Donald Trump would like you to believe that he is bringing unity to the country, but the nation has never been more divided.
To bridge that divide, I believe it is my duty to reach across the political aisle and find out why 63 million people voted for him. Tempting as it is to label every one of them ignorant or racist or both, it is also lazy.
Speaking to ABC News after the Women’s March on Washington on Saturday, counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway accused protesters of eschewing a dialogue in favor of a diatribe.
“I mean you have a day after [President Trump] is uplifting and unifying, and you have folks here being on a diatribe where I think they could have requested a dialogue. Nobody called me and said, ‘Hey, could we have a dialogue?'” Conway said.
In the spirit of counselor Conway, I decided to try and “have a dialogue” with Donald Trump supporters at his inauguration. I approached people wearing the infamous red $10 “Make America Great Again” hats to ask them why they cast their ballots the way they did.
In short, they were uncooperative at best and hostile at worst (although maybe it was a just coincidence in a “huge” crowd of “a million, a million and a half” people that I kept picking bad eggs).
The first man I spoke to was walking alongside me as we exited the inauguration. Our conversation went something like this:
Me: Do you mind if I ask you a question? Why did you vote for Donald Trump? [I try to keep the accusation out my voice.]
Donald Trump supporter #1: He’s going to make America great again.
Me: What does that mean exactly?
Donald Trump supporter #1: He’s going to take America back to its roots
Me: What does that mean exactly?
Donald Trump supporter #1: America used to lead the world and now it’s an embarrassment [At this point he walked away]
The second dialogue I had was with two black men in suits wearing “Make America Great Again” hats who both worked in real estate and told me they previously voted for Obama. When I asked why they voted for Trump, they said it was because he’s a business man who will make the economy stronger and deliver jobs to American people. When I asked them if they were concerned that Trump would take us backwards in terms of civil rights, they left.
These were the longest “dialogues” I managed to have the whole day. Every other Donald Trump supporter I spoke to either ignored me, mumbled something about making America great again or were openly hostile.
At this point, I started to question my approach. Maybe the question “why did you vote for Donald Trump?” was too pointed. Maybe I failed to keep the accusation out of my voice. Maybe the Donald Trump supporters I tried to have a dialogue with were tired of being called racists and idiots. Maybe they just wanted a nice day out at the inauguration and didn’t want to have to defend their political beliefs. Maybe they voted for Trump for no good reason, or maybe, no reason would have been good enough for me.
The Sunday after the Women’s March, I visited the National Air and Space Museum in Washington and inadvertently ended up watching a presentation about black holes with a man wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat and a Donald Trump t-shirt. He was genuinely interested in learning scientific (as opposed to alternative) facts about the universe. He asked intelligent questions and made funny jokes.
Briefly I thought about asking him what made him vote for Donald Trump but couldn’t bear the confrontation so I left without having a dialogue.
My experience in Washington has taught me that I need to learn how to approach these conversations in a less aggressive way. If people think you are only asking for their opinion because you want to shout it down, they won’t engage. If, even subconsciously, your aim is to convert them rather than listen to them, they will walk away.
A dialogue needs to happen. I’m just not sure either side is ready yet.
Photo via Gage Skidmore/Flickr (CC BY-SA)