A frank conversation about making political progress

The following is a text message conversation I had with Josiah Jennings this weekend. Those of you who subscribe to my Youtube channel know I’ve done several interviews with him. In case you are wondering: yes, there will be more of these in 2017!

But in the mean time, I’ve decided to share with you a little insight into how we talk personally, one-on-one, when nobody else is watching or listening…

Greg: How are you feeling about politics lately, by the way? I’m feeling slightly more optimistic that the “machine” of politics may prevent some of the worst things we were worrying about.

Josiah: I’m definitely more optimistic. I’m still worried about healthcare – more so about the Republicans as a whole on that front, and there’s been some serious damage done to undocumented families already that is heartbreaking. So, I’m worried about many of the same issues still, but less so about civil rights… though there’s still cause for concern there.

Greg: I’m actually less worried about healthcare, since it has been clear they don’t have any idea what they are doing and don’t have the political will to go through with their hardline promises… but, I’ve been wrong about predictions before, so who knows.

Josiah: What? The omniscient Greg? Wrong? LOL jk

Greg: Hahahahaha I’m one of many people who didn’t seriously think Trump could get elected. So yeah: ever since the election I’ve become weirdly humble about my prognostication ability LOL

Josiah: I think… you had just a little too much faith in humanity is all. Lol

Greg: Hahaha probably true. I like being optimistic. (As we’ve also discussed before.) One kind of bitchy thought I’ve had, though — just between you and me — Is it bad that I’m entertained by the stories about Trump supporters being all woe-begotten about negative impacts they’ve felt from the Trump administration?

Josiah: Eh, I like that perhaps it’ll influence future elections, but… I still hope no one gets seriously harmed out of all this, Trump supporters, racists or otherwise.

There are some people that are seriously relishing the fact that some Trump supporters might end up without their healthcare or without jobs.

Greg: I don’t know about “relish”, but here is the quandary I’m in: I know enough about human psychology to know how driven by simple reinforcement learning we are. If we (liberals) always act to protect conservatives from the worst consequences of their own actions, how can they learn?

Put another way: they will never stop voting for Republicans if they never experience the actual pain the Republican policies are designed to cause them.

Josiah: Having grown up in East Texas in a region that is comparable to Midwest Trump country, I’m not entirely sure that’s true, though.

I’m not sure feeling that pain is going to effect much change in voting patterns, because politics isn’t generally evaluated in these regions the same way you and I evaluate politics.

It’s why Trump voters seem so baffling and alien to a lot of urban liberals.

But maybe this will be the years they have something of an enlightenment and decide to somewhat catch up to the rest of the country. Hard to say.

Greg: I guess I need to understand better what you mean, i.e. How they evaluate politics.

Josiah: I guess the best way I could put it is that it’s really hard for them to pull out of the whole family values bubble, for all that entails. As long as they ‘feel’ as if a candidate or politicians shares those values, or is closer to them than other candidates and politicians, then the actual practical side of it matters very little.

Trump, while not religious, has a lot of that populist good ol’ boy charm that resonates with Southerners and Midwesterners.

He presents himself as flawed and outside the elite circle. “Look, I’m like you, folks. A simple man with simple solutions.”

That’s why a lot of Trump people like him. It’s a mistake to think they actually buy into all his bullshit. But it’s personality. People like personality, especially when it comes to making yourself not look like you’re better than everyone else, which was a big problem Clinton had.

Midwesterners and Southerners HATE those who appear elitist.

That’s been my personal experience anyway. I admit I could be wrong here, but I don’t think I am given everything that’s transpired over the course of the last year or so.

Greg: “He presents himself as flawed” …. this statement doesn’t feel like the thin-skinned narcissistic self-aggrandizing Trump I was watching during the campaign…. help me to understand this?

Josiah: You’re correct, if you look at him in a certain context. When it comes to him bragging about his wealth, etc. But go back and look at some of his rallies and how he speaks to people, not how he speaks to the media.

And also, look at interviews with Trump voters and the distinction they draw between Trump and Clinton. Nearly all of them will have remarked on Clinton’s elitism and argue that she isn’t trustworthy.

I’m sure a lot of them are becoming quite disillusioned at this point, but some of them never will be.

Greg: I think that is what baffles me (and people like me) the most… to many of us, Trump was always very blatantly a liar. Do the people you are talking about not SEE that? Or do they not care, because they like his personality / vibe / presentation-style?

Josiah: They don’t care most of the time, I think. The joke that a lot of liberals aren’t in on is that Trump is often trolling liberals and the media, whether wittingly or not. Conservatives eat this up.

We come at  blue-collar conservatives and the right with all these facts. To them, that’s not what matters. That’s not the correct approach.

It’s not to say that they’re stupid. To them, the world isn’t as complex as urban liberals make it seem, at least to them. Again, you’ll hear it over and over from them that Clinton was the out of touch crooked elitist and Trump “tells it like it is”.

Greg: So, I get the “trolling” aspect: I even wrote about that in a recent article, confronting a guy that the “Hillary’s health” thing in the campaign was a lie and he replied “I know, but it’s fun to say”. So I get that.

