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SDG

The Trump presidency

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SDG   

We don't have a Politics forum any more and for good reason. This post is not an attempt to do an end run around that exclusion. I am not interested in getting a conversation going here, much less a debate. This is an appeal for input. 

For a number of overlapping prudential reasons, I don't post a lot about politics on social media, but I don't post nothing either. I try to post strategically, picking my battles and maintaining a balance among the topics I post about. 

Another thing that has happened for a number of overlapping reason is that media coverage on Trump has been overwhelming. Every day is an avalanche — some of it wrong, and not all of it of ongoing importance. Trump, meanwhile, is doing that thing he does of diverting conversation to other topics. (Full disclosure: I am very far from the most politically savvy and informed of individuals, and I don't follow the news as closely as I wish I did. There are a lot of things I don't do that I wish I did.)

I'm trying to step back and get some perspective and clarity on the big-picture angles that matter, but it's hard. When some critical sources worry that "President Trump has done a lot in only a month" and other equally critical sources claim that "President Trump has done almost nothing," it's hard to cut through the static and pin down the substance. 

One way to frame what I'm trying to do is this: Suppose you wanted to address Trump supporters who were underinformed about the most serious issues that have emerged from the Trump presidency in a way that they would find persuasive. Which big-picture issues and angles would you focus on?

Note that this is not necessarily the same as the issues and angles that most concern you about the Trump presidency, unless of course you are or were a Trump supporter and are now concerned. Throughout the Trump campaign Trump opponents talked a lot — justly so — about sexism and womanizing, racism, Trump's business interests, and a lot of other issues and angles that were very persuasive to Trump opponents but which most Trump supporters blew off.

Obviously in saying this I must immediately add that I realize there are a lot of Trump supporters who will never be persuaded by anything. So you have to pick your audience as well as your issues. Writers know it often helps to write your piece with one particular reader in mind, as if you were writing it just for them, even with a work (like a movie review) ostensibly addressed to a broad audience.

With that in mind, I can think of a number of Trump supporters I know who are reasonable people who are open to dialogue, but who spend too much time immersed in the world of Fox News and other rightwing sources. They are not necessarily totally blind to issues with Trump but who were motivated by horror over Hillary, concern for the Supreme Court, and a few hot-button issues like abortion, religious liberty, and maybe Muslim refugees and national security (e.g., pointing to increased rape and violence in those European countries that have taken in a lot of refugees). 

If you know anyone who fits that description, or can imagine one, what issues would you broach with them? Follow-up question: Which online resources (news stories or analysis) would you cite — again, in an effort to persuade Trump supporters, to awaken or deepen concerns in them about the Trump presidency? 

The Michael Flynn resignation is the biggest thing, I guess. Is there currently one really good source to go to on that story?

And now we're hearing that "High-level advisers close to then-presidential nominee Donald Trump were in constant communication during the campaign with Russians known to US intelligence" (CNN). 

Another bizarre angle: Apparently the White House kept Pence "in the dark for weeks about the warning it had gotten about national security adviser Michael Flynn from the Justice Department" (NBC). 

What other issues and angles are most promising? 

Edited by SDG

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SDG   

Possibly related and worth bearing in mind: I just read on Twitter that Gallup finds public confidence in the news media has hit a new all-time low. 

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One way to frame what I'm trying to do is this: Suppose you wanted to address Trump supporters who were underinformed about the most serious issues that have emerged from the Trump presidency in a way that they would find persuasive. Which big-picture issues and angles would you focus on?

I wouldn't. But maybe that's just me. I think you are trying, seemingly in vain, to convince yourself that if you do it right, say it right, whatever that the interactions will be more effective. I think the nature of social media means you need only a small but committed group of trolls to derail any conversation or exhaust any sincere efforts at dialogue. 

In the wake of the election I've been thinking a lot about the interview I did at SXSW last year with Daryl Davis. As a reminder, he was the subject of Accidental Courtesy, a documentary about how he "befriended" many Ku Klux Klan members and white supremacists, and how dozens of people he had interacted with had eventually left the Klan.

I kept circling back to two questions:

1) Can anyone do what you do? 
2) Were there people who were non-responsive, and how did you separate them from those who were worth a huge investment of time and energy?

