The Speaking to the Trump Voter Series: Uncertainties, Recommendations, Conclusions, Final Thoughts: Part 8

“Democracy demands trust. It demands that sense of mutual understanding. And — it’s a two way street. You’ve got to give — as much as you take.”

— Charles Kennedy

In Part 7, I recapped this entire series, focusing on multiple reasons why Trump Loathers need to talk to Trump Voters, provided some ideas on how to start, showed some new developments in both of these areas; and described some partial successes by those who have tried. However, if we seek more than incremental improvements and want to aim for something transformational in our social relationships, the ideas presented thus far will not get us there. We will need both to know and do more towards mending the mutual distaste between Trump Loathers and Trump Voters. This includes both the relationship in general and the specific issues that divide us.

In Part 8, the Finale, I list out a number of uncertainties in this whole dialogue process, as well as describe some partial recommendations to address them; and end with some conclusions and final thoughts.

What Isn’t So Clear

Unknowns and Partial Recommendations

I’ve been hit lately with some conspiracy theories (ironically from both sides, plus libertarians), always confidently held, and don’t know quite what to do with these.

I’m also not sure at this point how to deal with strongly held conservative values like “liberty,” “freedom,” and “patriotism,” although there likely are liberal versions of each of these that might not be so totally different for bridge-building.

Exploration of terms such as “politically correct,” “identity politics,” “intellectualism,” and “elites,” while not easy, could prove amenable to gap-narrowing, but someone will have to try some approaches and see how they work. I’m less sure about “privilege.” Specific discussion of “theory,” such as how its meaning can vary from the scientific to the casual, and the importance of these distinctions, might prove helpful for resolving doubts about climate change and move us forward. Climate deniers may come to realize just how much is actually known behind “the theory” of human-caused climate change. That is, it is anything but “casual.”

On the cultural front, there is the common observation that the Trump Voter may be mourning the end of “The America they knew” due to the increasing presence of minorities and immigrants in their communities, and/or prominent in the media, as well as other Future Shock-type changes.

(Future Shock was the 1970 book that accurately predicted a number of technologies and social developments, including the Internet and Prozac. Beyond that, journalist Greg Lindsay quotes the book’s co-authors, Alvin and Heidi Toffler, stating the title of the book means “the shattering stress and disorientation that we induce in individuals by subjecting them to too much change in too short a time.”)

I don’t have ready suggestions for bridging this one except to explicitly define “diversity” to include them. Otherwise, they may feel this common term is code for accepting and elevating everyone’s identity but theirs.

Here’s a far-fetched idea, though, or perhaps not for a creative visual artist. As the Statue of Liberty “saved the day,” bringing New Yorkers together at a moment of low morale in the movie, “Ghostbusters,” how about projecting a rotating image of her around the actual Statue that stops at angles designed to reach each region of the country, or that aims specifically at any area facing serious social conflict?

We discussed the loss of empathy in Part 1, but it is worth re-visiting. Christie Smith wrote in the blog of The College of Health Care Professions that “empathy is very valuable, maybe the most valuable resource for humanity.” It “has the power to resolve conflicts. In fact it may be one of the most successful strategies and it costs nothing.” Nicholas Kristof, in “My Most Unpopular Idea: Be Nice to Trump Voters,” described a reaction to it of liberal venom (not the usual party responding that way to his columns). He suggests: “Maybe we all need a little more empathy.” So it seems wise to employ it much more. But it is not clear how we explicitly generate and apply it on a large scale.

While this series discusses the need to talk, and offers hopeful projects and guidelines, talking without true listening is rather pointless. So that’s a whole other element for which we will need a lot of help to do at a much larger scale. See the “Even More of What Else is Needed” section below for some possibilities.

Other questions for this conversation, to take place either in a formal planned process aiming to build bridges, or as informal, but serious chats that can opportunistically occur almost anywhere, are:

· How can we inject ethics into discussions, as acknowledged or not, they are very important, without sounding like you’re moralizing?

· How do we reconcile having large degrees of perceived certainties about issues, which we often do, with the increasing findings from social science of just how many cognitive biases humans really have effecting our presumed “rationality,” particularly one of the most powerful ones: confirmation bias?

