired. An emergency responder might be delayed from responding to a black or white person’s medical emergencies. These consequences are real. They are also unintentional. But people bring up these consequences and say, “see, your civil disobedience is not helping. You’re hurting your own people and your own cause.” This sentiment ignores the fact that the very reason people are protesting right now is because of widespread, deeply felt injustices that result in systematic oppression and an epidemic of deaths in black communities.

Even if you don’t think racism is a problem, enough people do that they will stand on the freeway and risk arrest, tear gas, and death themselves to tell others that it is a problem, so maybe we should listen. During the Montgomery bus boycott, which went on for months, many black people complained, Many lost jobs. Many were harassed on the streets as they walked. Many yelled at their leaders and said they should quit. When protesters staged sit-ins at segregated restaurants, it was all kinds of inconvenient to black and white people. It increased racial tensions a lot. People got hurt and died. However, large groups of people decided then that it was important to interrupt the day-to-day lives of white and black people in an inconvenient way to call attention to the enormous problem of racism that is largely ignored by those who don’t suffer its consequences.

Though looting has never produced any societal changes, civil disobedience has produced just about ALL of the societal change for people who are in positions of low power. To say that protestors should not march in or block the streets because a large number of them ARE experiencing oppression, injury, and death, just because a few people MIGHT indirectly suffer unintended consequences really ignores the legitimate concerns of the oppressed.

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Why it doesn’t bother me that Hillary rolls in dough like a boss.

Bernie Sanders himself, and Bernie Sanders’ fans get very worked up about the amount of money in politics. As a result, his campaign is focused on big-money-related issues: overturning Citizens United, limiting the power of Wall St/big banks, universal healthcare (to eliminate profits from insurers/pharma companies), and millionaires and billionaires in general. What follows as the biggest liberal criticism about Hillary is that her well-funded campaign has received contributions from some of these entities (big banks) that Bernie rails against. She has even received hundreds of thousands of dollars in personal speaking fees from some of these companies. Bernie fans are appalled about that money, and then are appalled at the fact that I and other liberals are not similarly appalled. I know many of my FB friends are very passionate about Bernie (you know who you are), and I don’t mean to pick a fight. I would just like to explain why I am NOT appalled that Hillary Clinton gets so much cheddar and why the charts and infographs about how much money she gets are not persuasive to me (or to many other Hillary supporters).
Look, I agree that the amount of money spent in politics for campaigns to get elected, and for lobbying once politicians are elected is excessive, a waste, and a big problem, but I do not think it is the biggest or most consequential problem in politics. I also do not think money in politics is the single root of all the problems in our democracy. I don’t tend to believe that any one factor is a single root of problems in a complex system. Money and power are often quite intertwined, and it is unlikely that money will ever be completely extricated from political power or democracy. And though money itself is powerful, but it is not supremely powerful. It has its limits, just like other forms of power.

As an example of the limits of the power of money, in 2012, the Koch brothers spent hundreds of millions of dollars to elect far-right politicians in races across the country. Though they had some success, they certainly weren’t able to buy the election across the board. They failed so hard at taking down their biggest target, Barack Obama. All the money of these right-wing Super PACs funded by Karl Rove, Sheldon Adelstein, the RNC, and other favorite bogeymen of Democratic fundraisers couldn’t buy the election. As another example, Jeb Bush was by far the best-funded Republican primary candidate this year, and has spent over $100 million on ads to win the primary. He has been drowned out by at least four other candidates with less political spending money because they have some kind of appeal to Republican voters that he does not.
Money in politics does cause problems, but those problems can be overcome by other factors, such as grassroots activism, media coverage, a large volunteer force, a well-organized campaign that appeals to individual voters, and the spread of information on the internet and from person to person. The best example of that phenomenon—of other power factors overcoming money—is Bernie Sanders’ campaign itself. Look at all the people moved by his ideas and the grassroots spread of that information. As much as money has increased as a source of political power, so has social media technology and the internet in general. A very similar example is Donald Trump’s campaign. Though he is individually very rich, his actual campaign spending is minimal in comparison to Jeb Bush’s.

