Last year, I drafted a unpublished column about how to deal with Trump supporters in your life. It was pithy and deflective, written weeks before election night. I mostly wrote about handling friends’ and family members’ pro-Trump posts on Facebook, which often tended to be offensive or factually incorrect. I grappled with whether or not it was worth it to respond to these Facebook posts, to argue with our grandmothers about politics. My advice was to ignore it—it wasn’t worth it to engage in heated political battles with our friends and loved ones. Instead, we should wait for this period of political insanity to subside, and engage in other forms of activism to expedite the process.
A year later, political bedlam is the norm, and it hasn’t become any easier to deal with family and friends who support President Donald Trump or other contemptible politicians like Roy Moore. Since the inauguration, Trump has provided an overwhelming amount of evidence showing that he’s incompetent and dangerous, and yet many still stick by him. It seems impossible to convince them of Trump’s incompetence.
This problem is especially difficult for those of us who have grown up and lived with his supporters. They are my family members, former classmates, and childhood friends. These are the people I grew up with and around, who I’ve known to be generous, kind, and seemingly rational my entire life, and who now have become almost impossible to view in the same light. It isn’t a case of letting politics come between relationships, but one of genuinely questioning their morals and values. Whether motivated by political tribalism or something else, supporting characters like Trump, who govern recklessly and speak through insults, is beyond political disagreement.
It becomes even harder to know how to reach those at home in Nebraska when my college environment is so different. I still grapple with feeling responsible for defending Nebraskans and Midwesterners to my peers at Harvard, where a plurality of students come from the Northeast. How could I, now an outsider in both places I call home, consider myself qualified to comment on the political state of either? Now in my second year at the College, I am increasingly removed from the lives of those whom I spent 17 years with. I prescribe solutions and assign motives to the best of my ability, considering almost two decades of experience in the environment, but at the end of the day, sitting in a library in Massachusetts may not warrant these opinions anymore. Maybe I am too far removed.
But ignoring Trump and his supporters would also mean ignoring the mistake that I and many other Democrats made before the 2016 election. Failing to address this large demographic of people who support Trump led to the disaster of the political sphere we live in today. Some of them will back Trump no matter what—around one in four Americans fail to “think of anything that Trump could do, or fail to do, in his term as president” that would result in him losing their support. Whether they are our family members or friends, I don’t wish to engage in a political tug-of-war with those who would defend Trump calling Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas,” especially while he was supposed to be honoring two Native American code talkers at the White House.
However, there are practical measures we can take to deter those more in the middle of the political spectrum from supporting Trump. These are the people who voted for him because they didn’t feel adequately represented by anyone else, and because they didn’t feel strongly enough that he was a bad choice. Some of these voters will likely not vote the same way in 2020 if Trump runs for reelection—his approval rating has dropped enormously, even among those who supported him in 2016. Still, the country, as well as the Democratic Party, must honestly discuss the failures that allowed this political environment to exist. More civic education in schools and communities is necessary, and people must recognize that reaching out to those with different views is the first step in fostering a political environment that is less antagonistic and more conducive to real, positive change.
Kelsey R. Thomas ’20, a Crimson Editorial editor, is an English concentrator in Eliot House. Her column appears on alternate Wednesdays.