· Once we meet the low bar of avoiding someone “bolting away” (see Part 4 for synonyms to and examples of “bolting,” which anecdotally seems to be a common failure mode), what would increasing levels of “success” look like, and how do we move towards them?

· When do we at least temporarily close down an issue because of too much disagreement before it risks ruining the process and the relationship further, what are the early signs, and do we do so by “agreeing-to-disagree,” or is there a better way?

· We’ve recognized that emotions are unavoidable as we proceed, but how do we think about, process, manage or cope with them so that they work for us, instead of in their pejorative “irrational,” “angry,” counter-productive forms? Specifically, how could “anger,” whether it’s lurking or actually present, be productively channeled? Is there a nuance to anger that we’re missing?

· Relatedly, in Part 6, I described why we need a new system that connects science, policy/politics, and the public, as what we have now often isn’t working. I described several elements of it, such as some role reversals, better acceptance of uncertainty, and an understanding that we’re all emotional creatures. What else would be needed in such a system, and how could one be put together and used?

· An overall meta-theme of this series is that the large majority of people are basically decent and well-meaning (or can find those levels in themselves). But what happens when we see awful venality, either in the people with whom we’re talking, or by those whom we view as their venal allies back in “the real world?” (Or even on our own side?)

· How could we maximize the synergies with those not participating in this talking process, and engaged in traditional “resistance” activities against Trump policies, such as protests and rallies? Or are our efforts essentially separate but perhaps complimentary? (I don’t want to preclude the possibilities of some changes to liberal ideas, either, resulting from a successful dialogue. Efforts to reach common ground can’t be assumed to lead exclusively to one side’s existing views; otherwise, an already difficult process probably does become impossible.)

· Issues that are strategically ducked because they are intuitively seen as just too controversial, or tough ones which haven’t yet emerged, are going to have to be faced sooner or later. When and how do we do that?

· Do these conversations, once they’ve gained some traction, allow us on the liberal side to ever voice our views of the President, or should we keep those for other times and places?

· Are there any other uncertainties and guidelines I’m missing?

· What do we do if the press ignores the more formal of these diplomatic attempts, because they are not seen as “newsworthy,” or are not shocking enough?

A Particular Challenge

A few of the unique ideas of Eric Liu were mentioned in Part 7 and others deserve some attention. Recall he urges more arguing; not less. That’s because of his concern that reconciliation efforts between those with different political views risks “papering over differences,” and therefore “compounding our political problems.”

He doesn’t see those groups which have gained attention in recent years, including but going beyond Trump Voters, such as “Black Lives Matter activists who fundamentally mistrust establishment politics and institutions, [and] Sanders supporters wary of elite neoliberal conspiracy” as having a “good reason…to sign on too soon…[for] reunion and reconciliation. All of them want to disrupt the status quo. None of them is going to pledge civility or bipartisanship if doing so might mean forfeiting the necessary exercise of civic power.”

However, his preferred form of arguing would avoid what he calls “stupid” arguments. These are those which avoid “foundational assumptions about capitalism or government,” that “center on symbolic proxy skirmishes…” or “focus excessively on style and substance.”

Instead, issues such as “power inequities” and “truth” need to be on the table; whereas, “liking each other” is not. He seems to accept what he calls “Reconciliation for grown-ups,” which I described in Part 7 as smarter arguing, along with better listening, and doing joint projects.

He offers as a goal “fashioning hybrid solutions that work,” adding at least “for the times until they don’t, and then to start again.”

Regardless of whether you agree with all of Liu’s points, particularly the emphasis on more arguing, the challenge is how can we ensure that the tougher issues are included in the discussion, along with the sometimes uncomfortable questioning of assumptions?

Even More of What Else is Needed

Ultimately, as much of an accomplishment as even quality “talking” would be, with listening added to that, we will have to go beyond even that to actually making progress on climate change and other issues searing our democracy. Certain professions could be helpful in meeting this challenge.

We’re going to need effective facilitators, as well as networks to train and consult with (and pay) them, as there is going to be a lot of frustrating moments ahead when it is not clear how to proceed, particularly when we work on substantive issues which inevitably bring out strong emotions. As part of the screening process for potential facilitators, I suggest running some of the above-bullet items past them and get their sense of them.