In my mind, the film was a sideways look at what many Christians think about when they refer to "friendship evangelism" as opposed to proclamation or contact evangelism. 

It's hard to condense a three hour interview into one or two bullet points and then apply it to a parallel track, but I would say, based on lessons I learned, that success has less to do with framing the issues or persuasion than it does about:

  • being informed. (Davis said he often knew more about the Klan, its history, and practices than did the white supremacists with whom he talked.) 
  • being emotionally diffident. (My word, not his.) Persuasion doesn't work with some people, because persuasion, by its nature is a *rational* appeal, and some positions are not rational nor borne of reason. That's not to say no Trump supporter (or white supremacist in Davis's example) is capable of reason. Just that the origins of their behavior are more often rooted in emotions than rational pragmatism. In my experience, it's usually borne of fear and/or anger. Those emotions trigger lizard brain (amygdala?) and rational persuasion gets drowned by the neural pathways that have been trained to be afraid, constantly afraid.
  • loving and serving people even when they are hateful (or full of hate). That's admittedly hard. And some people try to do it but for tactical reasons ... hey, I'll earn the right to tell you the truth by loving you. Again, this is my observation rather than Davis's, but I think if one is motivated by tactical reasons, one's patience will eventually wear out. Loving people can't be the strategic prelude to a "gotcha" end game. Anyone changing his/her heart or mind about anything is a miracle, and I believe God usually (always?) has a hand in it. For my part, my response to Trump presidency is to try to be more loving. 

    I haven't done as much of this, but I've also been helped by reading about transition of South Africa from Apartheid to post-Apartheid...what were the purposes of truth and reconciliation? How did that work? What new grievances were created? (White liberals who felt they were anti-Apartheid but were not distinguished from more racist counterparts once they became minority...?) Documentaries like The Ruins of Lifta and Peacemaker (violence in Northern Ireland) help me learn about other times in world history where governments/nations have had to deal with entrenched, implacable ideological conflicts that had led to schisms. These admittedly have not helped me tactically (just emulated so-and-so's-policy) but they have helped me better understand that emotions that feed into the people involved in such deeply-rooted conflicts, particularly those who have been exposed to them over time and have, perhaps, become emotionally or psychologically crippled.

    I guess what I'm saying, summarily, is that I *don't* think we are in a realm right now where our primary problems are rational ones and the way out of them is being  being persuasive. I think our (i.e. America's) bigger problems right now are emotional and spiritual, and solving them...is going to involve something different from how we've approached ideological or social conflicts in the pre-social media days.

 

Edited by kenmorefield

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On 2/15/2017 at 7:23 AM, SDG said:

For a number of overlapping prudential reasons, I don't post a lot about politics on social media, but I don't post nothing either. I try to post strategically, picking my battles and maintaining a balance among the topics I post about. 

--

One way to frame what I'm trying to do is this: Suppose you wanted to address Trump supporters who were underinformed about the most serious issues that have emerged from the Trump presidency in a way that they would find persuasive. Which big-picture issues and angles would you focus on?

For myself, I've recently chosen the posture of disconnecting from social media--particularly through deactivating Facebook--as both strategy and protest. Due to the nature of the "conversations" that I saw happening regarding politics, with the polarizing and the trolling and the hatred, I've chosen to intentionally not be in the midst of that argument on those terms or in that manner. Because of my chosen vocation, I've been given a voice/platform in people's lives as a pastor and spiritual leader, and I try to steward that well in social media contexts, especially around questions of politics and religion. So in addressing Trump supporters in conversation about their views and decisions, I've chosen to do that only in face-to-face contexts, either due to intentionally seeking them out because of an ongoing relationship with them, or responding with hospitality and grace when they seek me out. I try to stay well-informed and be a non-anxious presence, but disconnecting from social media also means narrowing my engagement--instead of a wide network of connections through Facebook, I'm now limited to my immediate social context of church, family, friends, and neighbors. It's a strategically smaller approach, but one I find to be more emotionally stable for myself than delving into the social media vitriol, as well as potentially capable of long-term sustainable change. I can't recall which essay it's from, but I remember Wendell Berry writing about ecological crises and conservation of our natural world, where we can begin with cultivating health in our own backyards and patches of land, that the small acts of nurture and health do matter and affect the whole.