I think that for people who regularly deal in plenty of power and/or money, there is a limit to how much large campaign contributions can influence them. That is, I don’t think they are “bribed” or “owned” or “bought” in proportion to how many dollars they receive. For us ordinary citizens, if Goldman Sachs paid us $600,000 out of the blue for speaking to them, we might feel quite obligated to do whatever they wanted at any time, especially if we lived paycheck to paycheck prior to that fortuitous event. However, someone like Hillary, or Obama, hasn’t had to worry about money in a while, and actually will never have to in the future. Further, $600,000, in comparison to the $1 Billion in total contributions modern presidential campaigns raise and spend, isn’t enough for a company or industry to buy whatever influence they want on a single candidate. Many organizations with competing interests donate to the same candidates; just as insurance companies and banks donate money to Hillary, Obama, and every other candidate, so too do teachers unions, factory worker unions, and environmental groups. If an oil company contributes $1M and an environmental group contributes $200,000 to the same candidate, does that candidate ensure that the oil company receives five times more favor when that candidate is in power? I submit that it is impossible for a single politician in any position to quantify and then dole out favors in proportion to all the hundreds or thousands of interest groups that he or she has received money from. When you have hundreds of slightly varying interests competing for your attention as a politician, I think you have to weigh things other than money—such as the overall impact of a given policy on all your various constituents–and make judgments as best you can.

A common complaint of Bernie’s camp is that “BIG” money interests spend tons of money on lobbying and therefore control our political process. These days, it’s “Big Pharma,” “Big Health Insurance,” “Big Banks,” and “Big Oil.” (In the old days, it used to be “Big Steel,” and “Big Rail.” Money only keeps you in power so long).I wholeheartedly agree that big companies in these industries do many shitty things that affect society and individuals badly. When those companies do things that hurt us, they should be reined in and heavily regulated. Like when the pharmaceutical and health insurance industry drive up healthcare costs, something like the Affordable Care Act should cap their excesses. When the banking industry causes harm to individual families and our economic system, something like the Dodd-Frank act should move in to protect consumers. When the fossil fuel industry causes harm to the environment such that our whole planet is in jeopardy, they should be left on the sidelines to fade away as governments promote cleaner energy industries.
And speaking as a liberal, I still can’t say “I agree with everything Bernie say, but…” because I don’t agree with the drastic nature of changes he wants to implement. For example, I don’t think we should try to shift the country to single-payer health insurance in one fell swoop, eliminating the private insurance system and the entire healthcare industry setup all at once. I prefer changes to be targeted, precise, and incremental, Obamacare-style, not “throw away the whole thing and start over” revolution-style, because revolution-style changes tend to bring about unwanted side effects and casualties.

Obama implemented lots of meaningful change through his style of governing. As much money as these “Big” companies spent on lobbying congress and donating to Obama’s campaign, other concerns—the concerns of the people– drove Obama and Congress to implement new regulations in their industries. These Obama policies supremely pissed off pharma, health insurers, banks, and oil companies. These are policies that Hillary supports and wants to continue to improve.
So I don’t buy the line that Hillary is a “corporate puppet” or whatever. That’s too simplistic of a way to consider how presidents make decisions. Hillary has been one of the most powerful women in the country for a couple of decades now. She should be getting paid for speaking like the baller she is. She’s also the most qualified person to run for president ever, which is what you gotta do when you’re a lady trying to get a job only men have ever held (see, e.g., female NFL referees, coaches; all CEO positions ever). For this reason, it is not surprising that all major newspapers, members of Congress, and many highly effective liberal organizations (Planned Parenthood, Human Rights Campaign) have all endorsed Hillary. It’s not because they are all similarly “paid” or “bought” by big bad corporations. I was not paid by any corporations to write this in support of Hillary. We’ve considered things other than money, as Hillary does.