Letters Blogatory’s Trump Listening Tour

A conservative blog called MercatorNet (“Navigating Modern Complexities”) was kind enough to repost my post-election reflections, where I focused on the need to reach out and listen to Trump supporters. Well, some Trump supporters, and some conservatives who did not vote for President-elect Trump, took the time to respond, for which I’m grateful. I think it important to engage with their responses in a way that is totally separate from reactions to the latest news about the Presidential transition (the awful and distressing appointment of Steve Bannon as a chief advisor, for example, or the President-elect’s threats of legal action against Sen. Reid). Here are some lessons I’ve learned and a non-exclusive list of themes I heard.

  • Some Trump supporters, and other conservatives, were motivated by traditional morality. One theme from the comments was unhappiness with the left’s rejection of some hitherto almost universally agreed ideas rooted in traditional morality. The most obvious example is same-sex marriage, which was socially and legally so far out of the mainstream as to be nearly unthinkable not twenty years ago. Here’s part of a comment from someone who described herself as a “middle class, well educated, well traveled older-ish female, and Mormon” who did not vote for Trump:

    I’m no under-employed welder or rural dweller, but I am feeling relief that the absolute steam roller of liberal “morality” may be stopping to take a rest. I’m no bigot, no homophobe, either, but my religious rights are being trampled, and any protest brings barrages of insults from the left.

    Another commenter agreed:

    I’m male and Catholic, but I too am a moderate conservative and I’m sick to death of any protest I raise to leftist politics bringing a barrage of insults. Let that absolute steam roller of liberal morality take a rest while we figure out a way forward.

    Here is perhaps the most hard-hitting comment on this line:

    Well, you don’t know me, but I voted for Trump and according to your analysis I guess I fall in the strand of a strong dislike of so-called “political correctness.” Prevailing “politically correct” tolerance seems to be to accept every aberration on the planet without allowing anyone to have the freedom to point out that perhaps that aberration is not morally acceptable or worthy of imitation and to have the freedom not to do it themselves nor to pay for it with their own resources. Does that mean I approve of Trump’s personal life? No. But Trump is not trying to make us swallow a tolerance for what some elite has decided is the new right and wrong, and do all kinds of deceitful things like create fake front groups to undermine what they consider old-fashioned morality.

    It’s possible to read these comments a few ways. Maybe the thought is, “same-sex marriage should be rolled back, and I’ll say so to anyone who will listen.” Another possibility: “I get that this is the law, but I don’t have to like it, and please don’t call me a homophobe if I express a contrary opinion.” A third: “I get that this is the law, and I have no particular desire to be vocal with my opinion, but please don’t make me violate my own conscience by participating in what I see as a serious wrong or sin, or in other words, please preserve a religious exemption to otherwise generally applicable laws on discrimination in this area.” The first view aside, these views seek to draw a distinction between tolerance and affirmative approval. Bearing in mind that the idea of toleration of wrong ideas was not to long ago a principle of liberals, we can at least engage seriously with the second and third opinions, even for those who see no room for compromise on the first.

  • A rejection of authority. Traditionally respect for authority is a conservative rather than a left-wing value. But I see a rejection of a certain kind of authority—the authority of experts, particularly scientific experts—in the responses. Here is a comment in response to my thoughts on climate change:

    This is a prime example of where the intellectual elite (and those who like to think themselves part of it) are out of touch with mass opinion. Many people are simply not convinced that ‘climate change’ is the real, serious, urgent and expensive problem that the commentariat thinks it is. As far as most are concerned, it is not the Number One problem—it doesn’t even come in the top 10 (international poll). Even if the commentariat is right (which it isn’t—the scientific consensus is that it is real, but NOT that it is necessarily dangerous—and even if it really is, the prospects of stopping it are not worth the cost) how is the alleged ‘solution’ to be imposed on people who don’t agree that a solution is important?

    Here is another:

    You are simply implying that whichever Republican does not agree with the CC hubris is unreasonable. By extension you call the president-elect unreasonable. Yet you want to listen to them. Who listens to unreasonable people talk? Nobody.

    What I find difficult to understand about the first comment is the framing: the effect our society is having on the climate is what it is, regardless of “mass opinion,” and the comment makes judgments about the effects of climate change and about the costs of mitigation that are not supported by the scientific consensus. This is a different kind of issue than, say, same-sex marriage, since it is not purely an issue about values, but a mixed issue that brings both moral truths and empirical truths into play. You can disagree about moral truths, but a disagreement about empirical truths had better boil down to a dispute about methodology, otherwise we are in trouble. One thing we can learn from the same kind of trouble on the left (those who say, for example, that vaccines cause autism) is that it simply is not persuasive to present the facts to non-experts. So how can we persuade the skeptical on climate change? I’m sure this is not an original idea, but it seems to me we ought to find a way to talk about climate change in the language of shared values rather than the language of science. I am sure every religious tradition will speak of our obligation to “till [the earth] and to keep it.” The Pope has spoken about the moral dimension of environmental stewardship. But even leaving religious ideas aside, we need to do a better job with science education, so that when adult non-specialists read studies or summaries of studies that show the risks of inaction, they understand why they are not reading just another ideological piece that can be ignored or wished away.

  • Some Trump supporters are themselves in no mood to listen. It should go without saying that since I think those who did not support Trump should listen to those who did, I also think those who did not support Clinton should listen to those who did. At least some comments suggest to me that not everyone is ready to do that or even to recognize the desire to listen and to engage from the other side. This is not all that surprising given the passions that this election unleashed and the anger that has driven much of the right-wing media in recent years. Here is an example:

    Now where is your rebuke of Clinton and the family history of corruption and lies? Where is your condemnation of their actions in Haiti? I want to see you demonstrate your objectivity.

    Such biases is why you don’t understand what just happened. You call names and never listen. You surrounded yourself with like minds, wrap yourself in a bubble and can’t see that everyday people are hurting and you can’t see that this is not a matter of identity politics. It is a matter of the people vs the establishment.

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