Understanding the Trump-Voting Relatives
November 10, 2016 1:13 PM   Subscribe

Yes, I saw this question. My question is somewhat different - I AM planning on attending Thanksgiving with a mostly Trump-voting family, and am trying to figure out how to discuss the things that will undoubtedly come up in a way that allows me to understand their point of view (whether it's rational or not), and effectively communicate my point of view.

My family is generally composed of kind-hearted people, but the majority have always leaned conservative, and they've gone Trump this election season due to (I think) a combo of Fox media lies about Clinton/Democrats, fear of their social capital as White Americans going down "unfairly", and, honestly, some straight-up xenophobia and racism.

I AM going to Thanksgiving with them, and I want to do my best to make it a pleasant one, while not shying away from the fact that I'm angry, heartbroken, and scared. I want to go in part because 1) I love them, they're my family, I have wonderful memories of times spent together when I was growing up 2) I want to silently support my younger cousins who are anti-Trump but afraid to speak up about it (I'm not going to call them out, of course, but I want them to see a successful adult with a different model of the world), and 3) I want to understand the Trump POV from people who I know aren't black-hearted villains.

I'm not afraid of confrontation, nor is my European spouse who will be coming with, and our baby is too young to care. I feel very safe being direct with them, in part because I have really solid foundation with my friends-who-are-family, I live in the Bay Area, I work in green energy, etc. - basically I already have a home in the safest place I can think of within the States. If things get too gnarly, I'm fine walking out the door and never coming back (literally and metaphorically).

I've had an abortion (out of medical necessity, NOT THAT IT ACTUALLY MATTERS - except maybe to them), I'm queer (but in a hetro relationship), I'm married to a (white) foreign national, I've been immersed in the horror that can be the American medical system and could be strongly affect by a repeal of the ACA, I'm a woman who's been sexually assaulted, I have strong background knowledge & credentials in climate change policy. I'm willing to discuss all of these things openly and calmly if any of it will sway minds or at least put a glimmer of doubt in their minds - e.g. "this Other you fear is me, your family, and by targeting them you're really targeting me."

Has anyone seen any good primers? General thoughts or advice also appreciated.
posted by Jaclyn to Human Relations (24 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
I want to understand the Trump POV from people who I know aren't black-hearted villains.

Except that you already stated the reasons that you know they voted for Trump, and aside from ignorance/willingness to believe lies, those reasons are pretty black-hearted and villainous. It doesn't do anyone any good to pretend that racists aren't racist just to get through dinner. There's no secret real answer that you don't already know, and that will make your family seem better than they are.

However. I absolutely agree that you should go home for the holidays, because you love your family and look forward to spending time with them, and you want to model successful non-bigot behavior for your younger relatives. You shouldn't feel like you have to shun them.

My way of doing this during the Bush administration with my conservative Bush-supporting war-mongering relatives was to just mostly not talk about it, or at least not steer the conversation towards it. I wasn't going to lie and or hide my real beliefs -- and I was an outspoken leftist all the time, not just at the Thanksgiving table -- but I also wasn't going to let that break up the family. I generally talked about non-political topics and kept my mouth shut when I knew it was just going to start a fight. I think this is harder now, because the worst thing we can possibly do is continue to give quarter to racists, but, yeah, I would use "don't egg them on" as my motto for this particular visit. Just let comments about the election, Trump himself, and general conservatism slide off your back, and be matter-of-fact about not standing for open racism. Don't heighten too much. Don't openly act angry or hyperbolic towards your relatives during this gathering. Try to steer conversations away from that stuff, and to "omg our baby is so cute!" or "omg this cranberry sauce is delicious!" wherever possible without ignoring/erasing open bigotry.
posted by Sara C. at 1:35 PM on November 10, 2016 [12 favorites]

"My family is generally composed of kind-hearted people, but the majority have always leaned conservative, and they've gone Trump this election season due to (I think) a combo of Fox media lies about Clinton/Democrats, fear of their social capital as White Americans going down "unfairly", and, honestly, some straight-up xenophobia and racism."

You have no idea why they voted the way they did. These are your kin you're talking about, not the caricatures you see on television and read about on the web. You don't even know how they voted, unless they've told you about it.