But for the people we are talking about to not think Trump is an “elitist” to me means they are working off a special definition of “elitist” that has wandered far afield of the common (traditional?) sense of the word.  I mean, doesn’t it…? Trump literally thinks he’s better than “everyone” (or at least that’s how he’d like us to interpret his strutting…. to me he comes off as insecure, but that’s a different conversation altogether.)

Josiah: Well, part of it, I believe, has to do with just repetitive marketing. You repeat something enough times and loud enough, at least some people will start to believe it. Trump and Republicans have mastered it. I had mentioned to Jimmy way before the conclusion of the primaries that a lot of the ridiculous things they’re saying about Clinton are going to stick if we allow them to go on long enough. And they did.

And then yes, it is probably a different definition of elitism. Trump is a wrecking ball, one that prides himself on political ignorance (or just ignorance in general), which is where he likely relates to a large swath of blue-collar Republicans. In this area, he seems relatable to them. He makes ridiculous assertions appear as if they are “common sense”. “We have a bunch of stupid losers making deals for America!” Etc, etc.

While most of his claims have no basis in fact, to the politically illiterate or those who don’t eat, sleep and breath politics as we do, it seems like common sense rhetoric. Again, many people think Trump “tells it like it is”.

Greg:  So basically “Elitism” doesn’t mean “I think I’m better than you” (which Trump does), it now means “I think about things in complex and nuanced ways.”

We’re so fucked, bro. LOL

Josiah: Ha ha! I think on an interpersonal level, elitism still means to conservatives what it means to liberals. I just think it plays out differently on national political level. It’s a game. Trump doesn’t give a shit about those people. Or America. He’s just making up for all his shitty business decisions because I’m sure he’s always been the laughing stock of America’s elite business leaders. Getting elected president was his way of getting back at them. That’s my theory anyway.

Greg: Well I definitely agree with that. He’s been personally snubbed by both those who are actually smart (in the business sense) and those who are actually wealthy, and he’s acting out his resentment on a massive scale now.

But having said that…. what’s the actual longer-term solution to this issue. You say that allowing poor white people to lose their health care and “feel the pain” probably won’t be sufficient to get them to realize the political connection and change their voting patterns…. so what will?

Josiah: There’s always going to be a big cultural divide where rural areas lag behind urban areas. For one, many of the problems and experiences are different. Furthermore, the biggest problem is technological. Technological progress, for all its virtues, is going to continue to displace workers, ESPECIALLY rural ones and those in the service industry. To some extent, Trump voters and those of like mind are just an obstacle that we have to deal with, or so I believe anyway.

Liberals need to do a better job of relating and communicating and, while we might find some of their beliefs abhorrent, we have to tolerate them and back off a little and not constantly lecture at them.

Greg: When I read this, “Liberals need to do a better job of relating and communicating”, my mind immediately goes to the education issue. If we (liberals) approached our political opponents like we would approach…. I don’t know… a friend or family member whom we were trying to get to understand something from a new point of view…. it might go better. True education is often about negotiating a safe relationship with a person in which information can be shared… not lecturing.

I saw online somewhere “We should treat Trump supporters like a close friend who is dating someone you think is an asshole” — and it made me laugh but I think I agree. LOL

Josiah: I COMPLETELY agree with that! Actually.

Liberals try to be too big picture with their message. To the ranch worker or farmer or coal miner or oil field worker, they don’t have time to sit and do intellectual exercises, economic, social or otherwise. Hell, I’ve worked myself as a child and teenager out on a farm and an oil field. These are, believe it or not, my people, despite the distance I’ve put between them and myself.

Greg: I know that; this is why I’m looking specifically for your insight on these matters. 😉

So the solution is bottom-up, that means: one-on-one interactions and interactions styles (as they appear in everything from the classroom to the media) need to be fixed before this issue will really move in the direction we want it to.

And what we are fighting against is the momentum of a large population of liberals who are too addicted to the dopamine rush of lecturing and feeling superior, to ever give it up and fix how they approach the political discussion.

Josiah: I think so. Look, the people liberals hate because of their “hate”, a lot of them really are good people. It’s easy to hate them. I have to keep my own hate and frustration toward them in check. But over the years, I’ve become friends with people who once called me “nigger” and, while they are still pretty racist in general, it’s out of ignorance, not spite. I’ve never met a racist or homophobe who, through enough personal interaction, I couldn’t at least give them pause to their racism or homophobia.

Greg: Well, I’m not surprised by that at all…… and you know me: I’ve always been an advocate of looking at things from other people’s point of view and trying to develop a real connection. Fighting against the “All conservatives are awful you should never talk to them!” brand of liberal is something I’ve been doing a long time.

But it’s tough and feels like a losing battle… and I feel like the current political climate is only calcifying people’s views and making people more tribal. I really don’t know HOW to get liberals to be more about reaching out and educating through just talking with people.

…beyond what I already do, I mean, which is try to set an example. I was in the Dallas Morning News for having a polite conversation with a pro-lifer. If that isn’t a sign of the times…. 😝

Josiah: Ha ha! Being polite is news now.

Greg: I know, right? Hey, by the way… I may turn this conversation into a blog post. You realize that, right?

Josiah: I assumed it was heading in that direction. 😜