Make Friends With Trump/Clinton Voters

The results from this election are tearing apart families and rupturing friendships. The New York Times reports people are refusing to go home for Thanksgiving dinner and of one couple who went so far as to change the location of their wedding so that people who voted differently than them won’t be able to attend.

This sentence in the article got my attention: “As the cultural divide becomes deeper, fewer Americans cross it.”

Is that true of you?

Do you have friendships with people who vote differently than you? Many, if not most, people don’t. All the way back in 2008 Bill Bishop called it the Big Sort by which he meant people choosing to live near like minded individuals. A look at how the country voted by county verifies his thesis that our communities are more politically and ideologically homogenous. Each side even has its own news channels with MSNBC and FOX News being the most well known.

John Stuart Mill (dead white guy who lived in 1800’s) identified the problem with this…

“He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that.  His reasons may be good, and no one may have been able to refute them.

But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side, if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion …

Nor is it enough that he should hear the opinions of adversaries from his own teachers, presented as they state them, and accompanied by what they offer as refutations.

He must be able to hear them from persons who actually believe them … he must know them in their most plausible and persuasive form.”

Mill is saying that if you haven’t interacted with a person who is on the opposite side of an issue and heard from them why they hold to their position, then you know far less about your own position than you think you do. All of this takes us back to where we started. Instead of engaging people that disagree with them, many are taking steps to further separate. Instead of listening, many are accusing.

Can Christians set a different example? What if you made an effort to build a friendship with a person on the opposite side of the political spectrum? If you are ardently pro-life, what if you reached out to someone who is pro-choice? If you are a small government, low tax conservative, could you build a relationship with a progressive in favor of more government intervention in health care and the social safety net? If you supported Donald Trump/Hillary Clinton, what if you initiated lunch with a supporter of Hillary Clinton/Donald Trump not to argue but to ask sincere questions?

What’s the point? Well for starters, according the Mill quote above, you’ll learn more about your own position as you hear the arguments of the “other side.” But far more importantly, at least in my opinion, it will be harder to demonize those who disagree with you. Instead of “them” being “racists” or “liberals” you will know them as “Steve” or “Jane” who you know as decent people, even if in your opinion they are misguided.

One thing reading biographies has taught me is that when you know a person’s story, it helps you understand why they turned out the way they did. I’ve never been a Malcom X fan. He always seemed to angry and militant to me. But when I learned that while he was growing up white supremacists knocked all the windows out of one house and burned down another one and may have killed his father, I get why he might be angry and militant.

I’ve never been a fan of President Johnson and the Great Society he championed. I’ve always believed that his focus on government spending created dependence and debt. But when I read of his childhood in Texas growing up in poverty without basics like electricity, I understood why he thought the government had to intervene and help those that were too often overlooked.

Do I agree with Malcom X or President Johnson? Not really. But I’ve learned a lot from them.

If you built a friendship across party lines and political ideologies, you probably won’t change your mind but you never know. One thing I’m sure of is that you will learn a lot and have more empathy for those who disagree with you. It might be a small but significant way for Christians to lead and bring healing to divided communities.

3 Comments

  1. Mona Pargee said:

    Well said, thank you.

  2. It’s the reasoned part that is the hump. One side seems all hysterical, ruled by feelings, easily throwing epithets at those who disagree. The other side seems to endure this silently, avoid the conflict, and feel convicted quietly. This seething has spilled over this election, totally shocking those who make a lot of noise and wailing. When the reasoning starts from the touchy-feely, it is apparent they may be intelligent, but they are ignorant of American history, the law, economics, and the constitution. So how do you reason with someone who has no base of knowledge?

    I can still care for these people deeply, but I find them difficult to have a political conversation with.

  3. Greg Perry said:

    Keith, have you read Confident Pluralism by John Inazu, a law professor at Wash U? The book, in a fresh, thoughtful, way, tackles this problem of whether, and how, we can live together and govern as a people with such deeply held differences. Prof. Inazu also recently participated in a panel discussion about the topic with Tim Keller and Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h5H0Jv5xTBk&feature=youtu.be.

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