Don't presume. It's destructive. You are fighting battles in your head that are made entirely of your own strawmen, until you engage them.

If you can't keep it nice, at Thanksgiving, with your relatives, then don't engage on the topic. My go-to phrase is "Oh, could we talk about something more polite, like sex or God, instead of talking politics? We're having such a nice time."
posted by the Real Dan at 1:38 PM on November 10, 2016 [12 favorites]

Best answer: Presenting facts that are counter to their understanding of the facts tends to backfire (PDF warning). I'm striking out on finding it right now but I recall someone posted to the Blue about a study that showed that the more effective thing to do when someone is arguing from something that is factually incorrect is to ask them why they think it's true rather than simply demonstrating that they're wrong. Perhaps someone else can recall it and find the link.
posted by Candleman at 1:45 PM on November 10, 2016 [27 favorites]

they've gone Trump this election season due to (I think) a combo of Fox media lies about Clinton/Democrats, fear of their social capital as White Americans going down "unfairly", and, honestly, some straight-up xenophobia and racism

It sounds like you understand them pretty well, so I am not sure what you're hoping for here. I guess you can explain to them that who they're fighting against by voting for Trump is YOU.

But more realistically, I have many relatives who are like yours. And basically they are deeply unhappy with their lives and opportunities and daily stresses (the latter we all have, of course), despite being very successful and well off. They were convinced that their wealth and success would "buy" them out of the problems, but it doesn't, and they need to blame someone for that. There is also a class issue: they desperately need to associate themselves with the "better" classes, and they view Democrats as being the poor and parasitical (all have jobs where they deal/serve lower classes who are their clients/customers, and they remind themselves of their "separation" from them).

My educated guess is that they are deeply unhappy with their lives and they blame the government and liberals for their feelings. This was their way of "lashing out." And they feel happier about it. Absolute wealth/success/privilege are less important than their RELATIVE position with these things, so taking, say, Obamacare away from others (and even themselves) is a benefit by making sure more people stay "in their place."
posted by bright colored sock puppet at 1:51 PM on November 10, 2016 [3 favorites]

Do not express your views. They know your views, they will enjoy baiting you, and it will be a depressing mess. Turn the talk to the food, if you are asked about your views. Make it a point of honor to stick to this.
posted by Oyéah at 1:52 PM on November 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: You seem to have a good understanding of them already, actually. That said, my thinking is you can probably learn a lot about his supporters by pinning down what they say would get them to change their minds about supporting him. I mean, a surprisingly large number of people don't seem to actually believe he'll do or try to do what he says he'll do. I also think pinning them down has a slight chance of increasing the odds they'll actually drop their support down the line when he actually tries to do the stuff they didn't think he'd do. I also like the idea of asking why they think something is true vs telling them they're wrong. I remember my mother voicing support for voter id and I managed to raise some questions that, if they didn't change her mind, at least quieted her down.

I'm less sure about how you'd communicate your views to them, sorry.
posted by Green With You at 1:55 PM on November 10, 2016 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Note: I have talked with some of them about their reasons, and watched what they've shared on their facebook feeds, which is why I have preliminary ideas. I want to understand more than what I've gathered thus far, and get more directly from them.

I'm not interested in advice that says "don't speak about politics at all" (well, I mean, tell me that if you want to, but I'm not going to follow it). I truly believe the personal is the political more than ever, and to not speak out about the evil I see - particularly when I can do so from a safe space - is wrong. I'm not planning on bludgeoning my relatives to death on politics, since that will do nothing but create ill will, but I do want an open dialogue if they're willing to engage respectfully. Some of them are, I think.
posted by Jaclyn at 2:04 PM on November 10, 2016 [12 favorites]

Best answer: I think you're asking two things, one of which is possible and one (in my opinion) isn't.

You say you want to understand their point of view. This is possible, insofar as they can explain it to you. Just ask them why they voted for Trump?" and see what they say.

You also say you want to "effectively communicate my point of view." Whether or not they want to understand your point of view is up to them. I doubt very much that you could logic them into changing their minds. Talk about politics all you want, but I would not go into this thinking there's a way to get them to see the error of their ways if only you could find the right words.