Regarding facilitation, Roshan Bliss, “an inclusiveness trainer and group process facilitator,” states his organization, The National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation (NCDD) in its “#BridgingOurDivides Campaign,” has started “collecting information about the projects, initiatives, or efforts (its members) are undertaking” in this exact area, and will share what it collects from its members. A number of facilitation-guided projects are already listed.

We’ll need social scientists to study and develop ongoing theory (in the more rigorous sense of the term discussed in the above “What Isn’t So Clear” section) to guide this area as it hits those tougher spots. One of these is language, as well as what’s behind it. Donald Ellis, a University of Hartford academic and a member of NCDD, in “How Elite and Popular Discourse Suppress Dialogue,” describes how the differences “between elite and popular discourse” makes “dialogue…a real challenge if possible at all.” But he is offering a training course for facilitators to help understand the differences that could help.

We’ll need journalists, if they don’t miss the shouting, to write about how it’s all going, including the quieter small victories that don’t announce themselves. There could be some term papers in this for students, because, as I tell them, they’ll need to be better at this than those of us who came before them. Maybe there’s a book in this for a potential author.

It would be interesting if a “Future Search” (as discussed in Part 5) is attempted to find common ground between Trump Loathers and Voters. Perhaps a foundation, some social scientists, and an interested geographic area in which both Trump Loathers and Trump Voters live could be brought together and the process tried.

Or a social entrepreneurial group like Search for Common Ground mentioned earlier could be used. They try to “transform conflicts.” Consistent with the above, they say “Dialogue is a necessary but insufficient means to change attitudes and behavior…we work with people in conflict to help them not only understand their differences, but also act on their common ground.” Their Millennial Action Project involves “overcoming America’s partisan gridlock,” including by “advancing post-partisan policy.”

Specifically regarding the topic of this series, they offer some “insights from more than thirty years of peacebuilding.” A couple of related big ones are “Whatever it is you are pursuing, think about who loses if you win,” and “Decide you care what happens to them.”

A different alternative, a Bohm Dialogue, would not be satisfied with the “talking” emphasized in this series, or even “discussion,” as, according to writer Maria Popova, quoting from David Bohm’s On Dialogue, discussion “…will not get us very far beyond our various points of view. Discussion is almost like a ping-pong game, where people are batting the ideas back and forth and the object of the game is to win or to get points for yourself…”

Instead, it explicitly shoots for “Dialogue,” which Wikipedia, quoting from David Bohm’s Dialogue — A Proposal, says “is a freely flowing group conversation in which participants attempt to reach a common understanding, experiencing everyone’s point of view fully, equally and nonjudgmentally.” Popova describes it as “a commitment to mutual contemplation of viewpoints and considered response.” Popova, quoting Bohm again, says “In a dialogue…nobody is trying to win. Everybody wins if anybody wins,” and “there is no attempt to gain points, or to make your particular view prevail.”

According to Wikipedia, a Bohm Dialogue aims “to create a ‘free space’ for something new to happen.” Popova, again quoting from Bohm, adds that “something new [which is created] between us, [could be] something of very great significance for bringing to an end the at present insoluble problems of…society.”

Further, according to Wikipedia, in a Bohm Dialogue, “each individual agrees to suspend judgment in the conversation,” “does not attack ideas” [they] “don’t like,” and “tries to build on others’ individuals’ ideas in the conversation.” Popova, quoting from Bohm, adds: that something “new [can] only [happen] if people are freely to listen to each other, without prejudice and without trying to influence each other. Each has to be interested primarily in truth and coherence, so that he is ready to drop his old ideas and intentions, and be ready to go on to something different, when this is called for.” Popova, still quoting Bohm, says “fertile dialogue requires that we first become aware of our own ‘blocks,’ then be willing to surmount them.”

However, Wikipedia states a Bohm Dialogue explicitly disallows a “predefined purpose,” and, according to Popova, does not aim “at some immediate or practical solution…”

Therefore, it is likely to be quite a challenge for participants on both sides of the Trump (metaphorical) wall to achieve the necessary plane. (Aha! Another “we;” not an us-versus-them.) While a Bohm Dialogue could be tried and prove to have value for uncovering new possibilities that none of us could foresee, another approach that aims for post-dialogue action would likely be needed, as well.

