It was the late nineties on a trip to China with my then business partner, Joe. I can’t remember why I was ranting against gays. You see, I am tricultural, black, Caribbean, Latino, and each of these subcultures has strong homophobic streaks.
“Can you change your race?” Joe asked paraphrased.
“No,” I answered. “Nor would I want to do so.”
“A gay person could live an easy nonconfrontational life by denying who they are,” Joe said then, again paraphrased.
As simple as that exchange was, it went off like a bright light bulb in my head. Though not cured, from the heart, the brain was reeducated and rewired. Change from the heart, no negative gut reaction in the presence of my gay brothers and sisters came more slowly but came. I went from homophobe to a huge gay rights supporter, part of my atonement.
Culture and how one was reared is not easy to overcome. Even when one makes the intellectual transition, “muscle memory” many times continue to lurk. It takes a lot of work to change “muscle memory” permanently.
Many disparage those who engage Trump supporters. They say Trumpists are racist. The narrative is that we should stop wasting our time trying to convert them and spend more time reaching “our voters.” After all, post-2016-election research suggests that racism played a bigger factor than economic angst.
Those concepts are not mutually exclusive at all. A middle-class voter in dire financial straits is more susceptible to easy answers, however, false than the more in-depth work that leads one to understand that the culprit is our economic system that continues to extract with impunity. You cannot have an economy growing at “2% – 4%” at the same time the top 10% continue to grow from “5% – 7%+.” That means a shrinking economy is left for the rest. This is clearly reflected in our income and wealth disparity.
The Plutocracy must keep your eye off of the ball. They plant seeds that dissect and pit Americans against each other to ensure they turn on each other instead of on a failed economic system run by a few. This is not new. It was true from the inception of this nation.
When one preaches that race is but a social construct, it is impossible not to engage everyone, Trumpists or otherwise.
I have pleasant discussions with Trumpists virtually every day. Some are racists, some less so, and others are students. The thing is I do a lot more listening than talking, teaching, and preaching. We reach a comfort level in the conversation where inhibitions begin to fall, and one can begin speaking to the person and not the ideology.
I recently engaged with a young pastor who told me that our conversations meant a lot to him and it had him rethinking Medicare for All and other issues he had opposed. An airline pilot told me that he would begin doing more research on the topics we discussed from Medicare for All to wealth disparity. His partial Ayn Randian stance faded as we spoke. A small businessman started to rethink immigration and volunteered to write a paper for my blog on an immigration solution that would legalize most undocumented immigrants but also bring many more into the country. A few have are now regular listeners/watchers of my Politics Done Right radio/media program. All have not admitted to having become Progressives, but many admit that they agree with many of the policies as explained.
It takes a lot of work and time, many times one on one, to change minds or at least to have many on the Right consider some Progressive policies. If we are to have real policy change in this country, just winning the election with 50%+1 isn’t enough. It will take the hard work of everyone. It is essential that we engage with everybody, whether Liberal, Progressive, Conservative, Right Wing, or TEA Party.
Progressives should not cast too many stones at Trumpists. As a Black Latino Caribbean man who attends many Progressive conferences, one should note that the behaviors of Progressives, while more high-minded many times, leave a lot to be desired. Many people of color are disregarded in these spaces as well. While I am not a fan of safe spaces at all, the fact that even at Netroots people talk about safe spaces for people of color should add some humility to our stances or false indignation. I wrote about one of these experiences in a piece titled “Reaction by some Liberals at Netroots Nation to Black Lives Matter disappointing” that details how Progressives can forget what the fight for race & criminal justice looks like. And of course, this does not include the American Latino/Foreign Born Latino/American Black/Foreign Born Black/ other dynamics that ads yet another dimension.
Contrary to popular belief, a large percentage of Trumpists and Right Wingers are reachable. It is all about engaging them, getting down to their level. Some are unwilling to do that work, and that is fine. However, discouraging and disparaging this type of engagement because of misinterpreted research loses us a huge opportunity especially in these time.