Do they already know all of these things about you? If they do, why would they matter now when they didn't three days ago?
posted by lyssabee at 2:23 PM on November 10, 2016 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I'm with you. I think we've all underestimated the power that respectful, in-person discussions with people who disagree with progressive viewpoints could have. Even if it turns out they are actually irredeemably racist, we're never going to persuade anyone by assuming we know all their motivations before we even have these conversations. I've been thinking about this myself in anticipation of Thanksgiving; I'm trying to find ways to explain my fears for Trump's presidency in a way that sounds non-accusatory.

And actually, I think now might be the time when they listen; having won a major, unexpected victory, they might be less on the defensive against a polite exchange of ideas. And Lord knows we're all sick to death of memes.
posted by daisystomper at 2:27 PM on November 10, 2016 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I'm in a really similar position this year, and I've decided that I need to try to be a diplomat for my people. At least, until I'm exhausted. Because self-care is also important, particularly now.

I'd go, and I'd have conversations. As calm as are possible to have. I can't speak to a lot of what people say they were voting for, but I really believe that anti-racism and LGBT advocacy can be taught. I used to be racist (the passive, insidious kind) because of my upbringing, and I have changed and am still changing. A big part of that change is because kind, patient people called me out and engaged me in conversation about it. If we're currently in positions of privilege, I think we need to try to bridge the empathy gap and explain what we can. Remember that we probably all want the same things--for humans to thrive, and with as little death/destruction as possible--but we disagree about how to get there. Some of us think we're getting instructions from god, and that's hard to counter with logic. But some of us just don't know any better, and could benefit from a conversation.

Good luck.
posted by witchen at 2:28 PM on November 10, 2016 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I'd say communicate by doing your homework. Maybe look up whom their elected members of congress are and their voting history on issues they usually care about. Speeches are nice and all, but they don't mean anything as far as actual policy goes.
For example, if they are straight ticket Republican voters and also military, chances are they voted for someone who's voted against veteran benefits.
posted by Neekee at 2:29 PM on November 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

With my friends that incline this way, i make a point at the outset that I am not arguing with THEM, that it isn't personal. No one is going to change your mind, and you are probably not going to change theirs.

Approach the conversation with compassion, and don't expect miracles. My dad always had a thing he would say when he was done arguing - 'You know what, you might be right.' It ends it on a neutral note that lets everyone walk away without losing face. So, you could try that when you get fed up.

Also, right wing work guy said 'now you know how we felt when Obama was elected' which made me think a bit Even though it's not the same at all, it was to them, and that deserves at least a listen.
posted by Ecgtheow at 2:31 PM on November 10, 2016 [3 favorites]

Many, many of my friends and family voted for Trump. And they aren't black-hearted racists, no matter what others may think. Their vote was anti-Hillary and anti-Democrat. They are afraid of having the Supreme Court completely controlled by progressives. They are afraid Hillary would try to further restrict gun rights. They didn't vote for Trump because they liked him, rather they did it because they had no other option. It had literally *zero* to do with racism or misogyny, even though that's what the media would tell you.
posted by tacodave at 2:50 PM on November 10, 2016 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: To answer the question lyssabee poses, no, they don't know much of any of the "identity" items I mentioned in my initial post. At best, the most informed of our far-flung clan know I have a vague medical condition, that I'm married to a European immigrant, and that I work in the energy industry.

I slip under the radar on queer because I'm in a hetro relationship, I've never mentioned the abortion to any family before and, similarly, I've never discussed the sexual assault. Before I did some self-examination, I guess I thought these were just "icky" personal things that shouldn't be discussed publicly. Now I feel that they need to be a significant part of the honest public discourse in order for folks to understand how these issues dramatically affect their loved ones, and they aren't shameful things to be hidden in the shadows.

I'll stop threadsitting now. :)
posted by Jaclyn at 2:53 PM on November 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I've been working on this for most of my life. My family is intensely political, and their political opinions are very much an extension of their emotional shit that they will never deal with. I went to college with this belief that I could understand public opinion and government so that I could find a way to get them to realize why their political stances were at odds with their moral compass. My dad went out of his way to expose me to all the gay media he could think of when he thought I was a lesbian. But he never criticized the Republican Party for being on the wrong side of the issue.

