To me, the silver lining in the Trump campaign is that my friends on either side of the aisle are agreeing with one another. Obviously a lot of people out there are voting for Trump, but at least in my circles — which are made up of the dedicated conservative, the passionately liberal and everything in between — most everyone agrees the unchecked greed, slanderous speech and bigotry of Trump do not belong in the White House.
Can we pause for a moment and recognize the miracle? We agree.
Despite the way political campaigns tend to make me nervous for the future of humanity, this unexpected solidarity between parties gives me a small sliver of hope. I am reminded that I do in fact share some values with the person on the other side of the fence, and it is perhaps unfortunate that it took someone like Trump to help me recall that, but I am thankful nonetheless for the reminder.
I’m not much of a political authority, but I am a student of the human condition, and it seems to me the way you defeat someone like Donald Trump is not by talking about him but by talking to one another. We could take this opportunity to reclaim civility, a belief in public discourse, a desire for the common good, a respect for our opponents, and a curiosity about our differences.
Nearly all of us are guilty of fueling the political process with our anger, with our frustration and fed-up-ness, with our fear and our disdain for the other side. Trump strikes me as living satire, a sort of real life political cartoon exposing our process for what it has become. The good news seems to be that many of us are alarmed by this characterization, and I wonder if the best way to shut down Trump is to change ourselves so that his amplification of our attitudes is no longer relevant.
Let’s make America great again by reclaiming the ability to talk to one another. What if we emerged from the trenches of our respective parties and looked each other in the eye and asked good and thoughtful questions? We tend to say things like, “Anyone is better than Hilary” or “Cruz is the Zodiac Killer,” but these are not arguments or positions. They are whining at best, war-mongering at worst. As we say to our own toddlers, perhaps we ought to remind ourselves, “Use your words.” It is easy to see how the things we tend to say during an election year are not the beginning of a conversation but the digging of trenches.
For me personally, one of the reasons I have a hard time respecting the other side is because so much of what they say is vitriolic and arrogant. I do not hear any acknowledgment from them that my opinions might be reasonable too. They seem to think that the more force they use to call my side stupid, the more they will win. This is a ridiculous strategy, so I get mad. In my anger, I want to be vitriolic and dismissive back. I know it likely won’t solve anything, but I just want to relieve the pressure, and so I perpetuate the cycle.
But maybe working for the common good requires more than relieving my pressure. It’s not that I don’t think anger has a place in politics. To the contrary, anger can be a necessary component for fighting injustice. But I’ve still got to be responsible for how I channel that anger. I also want to tap into other parts of myself, beyond the anger and the fear. I want to find my ingenuity and my compassion, my awe and my dogged optimism. I want to be a whole person who can listen without being threatened, then speak up without being violent.
And I know, those of us who are oppressed or suppressed can feel like screaming is the only choice we have, and actually, I do think sometimes we ought to scream. But at least for me, I want to maintain control of my volume. Screaming all the time feels to me like they are in control of my emotions. All I know how to do is react, react, react. But when I function as my whole self, I can respond. I can choose when to yell, and I can choose when to whisper, and I can choose when to stay silent and listen.
As best I can tell, Trump’s rants do not make him “authentic” (especially since his rants frequently contradict each other). Rather, his rants make him out-of-control, and for me, impossible to listen to. We can do better. We can do so much better. Some of my friends now start their political conversations with ground rules: “I want to know what you think about ___________, but no personal attacks allowed.” They talk ideas, concepts, statistics, and perspectives, and people from differing viewpoints often say sensible things, and I’m prompted to think about my own position in new ways. We start talking to one another instead of past one another and at one another, and I think it’s a beautiful, intelligent thing.
So, what do you think about this election year and the Trump campaign? You are free to disagree with me, but please talk to me, not at me.