My Facebook feed is on fire this week.  The anti-Trump posts, ever present, seem to have reached a boiling point.  Several people I know wrote posts requesting that any Trump supporters in their network defriend them immediately, be they acquaintance or blood relative.  Lots of calls for Nazi punching.

Normally I get a giggle out of the funny or ironic posts, but the stuff I’m seeing this week is alarming.  America isn’t getting less divided.  It’s going the other way in a hurry.  I think it’s time for me to share this.

Protests in Charlottesville VA, 2017

Over the last few months, I’ve been trying something new.  I’ve been reaching out to Trump defenders on Facebook, and trying to engage them in a real conversation.  My goal is to avoid name-calling and get to one specific issue, and talk about it.  To try and fully understand their point of view, without offering any criticism or attempt at “educating them”.

It’s hard.  It takes a ton of mental effort for me to really try and engage, and not slip into automatic defensive dismissive stuff.  I’m sure it’s the same for the other person.  It doesn’t always work, but when it does, it’s gold.  Here’s an example.

(A friend posts an anti-Trump joke.)

Mutual Friend: Trump will probably go down as one of the best Presidents this country will have seen I am just saying!

Me: That would be quite a comeback.

Mutual Friend: Only the leftist would say it’s a come back, personally I think it’s moving forward!

Me: Name calling aside, I don’t feel good about Trump as a person, as a business leader, nor about much of what he’s done so far. What is he improving, in your opinion?

Mutual Friend: I always ask the same about Obama? As far as trump I feel he is trying to preserve what’s left of America… No name calling are you saying that there is no left side.

Me: I mean, without mentioning Obama or Hillary, what specifically is bad about America that you want Trump to fix? (I do think there is a left/liberal side. I just think we all need to spend more time talking about specific issues, and not labeling each other.)

Mutual Friend: Well everytime we get into individual topics we typically disagree then becomes argument then becomes counterproductive but I guess we can talk about his stance on immigration. What about everytime he tries to get things accomplished you have some judge blocking him. I never remember judges blocking Obama’s ridiculous in the middle of the night executive orders maybe lets start there.

(OK, good. Now we’re having a conversation. We got some initial parrying out of the way, and now there’s a single, concrete issue. I can see his reasons for being frustrated and angry.)

Me: That’s cool man, I’m not picking a fight. I am trying to get outside my assumptions and learn more about why people like Trump, and what they think is wrong with the US. We’re all Americans and we have a lot in common. At the end of the day I’m just a guy who likes music and beer and wants a good life for my kids. You’re Josh’s friend so I’m sure you’re a good guy. I have noticed that Trump’s immigration orders are repeatedly blocked by judges. It’s not clear to me whether the bans are legal or not. As I understand it, it *is* within his authority to implement those bans if he thinks it’s a good idea. I think the judges are taking a “let’s make sure this is legal before we start doing it” approach. I’m sure that’s frustrating for him and for anyone who wants the bans to move forward.

Mutual Friend: Well said me to.

(That’s the end of it. There’s some other chatter from other people on the thread, most of it is critical of him. We both ignore it. )

(But wait… The next day, he returns to the same Facebook thread, with a completely different topic.  He’s probably seen something in the news.  In spite of the sideline criticism he’s receiving, he’s returned to get some insight.)

Mutual Friend: I am sorry but slavery happened it’s a part of history now, why is everyone giving a shit now. Back in that era it was the norm and people who had slaves didn’t think it was wrong because slaves were property at that time. Why are we tearing down statutes of what made this country what it is today? I am looking for answers and you people seem to be the right source to ask.

Me: I actually don’t care about the statues either way. I’m mainly concerned by how people are treating each other. I expect people are fired up now because they feel strongly about the lingering effects of it. Blacks and other non-white folks in this country are still treated differently or unfairly in a lot of circumstances. It’s not slavery, but it’s not equality either. I think whenever someone feels singled out, especially if it’s for something superficial like skin color, it feels unfair and makes them mad… The statues are just the current focus. I think the conversation about race and fair treatment comes up often for different reasons, and it’s mostly about that.

Mutual Friend: How and in what way are they treated differently? I call bullshit on them making excuses I know black doctors, black lawyers, black actors and black presidents with better opportunities then I had. Ps. as an American you should care about the statutes.

(I started to type a reply like “gah, it’s everywhere!” but when I tried to identify specific events I’ve witnessed, I came up short. I was stuck in this “it’s so obvious” mindset that I believe drives most arguments. I decided to wait a couple of hours and think on it. Finally, over lunch, I gathered my thoughts and put together a response.)

Me: I think people’s opportunities are pretty complex. I’ve had unique opportunities because of where I grew up, what schools I attended, and the people I knew. There are lots of people (white or otherwise) who’ve had better opportunities than me.

I don’t think you can point to one black doctor or lawyer and say that everything is perfectly equal for all black people. I expect if you talk to any of them, they’ll tell you they had to work harder than their white peers. They likely had to deal with subtle, occasional differences in treatment while shopping, or being pulled over by a cop for no apparent reason. They probably also had to work against different cultural norms within their family and friends which didn’t place as much value on education, hard work, self discipline, and so forth. People in poorer neighborhoods have different priorities.

If you look at US prison stats, black men receive 20% longer prison sentences on average, than white men do for the exact same crimes. Lots of white people, especially in the south where I grew up, still use words like n*gger and assume right away that anyone who is black is less intelligent or even criminal. This absolutely happens. I grew up with it. Have you ever seen someone get tense or even cross the street when a group of young black guys approaches on the sidewalk? It’s a reality, and there’s no way you could grow up as a young black man in the US and not notice those things.

I’m not speaking for anyone other than myself here, but I think this country is still has work to do on issues of race, even though slavery has been illegal for some time. Clearly there are people on the left this week who are condemning people and acting violently. I don’t support or excuse that. Everybody should obey the law and act like decent human beings to each other.

(I received some kudos from other friends for this, but he hasn’t replied.  It’s a stupid long comment, and he’s probably taking time to digest it.  Maybe he wasn’t happy with his default response, just as I wasn’t, and he’s taking time to work it out.  We’ll see.  Whatever happens, I feel good about how we handled it.)

OK, I’m proud of what I said, but that’s not the point of this post.  This is real human connection stuff.  We went from name calling to actually curious and trying to learn from each other. It was work for both of us. We’re not best buddies, but it doesn’t matter.  We can’t write each other off.  He came back the next day with a new topic to discuss, even though some of the other peoples’ comments weren’t very nice to him. This is the real work right here.  One conversation at a time, it’s possible to build these bridges.  And these bridges can begin to provide the support needed for a divided America.  Wouldn’t that be Great?

Really, let’s do that.


Protest photo By Evan Nesterak (White supremacists clash with police) via Wikimedia Commons

MAGA Hat photo By Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America (Make America Great Again hat) via Wikimedia Commons