In the last year, I've been doing a lot of therapy, and untangling the way I channel that anxiety and pain through political activism. I feel uncomfortable acknowledging that I feel hurt, so instead I'll find myself getting extra worked up about the way other people are being hurt.

The thing about politics is that you aren't really talking about politics. You can't talk about racism to white people, because they get intense anxiety. The need to soothe that anxiety makes it impossible to actually talk about how racism affects POC. Instead you get the well meaning white folks who become obsessed with liberal guilt, and make it all about how they're one of the good ones. Or the less well meaning ones who try to erase the issue, so they don't have to sit with that anxiety. Or the terrible ones who embrace racism, because it gives them some feeling of control in their lives.

And from a policy position, none of that matters. But to change voter behavior, you need to address that anxiety. Exposure therapy works. But it's slow. And when confronted by the brutal honesty of how angry POC folks are, they tend to be flooded and experience the backlash effect Candleman explains above. So political discussions tend to do more harm than good.

Think about how a decent therapist handles disordered thinking. They don't disagree with you. They reflect those thoughts back to you, and slowly give you a safe space to dig deeper, and understand the root of your anxiety, and process it so you can let it go.

My mom couldn't support Hilary because it reminds her of her mother staying in an abusive marriage. She was able to detach from her abusive father with love because she saw him as broken and sick and not at fault. And that's so common to the "tend and befriend" stress response that women experience. But her anger had to go somewhere, and it found a place in her weak mother who allowed it to happen (again, due to the "tend and befriend" response). So while she should be able able to empathize with her mother or Hilary, she's unable to process her own trauma, and continues that cycle of violence. (to be clear, she's not violent. But she has always made excuses for men, and taught me that I had to take responsibility for everything that happened to me, whether I had agreed to it or not)
posted by politikitty at 3:07 PM on November 10, 2016 [9 favorites]

Best answer: I do want an open dialogue if they're willing to engage respectfully

So there are a few things here - I have had a lot of these conversations and know many good, kind people who also voted Trump. And they do it for a variety of reasons, some kinder than others.

If you have the capacity to do this and are prepared to do this, I think it's wonderful, and one of the only ways that people actually change minds. I would open the conversation by asking, in your kindest tone, "So, you voted for Trump? What are you most excited about seeing now that he is President?" They will, inevitably, talk about the few things that are most important to them. Listen to them. It may not be what you think. Do not argue during this time. This is the time for listening, not arguing.

Then find something that you can agree with in there, if you can. It may have to be really fucking general. It could be, "I can understand you are happy because you didn't think this would happen, and then it did!" It can be bland as fuck. It doesn't have to have any meaning at all. What is important is that you are showing that you are listening, and that you are agreeing with them on something.

Now this is the time for you to say, "I am worried about one thing, though." Right now is not the time to be like DONALD TRUMP WILL DESTROY THE WORLD (even though he might). Now is the time to raise one concern, the concern you think will resonate most with them. I don't know your family, only you know your family. Choose the one you think they might be most sympathetic on. That might be your abortion that you had to have. That might be, "I'm really worried about losing my health insurance because I have X conditions." Choose something 100% personal to you that would affect you. Don't start off arguing. Start off talking about your fears. Use emotional language - "I'm worried", "I'm afraid", "I feel". This makes it not a conflict of fact-vs-fact, but how do they, as caring people, respond to you, the person they love, talking about feelings that are raised by this thing?

Pay attention to what they say here. This is where you find out if they're able to engage. If they try to address your fear, sincerely, the first steps were succesful and they are off their guard and able to engage. Maybe they'll say "Oh I don't think he'll repeal the pre-existing conditions", or "I don't think he will really repeal abortion." This is good, it means they're trying and you can work with that. If they say something dismissive, like "That's just what you think because you're a Democrat", get up and walk out and have Thanksgiving dinner at one of the many houses that are on offer for Thanksgiving. That means they are not trying, they are not hearing you, and you will not be able to have that conversation at this time.