So the big-picture issues and angles I focus on are those people's individual stories and paradigms: How did they come to this perspective? Who are they listening to for wisdom and input? Who or what are they afraid of? What ideology have they bought into, consciously or unconsciously? Or, to make things very concrete: do you know or have befriended any refugees/Muslims/LGBTQ/Latinos/African-Americans/Republicans/Democrats/evangelicals/etc.? What's your experience been like? May I introduce you to my friend(s) and listen to their story? In many social spheres, I find myself as a bridge-builder, a person connected to various communities and conversations on a variety of sides--conservative and liberal; evangelical and mainline Protestant and Catholic and Orthodox and Pentecostal and Anabaptist and all sorts of types Christians; religious and non-religious; academic and blue collar; white and POC; etc.

I'm not sure if this is quite what you're looking for, Steven, but it's the conversational approach I've taken in this political season.

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SDG   
On 2/16/2017 at 3:02 PM, kenmorefield said:

I wouldn't. But maybe that's just me. I think you are trying, seemingly in vain, to convince yourself that if you do it right, say it right, whatever that the interactions will be more effective. I think the nature of social media means you need only a small but committed group of trolls to derail any conversation or exhaust any sincere efforts at dialogue. 

That's a fair response to one style of what I try to do on social media, but that's not really what I'm after here.  

I'm not looking (here) for outrages, like Trump's "It's all about me" responses to almost everything including questions about antisemitism (which I did recently post about on Facebook, and which your comments above seem to me an apt response). I'm not looking to have persuasive conversations about what a bad person Trump is. I may be more optimistic about the value of such conversations than you are, in part because of my different mode of social media engagement, but I'm looking for something different here.  

I'm looking for issues that have emerged in the Trump administration — policy decisions, appointments that sort of thing — where important problems emerged or important mistakes were made, either because it became necessary to backtrack or because of bad consequences. What are things Trump has done or is doing that everyone — or, if not everyone, a lot of people including many Trump supporters — can recognize are a problem? 

"Trump appointed a national security advisor who apparently wasn't truthful about his contacts with Russia and was vulnerable to blackmail by Russian intelligence — and Mike Pence didn't find out about it for weeks" seems like a good example of this. 

On 2/19/2017 at 11:45 AM, Joel Mayward said:

For myself, I've recently chosen the posture of disconnecting from social media--particularly through deactivating Facebook--as both strategy and protest. Due to the nature of the "conversations" that I saw happening regarding politics, with the polarizing and the trolling and the hatred, I've chosen to intentionally not be in the midst of that argument on those terms or in that manner. Because of my chosen vocation, I've been given a voice/platform in people's lives as a pastor and spiritual leader, and I try to steward that well in social media contexts, especially around questions of politics and religion. So in addressing Trump supporters in conversation about their views and decisions, I've chosen to do that only in face-to-face contexts, either due to intentionally seeking them out because of an ongoing relationship with them, or responding with hospitality and grace when they seek me out.

Thanks, Joel, I appreciate that. I'm still trying to find my approach given my own clerical vocation.

Of course when and where one chooses to broad these topics is a separate question from "What are the topics that we should be talking about?" I'm looking for input on the latter. 

Edited by SDG

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2 hours ago, SDG said:

I'm looking for issues that have emerged in the Trump administration — policy decisions, appointments that sort of thing — where important problems emerged or important mistakes were made, either because it became necessary to backtrack or because of bad consequences. What are things Trump has done or is doing that everyone — or, if not everyone, a lot of people including many Trump supporters — can recognize are a problem? 

You might try following Trump Regrets on Twitter ( https://twitter.com/Trump_Regrets  ). The retweets are pretty scattershot, but you may see patterns of things that (some) Trump voters recognize as a problem. The most consistent complaints I've heard are about temperament/demeanor (and ironically his use of Twitter). I find the threads depressing in a "what did you think was going to happen?" mode, and I don't interact with it at all, but it is anecdotally helpful at getting a lens into what people think is a problem. 

Of course there are also the "why isn't Hillary in jail yet?" complaints and the "you should not have accepted Flynn's resignation" complaints that he's not conservative enough....

Edited by kenmorefield

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