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A(d hominem)merican Dis(sonance)course

Listen carefully to how you talk about Trump. Listen carefully to how articles who are in disagreement with his policies talk about him. Listen to how he talked about Clinton during the campaign. Do you hear a similarity? If so, you’re reading the wrong news outlets and you’re thinking the wrong way.

Are you reacting with indignation to every idea, position, or policy different from your own and amplifying that reaction in an emotional response to Trump the individual? When you reflect back on the campaign and the election is Trump “evil” and Clinton “good”? Is Trump “the enemy”? If so, your reactive statements about the current situation are fueling the fire of those who stand on the other side of the issues from you and you’re widening our divide. You’re trapped in the ad hominem death spiral of current American discourse.

Us vs them. Republicans vs Democrats. Obama vs Tea Party. The polarity of our political system is highly problematic already. Add to that raw, finger-pointing blame and no one listens to anyone and no progress will be made to get us out of this mess. We all think we’re right. Now what?

So far, Trump’s policy changes are broadly either very Republican (a focus on America over the world and reinstating policies that began with Reagan) or very typical of a new President (all the things that most Presidents do initially when beginning office, like putting a freeze on all the things that were in motion from the previous Presidency). There are people who believe in those policies. We won’t change their minds by attacking them or attacking the person who is currently enacting policies that they agree with. We won’t change their minds by throwing science and facts piled sky-high to try to prove why our stance is the right one. No matter how right your stance is or how much I personally agree with your stance, entering into a conversation with someone else with a different view strongly embracing the idea that you are right builds a barrier of arrogance and hubris between you and the person you’re trying to persuade that dismantles communication.

Mr. Obama, our Previous President, was so articulate and good at reading those wonderfully well-written speeches, that many were fooled into dismissing everyone who wasn’t happy with his Presidency. If you’re an Obama supporter, think back to how much you loved everything he said and how you felt like everything was wonderful with America with him at the helm and how you thought about everyone who disagreed with him. Now try, for a moment, to think what it may have been like to be one of those people who strongly disagreed with everything he did. Imagine how silenced you would have felt for those 8 years. Pretty similar to how you’re feeling now, right?

We all think we’re right. Now what? How do we change?

I think we change by meeting people where they are and listening to one another. If we see each other as Republican or Democrat or Trump Supporter or Hillary Supporter or Pro-Life or Pro-Choice or Pro-Immigration or Anti-Immigration, we’ll never reach any agreement on anything because we’ve already stacked ourselves at opposite sides of highly magnetized debates.

I’m human. You’re human. Let’s talk about our similarities. What challenges are you facing that make you believe in and think the things that you believe in and think? Here’s how I started believing and thinking what I think. Sometimes I doubt these parts of it. Let’s discuss that.

That’s how we stop shouting, stop responding consistently with things like “lies” or “that’s a lie” or “but the facts are” and build relationships with other human beings and begin to persuade each other.

That being said, I am by no means saying here: don’t protest. Don’t speak up. Don’t say “This is wrong.” We must do that diligently, but if we want to move forward rather than back we need to say this is wrong about the policies without conflating those policies entirely as a flaw in the individuals who support those policies. We need to see individuals as individuals and humans just like us, stop categorizing each other as good and evil and learn to work together to mend and reach compromise that works for all.

Either that or we give up this great American experiment and break up into a bunch of smaller countries and a bunch of people start migrating to where they’re more just like everyone else around them. How horribly sad and boring that would be.

UPDATE: This exactly.