The three of them represent a spectrum of what a 'Trump supporter' is. They glean their news from unsourced news sites, chain emails, Breitbart, and Fox. My mother listens to NPR sometimes to balance that out; I'll give her that. She is the most empathetic of the three, and years ago I even remember her challenging my father when he spouted xenophobic ideas. (An example: When I was a Freshman in high school, I shared with my dad how much I loved my Spanish classes and that I hoped to travel to South America one day because I loved the culture. My father replied that South Americans didn't have any culture compared to Europeans and Americans, so my mother challenged, "Why would you say that? I will name a Latino artist, and you can name a European artist, and I bet you won't be able to keep up." She started: Frida Kahlo. My dad: Da Vinci. My mom: Diego Rivera. My dad: Michelangelo. My mom: Orozco. My dad: Picasso. My mom: Botero. My dad: Umm....I'm stumped.)
To my mental benefit, I have far more family members, coworkers, and friends who are educated and tolerant, who derive their news from a variety of outlets, understand the dangers of blindly absorbing an editorial or commentator's opinion, and take time to check an article's cited sources and the author's background. We debate the merits of our own diverse beliefs and question the possibility of our ideals. We have bonded in our disbelief over Trump's flagrant lies and disrespect for the Constitution. We mourn together and fight together for Dreamers and for those of us whose safety has been overtly threatened in daily interactions by emboldened Trump supporters. We outnumber Trump's people -- nationally and globally -- but still it is disconcerting to witness such ignorance packing itself so tight.
And, a disclaimer: people in the Anti-Trump camp can also be hypocritical, apply the double standard, or poorly source their information. It is not a single-handed problem. However, there is a serious issue with Trump undermining freedom of the press and obstructing an investigation into his unethical behavior; to willfully ignore that is dangerous and, frankly, stupid.
One would think it's possible at some point to have a meeting of the minds with Trump supporters. It seems like many of us want similar things on certain platforms: a healthy country, a vital economy, a democratic system that is free of foreign countries' meddling, safety for our loved ones, a hopeful future, an end to political influence by the top 1%. Just like Trump supporters, liberal thinkers also fight for jobs for the forgotten America and honor our Veterans and feel patriotic. But it's not that simple. These ideals are not the same in a Socialist versus Conservative mind and everywhere in between.
So why is the truth so open to debate? I'll go over this and offer my recommendations to approaching it.
1. Different by Definition
The Anti-Trump versus Pro-Trump's grasp of abstract concepts is fundamentally different. By "fundamentally," I mean that the definitions of words we use to explain concepts like "freedom" and "justice" are not remotely similar. For instance, when someone says "fake news," a Trump supporter thinks "Democrats," and a Trump opposer thinks, "Republicans."
Let's dig even deeper. When an anti-Trump thinker refers to the concept of racism, he or she is drawing from a totally different knowledge base and historical understanding of the construct of "race" than a Trump supporter. The anti-Trump thinker will likely inform that definition of racism with an intersectional understanding of how concepts like "gender," "sex," "sexism," "criminal justice," and "poverty" influence it. On the other side, a pro-Trump person who believes racism does not exist may not have the knowledge base to even use intersectionality to inform his or her understanding, and on a fundamental level might not use the same terminology to define "race" itself. So, by the time we enter a debate about BIG, ABSTRACT concepts, we aren't always talking about the same things, even if we are using the same words.
If two people do not define racism the same way, therefore, the argument of whether it exists is a moot point between the arguers until they can agree on a definition. If we do not agree on what a tomato is (is it that C-shaped yellow thing or the round red thing?) we aren't ready to debate whether it should be classified as a fruit or vegetable. Catch my drift?
When I hear the term racism, I conjure memories of white racism I painfully observed growing up and when I go home, and I inform that very personalized definition with broader knowledge I have found in books like Just Mercy and The Making of Black Revolutionaries and Black Skin, White Masks, of anecdotes from friends about how police and CO's treated them because of the color of their skin, of the research studies I've analyzed on housing and employment discrimination, and of the current events we watch unfold before us, like the video by Philando Castile's girlfriend just moments after an officer shot him to death. But, when someone like my father thinks of racism, he thinks of the Jim Crow history and the Rodney King riots which seem so long ago, and he considers how his country club friends don't use racial epithets, and the passage of civil rights legislation, and his deeply-held value that every man is responsible for himself, and concludes, "Times have clearly changed; racism no longer exists."
