By John Brooks
“People think they believe what they choose to believe. We don’t. We mostly believe what we need to believe. The public doesn’t really listen when they are being told the straightforward facts. They would rather accept what some charismatic character tells them than to really think what the truth might be. They’d rather have the romance of the lies.”
— James Randi
I have been reading a lot lately about the divide between those who supported President Trump and those who did not. Now, with the election of Joe Biden, will it be possible to stop shouting and remember how much we have in common in our daily lives?
Or should we even try?
My neighbor Jamie (not his real name) stood in his backyard the night Trump was elected and shouted an obscenity for twenty minutes and he hasn’t recovered since then. I heard that his twin brother Javier (all names have been changed) voted for President Trump so I asked him what it’s been like in his family. It hasn’t been easy.
None of Jamie’s family appear to be racist and for me that would open doors of communication. I have no tolerance for racism.
My twin brother lives in (an eastern state). He is ex-Army, an industrial laborer, a mid-level non-union salaried employee. Minimal reader of news. Minimal use of computer, online activity virtually zero. Not knowledgeable about politics, limited in his knowledge of government, although never completely ignorant or ill-informed.
He considers himself to be a worker and nothing more, has a cynical distrust of most government and private entities he sees as higher on the socio-economic scale than he. As far as Trump, I didn’t ask and he didn’t say. We rarely talk from long distance and when he shows up on the West Coast our conversations generally veer away from politics as we spend more time talking about family dynamics.
We are a large family but so widespread across the country (and sometimes around the world) that we rarely have family occasions where we all gather. So political discussions tend to only occur with like-minded family members.
My sister and brother-in-law are in their late forties/early fifties, and live in a well-to-do East Coast suburb. He is a very successful doctor and committed to his profession. Their main reason for voting for Trump in 2016 was — according to her — they were tired of paying so much in taxes.
They are educated and well off, however their intake of news, in and of itself, was — at best — limited to the news above the fold or breaking news promos interrupting their normal TV viewing. Money appears to have been their motivation.
My best friend, who lives nearby, voted for Trump in both 2016 and 2020. She and her husband are Republicans primarily because her husband works in the oil industry. (Her two grown boys are not.)
It became quite clear during the 2020 campaign that she was very much influenced by her husband’s point of view, and he viewed Biden/Harris as an existential threat to their way of life and livelihood. Her unwillingness to see things beyond their own economic cocoon made further discussions impossible.
Is it the same in your family or among those you know? There are two sides, and nothing in between?
Our politics has divided families, doomed old friendships and perhaps canceled marriages. As noted in the opening quote from James Randi “we believe what we want to believe.”
In 1975, researchers at Stanford looked at whether people were willing to change their minds. They were not. We hold on to our convictions even in the face of overpowering evidence we are wrong. We are more interested in joining like-minded people, forming an intellectual bond, than in being correct.
“There must be some way out of here,” said the joker to the thief. — Bob Dylan
I have no miracle cure. I am trying in my own life to do more listening to understand, a little less trying to convince others and a lot more intellectual humility. I am NOT a “know-it-all.”
I have a new friend who is helping us build a mobile shower to serve the homeless community. He was flying a Trump flag in his yard. We have not spoken about our different political views and perhaps that is a mistake.
Experts say it’s more conversation — not less — that’s needed, if our county, state and nation are to heal the divide.
But it has to be a healthy, productive conversation. In Los Angeles County, just under 3 million people voted for Joe Biden and a little over 1 million voted for Donald Trump. Who makes the effort to bring peace?
I would say it’s just as divisive to be a bad winner as it is to be a sore loser. On my street, the Biden campaign signs and Trump flags came down the day after the election. I’ve started talking again to my Trump-loving neighbor. I know he was a volunteer at the homeless shelter before election fever set in because so was I.
We have that in common. We can talk.
It’s a start.
John Brooks is a former news radio anchor and reporter in Los Angeles.