Maybe Start with an Easier One

An easier subject that actually has an element of fun could be bicycling — and lots of it. Perhaps a major reason that Trump Voters (and most likely Trump Loathers, as well, so I guess it’s yet another “we”) aren’t biking all over the place is that it never occurred to us that it’s even possible. Some exposure to the almost have-to-see-it-to-believe-it degree of biking in such international cities as Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Basel, Santiago, Poznan, Munster; or in the U.S., Portland and Minneapolis, could perhaps relatively easily bring us together on this, and be the first step towards actually planning for and doing it. Biking has become bi-partisan in The Netherlands.

(Personally, as soon as I’ve finished this series, as a reward because I’ve missed it, and inspired by a couple of visits to Rotterdam, I’m going to dust off the spider webs my sons recently scornfully pointed out and try out — for the first time, my electric bike. This is needed to accommodate both the monster hills around where I live (apologies to any Colorado readers) and not being a kid anymore. If you see me on the side of the road, a light horn tap or “thumbs-up” would be welcome, particularly from the light trucks with “Trump/Pence” stickers still on them.)

If we progress on biking, we can consider more difficult and very topical issues, such as the not-necessarily-impossible one of athletes kneeling for the National Anthem. Perhaps someday we’ll be ready for the even harder gun rights versus gun control issue. And, of course, climate change, a sub-theme of this series, needs attention. Perhaps we will find the frequency (even if we can’t “prove” cause-and-effect), severity, and pure damage of all the hurricanes we have been seeing is making an impression among some “doubters” and “skeptics.”

Picking Up a Few More of the Missing Pieces

Of course, it certainly would help if there are some Trump Voters who also aren’t happy with the mutual distaste they see, and who are thinking parallel thoughts from their end. Do they see us liberals as worth talking to? If they reach out, would we (back to liberals this time) be receptive to the opening and possible surprises they might have for us? (It also wouldn’t hurt if they are self-critical of their side as I’ve been of mine.)

And, hey centrists, independents, libertarians: I haven’t said much about you. But you’re part of all this, too. Non-Trump-voting conservatives and Republicans: I’ve sometimes lumped you in with Trump Voters. Depending on the issue, this may or may not have been accurate. Regardless, you’re also part of the conversation.

If you’re inclined to start, including those who had initially rejected the premise of this series but have now re-considered, including those from the Climate Communications field, be prepared to fail or experience lukewarm success the first few times, as I did (OK, more than a few times). We can get better at this. It is important, and boring is the one thing that is truly impossible.

Final Words

If I can say just one overarching thing, it’s: “Loath the President, if you wish; but don’t loath the Trump voter.” You can make an exception for Neo-Nazis and KKKers, although if any of them come to regret and then renounce those ideologies, there’s room for them, too, in the “We’re all in this together” bus.

I’m now mostly out of this diversion from my usual beat exploring what I think are cutting edge sustainability developments and possibilities (or perhaps this has been one), but thought the urgency justified trying to make a contribution. When the occasion arises, I’ll try to practice what I’ve preached (although I hope that hasn’t been how it’s come across). I may slip from time to time, but will try to learn from those.

It’s now up to any Americans, coming at this from either direction, who want to try to connect with the other side to make these efforts. Idriss concluded: “If we Americans do this, we will come up with solutions to our problems that are more creative, sustainable, and healthier for us all. And we will set the example for our political leaders to follow…”

So pick some of the guidance offered in this series, or come up with something better. And/or try to fill some of the uncertainties posed. We certainly can’t go on the way we have been, President Trump or not.


Thank You’s to Bill Russell; Kristina Drury; my sister, Carol; and Timo Hamalainen; who all suggested one to three key references used in Parts 7 or 8. Bill also gave a helpful critique about my own bias that led to two insights in this part.

Thank You to Medium for printing this series. It wasn’t easy finding an outlet for this “political” topic, and you solved that problem, allowing me to focus.

Finally, a big Thank You to my editor, my wife Sandy. Her frequent red pen on each part, while always a surprise when applied to something that had seemed super-clear to me, made the series better. Each time the draft of a part was finished, it was probably not her favorite read of the day. But she found time in-between her paralegal work, Zumba-teaching, animal portraits, gardening, writing short humor columns, taking care of four animals, and grandmothering.

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matt polsky

matt polsky

Long time sustainability change-agent. Ph.D. student Erasmus University’s Program in Sustainability. Columnist for Sustainable Brands.