Our definitions are so skewed that we are speaking different languages sometimes. This is not just for big concepts like racism or feminism or civil rights or freedom, but also for terms that pop up so frequently in our national debate like immigrant, refugee, Muslim, collusion, obstruction, violence, crime, security, terrorism.
How do we fix this: If you want to get through to anyone, you need to stop debating abstract concepts and return to the basics. You need to learn how your opponent defines the words you are both using, and don't assume you are on the same page. Stop your opponent and ask: "Hang on, what do you mean when you use the word 'corrupt'; how do you define it?"
2. Interpretation of Facts
When Trump said at the State of the Union, "African American unemployment stands at the lowest rate ever recorded," his supporters processed it as roaring evidence that the economy has rebounded under Trump. But to a Trump critic, this statement appears misleading. If one looks at African American unemployment trends as a whole, the rate has actually been falling steadily since 2010, and in fact only dropped one point in the past year. One might look even closer and observe trends individually by city and state, trends which vary widely and inform us of other things happening nationally. A similar response can be applied to the numbers for economic growth and job creation. When one observes the trends long term rather than in a vacuum, Trump's work this year is wholly unimpressive and merely a continuation of a trend already set in motion. It is alarming that pro-Trumpers are touting these statistics with excitement when they are nearly identical to those in President Obama's last few years in office, when he faced relentless criticism.
How do we fix this: First find common ground in what is important to you -- Lower unemployment is a good thing. Next, what part of the statement can you find truth in? Yes, unemployment has fallen as a national percentage, though it varies by state. Finally, offer to expand your understanding of this truth together: "Let's look at how that compares to the national trend over the past decade. Maybe we might understand it better if we look at the whole data set." Hopefully, you can both agree on a source...
3. Conspiracy Theories
Many Trump supporters believe a Deep State is working behind the curtain to undermine the legitimacy of democracy and will stop at no lengths to maintain power. When you buy into something like that, you set yourself up to believe nothing else. Facts that challenge your viewpoint will become irrelevant because you will only accept information that supports the narrative you've created. For example, if you encounter a report that supports climate change written by a nonpartisan research organization, you can merely shrug it off as more propaganda from Democrats in the Deep State.
This is why pro-Trump people are able to waive the entire Russia problem, even in the face of Donald Jr. tweeting his emails setting up a Russia meeting, or the cooperation of Papadopoulos, or Trump's admission of obstruction of justice in a Lester Holt interview ON NATIONAL TELEVISION. I provide these examples because it's a bit difficult to argue they're fabrications by some Deep State when the words are coming from the horse's mouth.
How do we fix this: Conspiracy theorists will only accept disproof if they have disproven themselves. Ask them questions, and keep asking them for evidence to support their claims. Theories are just that: theories. So treat them the same way all theories are treated before they are considered proven-- through scientific inquiry and deductive reasoning. And, be open minded enough to consider that anything is possible, and just because a larger concept is false does not mean every fact surrounding it is false.
People who are divided in their political beliefs have come to identify with a tribe of likeminded others. To challenge those beliefs, therefore, is to challenge their very identity. They will defend their identity, and their leader, with impunity, even if it means subverting the truth.
How to fix this: Just like when you discuss religion, it is important to decide where you will draw the line between trying to influence someone's point of view and respecting someone else's beliefs coexisting with your own. The best conversations are where you are both in it to listen and learn more about how each other thinks; after all, the evolutionary purpose of communication is to exchange important information and to socially bond. Emotions start to run high when you perceive that someone else's information is flawed, perhaps dangerously flawed, and detrimental to our social bonds. In those cases, it is best to employ the Socratic method to get them to examine the roots of their beliefs and hopefully model a different cognitive method for them. And it does not hurt to hold yourself to that same standard, too.