Thursday, March 23, 2017

Why I Encourage Ex-Trump Supporters

It is annoying to hear a former Trump supporter become regretful for selfish reasons. It’s tiresome when they regret their vote only because they are getting screwed over, not because they care about anyone else’s struggles. There is bound to be some “serves you right” schadenfreude that accompanies this, as that’s a natural reaction. That being said, I have recently been seeing an influx of blogs and thinkpieces making fun of regretful former Trump supporters. I’m concerned with the ones that explicitly say, “I don’t want you to change your mind. You made your bed; now lie in it.”

If this sentiment comes from people who are most directly affected by his policies, I get it and am not going to suggest you respond differently. But I’ve seen a whole lot of this generated by middle class white people who are not Trump’s targets. Your feelings are valid—and, again, a sense of “I told you so” is normal. Even so, it’s counterproductive to tell Trump supporters, “I don’t want you to change your mind.” That’s effectively saying, “I don’t want you to learn. I don’t want you to become a better person.” When it comes from a middle class, white, non-immigrant citizen, it sounds privileged. When a person supports Trump for bigoted reasons, privileged people are the primary ones who can afford to tell them, “I don’t want you to change. I want you to stay bigoted because then I can feel gratified when bad things happen to you.” A marginalized person is more likely to want bigots to change their minds, because that affects their lives.

This is how I feel when people gloat about Trump supporters losing their health insurance, particularly if the gloater has secure health insurance and a good job. “If I’m going down, I’m taking you with me” is understandable, even though I disagree with the idea. But “I’m doing fine and I want you to lose your basic safety” is not something I can support. This comes down to “You made this choice; now suffer the consequences.” I agree that Trump supporters need to face negative consequences in order to understand the harm. However, no lesson is learned if those consequences include dying because they can’t afford treatment of a manageable disease. They also won’t learn if they lose access to higher education, as they will be deprived of resources that may enable them to change their minds. Saying that a person should be allowed to die of cancer because they’re a Trump supporter is still saying that people should be allowed to die of cancer if they can’t afford treatment. It’s supporting a system in which people lose their healthcare. This is similar to saying that rapists should be raped as punishment.

I don’t believe anyone is obligated to reach out to Trump supporters, but there is a difference between reaching out and just refraining from saying, “Don’t change your mind.” Within the far right, this is used to deter members from looking into other perspectives. They tell them, “See? Even if you change your mind and your whole way of thinking, the left will never accept you.” This is not the reason why Trump supporters think the way they do, but it doesn’t help the situation.

If some ex Trump supporters never move beyond primary self-interest, then that’s wrong. Still, the fact that they initially changed their minds because a policy affected them doesn’t mean they’ll always look at it with self-interest. It can start out that way, and then branch out into concern for others who are unlike themselves. A complete about-face rarely happens within one conversation. It can take years. The fact that someone is ignorant now, or is just starting to come out of it because they were harmed, doesn’t mean they’re forever irredeemable. When they are first starting to question their previous assumptions, that is when they most need encouragement from those who are willing. Encouragement is different from undue praise. It’s saying, “I’m glad you’re now seeing it this way. There are many ways in which he’s harming this country, and I’d like to talk about this more.”

How many of us on the left have improved our own values over the years? By improvement, I don’t mean becoming more ideologically pure. I mean compassionate, and nuanced, and understanding of potential. A hard leftist who says “I hope none of the Trump supporters ever change their minds” is by no means the moral equivalent of a Trump supporter who voted for him because they hate immigrants and condone sexual assault. I don’t know how much hope there is for the latter (although I’d like to think there’s hope for everyone). But to forget that we have also come from places of ignorance, and that we have sometimes been motivated because we were personally hurt, is to make ourselves morally unimpeachable. That position can become dangerous, no matter who it’s assigned to.