Once you're engaged in conversation, make it about back and forths. Ask more questions than you give answers. "Why do you think that? What did you read? Where did you hear that?" Ask in an interested, neutral tone. Make them think about things. And then drop it - let it percolate for a while. Talk about other things. Then rinse, repeat.
posted by corb at 3:19 PM on November 10, 2016 [138 favorites]

I don't know how much, if at all, this applies to your family. But I just finished reading this article a couple of hours ago, and it really helped me frame a possible perspective for Trump voters.
posted by bluejayway at 3:43 PM on November 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

I came in to say what Corb said so clearly and eloquently. +1.
posted by suedehead at 3:54 PM on November 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: One thing I have been reminding myself of these past two days is that how I am feeling now is how conservatives felt upon the election of Obama. You know, every single year that Obama was president, the Southern-US town I lived in held a biannual gun show, with the slogan "Get your guns while you still can!" From my point of view, there was never any chance that an Obama administration was going to take anyone's guns, and after, I dunno, a year or two of the same slogan, it should have been clear to any conservatives that no one was coming to take any guns. But, the fear and the slogan stayed.

That fear felt very real to them, as unfounded as you and I might find it to be. And we know what experiencing that fear feels like because we woke up yesterday facing a president who was promising to attack our entire sense of self. I definitely think this attack by Trump's administration will be more likely than Obama's administration taking away guns. But I can't fault someone for reacting to the perceived fear of losing their very way of life and voting for Trump, even as I rage against the media, the talking heads, the patriarchy, etc. that instilled that fear into the American populace.

That's how I'll be approaching my upcoming family Thanksgiving, anyway. I'm going to try to give some grace. Failing that, I reserve the right to meet any mean-spirited comments with the People's Elbow. Grace only goes so far when you're human.
posted by chainsofreedom at 4:08 PM on November 10, 2016 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Did you see this Ask from yesterday? I especially enjoyed reading the document linked by the original poster, a report compiled from research on effective language choices/communication methods by Australia's Asylum Seeker Resource Centre.
posted by spelunkingplato at 4:23 PM on November 10, 2016 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Watch the Michael Moore documentary Trumpland. He predicted this outcome and is very sympathetic/empathetic in addressing Trump supporters and their concerns.

Or just google up some clips of him talking about it on news shows on YouTube.

How do I explain this to you? I am the farthest thing from a Trump supporter you could find, I've been crying for two days (heart hurts, eyes raw) and even I know the people who voted against Hillary (or stayed home instead of supporting the Democrats) did so because they have been screwed over again and again by their political policies and they want change not lies.

It doesn't matter that we're in that story arc of the Sopranos where Robert Patrick gambles away his sports store and family's stability, then Tony's (Trump's) crew moves into the store and strips it financially (our economy is the sports store.) It doesn't matter that Trump will devastate us because he has never operated without cheating or scamming in his life.

All that matters is that he heard these very valid complaints, that average regular folks have been utterly neglected, unprotected, or outright abused the last few decades. Even if Trump was lying that he'll fix it, at least he named their experience accurately.

So if you want to talk to your family about this, be open to the fact that what they see and feel is very very real. Don't be in a bubble.

posted by jbenben at 4:23 PM on November 10, 2016 [17 favorites]

I just told a Trumpette relative of a relative that I don't want to argue with her and that we should meet up in four years so she can tell me all about the great jobs and great health care she and her family and friends have gotten thanks to Trump.
posted by mareli at 5:24 AM on November 11, 2016 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Some tactical help, perhaps:

How to criticize with kindness

1. You should attempt to re-express your target’s position so clearly, vividly, and fairly that your target says, “Thanks, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way."
2. You should list any points of agreement (especially if they are not matters of general or widespread agreement).
3. You should mention anything you have learned from your target.
4. Only then are you permitted to say so much as a word of rebuttal or criticism.

More here.

And a fantastic article linked here yesterday on understanding the mindset of Trump supporters.
posted by yawper at 9:29 AM on November 11, 2016 [4 favorites]

Then find something that you can agree with in there, if you can.

The good news is, this should be easy. Most people are not overtly racist, fascistic, kill-all-unbelievers Christians. What they want from the next president, what they believe they were promised, is better jobs, cheaper health care, and safety from invasion. We can all agree those are good things to want; we just disagree about how to get them. (We also disagree on the definition of "invasion," probably. But we can agree that we don't want violent, culture-destroying people charging into our nation and remaking it into something abhorrent to us.)
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 10:39 AM on November 12, 2016

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