I tried to have an intellectually honest conversation with a Trump supporter — this is how it went.
It did not go well. It was both fascinating and depressing. At moments, it felt like trying to nail pudding to a wall. [If you support Trump yourself, I challenge your open-mindedness and ask you to read through the end. Maybe you can help right the ship?]
Facebook started it, with a friend suggestion: someone I didn’t know but whose last name I recognized. I sent a friend request, asking her if she was related to my former boss at a software project, now retired. She was and accepted the request. It turned out that she also knows my wife’s sister. The Facebook algorithm likely knew that before me.
It did not take long for me to realize that my new friend was a hard-core Trump supporter. One of her first posts that showed up for me was a meme claiming that
‘Bidens tax rate on a family making 75000 dollars would go from 12% to 25%. LET THAT SINK IN ALL YOU RIDING WITH BIDEN SUPORTERS!!’
[Yes, that is supporters with one ‘P’]. Facebook was so good to flag this as false information, as Biden had literally just promised no new taxes for incomes under $400k.
The same day, she re-posted a meme to the effect that Covid was the Dems fault because they pursued the Russia hoax with impeachment, and it would sure be nice to have the $100m Mueller investigation cost to help fight the pandemic now. There was a lot to unpack there. For one, I remembered that the investigation paid for itself because Paul Manafort had to forfeit significant values to the government. I looked up the source.
My new friend did not invent these two memes, but she re-distributed them. I opened Facebook Messenger and sent her a direct message with the screenshot of the ‘False information’ flag, and asked her if she minded being lied to. I also provided the link to the article about the actual Mueller investigation cost. I followed up with
‘I would feel a little used if I were you.’
One day later, her short answer was
‘This is ridiculous’.
I didn’t question what she meant, because more of her posts and re-posts were about to keep me busy. I should explain now that I am German by origin, and have elderly parents still living in Germany. Due to Covid I have not been able to see them this year. I am upset about this. I’m also a software engineer who likes facts and numbers. Using math and logic to resolve issues is my profession. I had previously posted this:
‘The U.S. has 4 times as many people as Germany. U.S. has about 1,000 Covid deaths a day. Germany has 5. Now adjust deaths for population. Unsurprising there is a reverse travel ban. I would like for my wife and I to regain the liberty to travel and not be considered lepers. What does it take?’
A friend had commented that it would take a paradigm shift. To spare you the math: adjusted for population, the U.S. has seen 50 times more Covid deaths per day than Germany.
But back to my new Trump-supporting friend. She re-posted a statement that defended voting for Trump, because it’s also a vote for safe cities, the police, the right to worship etc. I could not resist. I commented that it is also a vote for :— allowing foreign countries to influence your election, — kids in cages, — unidentified agents in unmarked vans taking protesters away, — the loss of your right to protest peacefully without being tear gassed, and the loss of your freedom to travel internationally. Talk about poking a bees’ nest. Her friends were getting ready to reply to me.
One of her friends argued that the U.S. Covid numbers were inflated. I responded by asking if she knows how coroners work, and with 50 times more deaths in the U.S., coroners would have had to fake 98% of Covid death certificates to make the U.S. come out on top. That did not keep her from continuing to defend Trump. If only 6% of U.S. Covid deaths were real — a recent misreading of CDC data that exclude Covid deaths with co-morbidities — but deaths counted in Germany included those with any co-morbidities, Germany would still be three times better at handling the crisis.
On the ‘kids in cages’ point their response was
‘Did you know that the cages were built by Obama?’
I had not known that, but it was an irrelevant objection to my argument against the mistreatment of children. I acknowledged that Obama was already tough on immigration. I asked if the previous administration had built torture chambers, would it be OK to use them? I pointed out that morals are absolute, not relative to some other administration. The responding lady thought she spotted my weakness in not responding to her ‘what about Obama’ diversion and argued that cages are not torture so it’s not a big deal.
The bigger issue here was the zero tolerance child separation practice and policy: separating children from their parents at the border, without plans to reunite them. I pointed out that the courts have since invalidated that policy as illegal. In the thread, I was also told that if parents still cross the border knowing about the separation it’s their own fault. I pointed out that this sounds like
‘If you don’t do what I want you to do I am going to have to break your legs’.
I said that taking the parents from a child is the moral equivalent of that. After thinking about it, since it was done without a plan to reunite them, it’s really more like cutting limbs off. It is cruel, morally abject and it should be no surprise that the courts eventually ruled against the policy. That did not keep my new friends from still defending Trump.
I also brought up that a Canadian judge has ruled that the U.S. is not a Safe Country for immigration purposes any more, as the U.S. violates human rights of refugees with its harsh treatment. I provided the source for this information. Apparently typically mild Canadians getting upset is not worrisome to my new friends, either.
Law and order was a big concern for the Trump supporters. I pointed out that six of the people Trump hired have been criminally indicted, vs zero under Obama. My opponent countered that the FBI Lawyer Kevin Clinesmith was indicted and plead guilty to falsifying a document in a FISA application, and Trump would get the other criminal Democrats as well. I granted that there are problems with the FISA process and that it has received a lot of constitutional criticism. But Obama likely did not hire Clinesmith so I still hold that Trump has NOT hired the best, and certainly not the law-abiding. I had forgotten about Steve Bannon who brings the count to 7:0.
They argued that riots are in cities run by Democrat mayors. I responded that generally more of the Democrats live in cities and you don’t go to the countryside to protest, so you can’t blame the Democrats. My Trump supporting friends were defiant. I should have mentioned that the riots are actually happening in today’s America under Trump, not under Biden.
My counterpart still felt that Trump has generally done ‘a good job.’
I provided a chart from the OECD comparing U.S. joblessness rates with Germany and the world as a whole. Just before Covid, Germany and the U.S. were about the same, near 4%. During Covid, joblessness hardly increased in Germany while rising above 2 1/2 to more than 3 times in the U.S.; that’s a lot higher than the world average as well. I pointed out that this is a LOT of unnecessary suffering and destruction of livelihoods. It is unnecessary because other countries have shown that it can be handled better. I received no counterarguments, but no acknowledgement that there may be a problem here, either.
I was asked if the Democrats have done anything in recent years that did not have a hidden agenda. I responded that they (and John McCain) supported health care as a human right like other developed nations do. I got crickets in response.
In Germany I would count as a conservative. In the U.S. it feels like anything other than purest ‘fend for yourself whether you can or not’ gets branded as radical leftist. As an example, I believe that education for all through University should be free. As a side effect it might turn analyzing, reasoning and debating into more valued activities across all spheres of society. But I digress.
I don’t recall any pro-life arguments being raised by my new Trump-supporting friends. With 180k+ people dead it would be very hard to argue you are pro life.
I was granted that I could have my own opinions, but that my counterpart would vote American and I can vote for the other side. I responded that calling me un-American is not an argument. I pointed out that I was interested in an intellectually honest conversation and had provided sources for my data but did not receive any substantial responses to my fact-based points. Instead I got whataboutism. I stated that I was baffled by the imperviousness to facts that was on full display in these threads.
I offered that you can be a Republican without supporting Trump. Just google the Lincoln Project or check it out on YouTube. I was tagged on a video about a Democratic politician who became a Republican. It didn’t prove that Trump has done a good job and deserves four more years.
My Trump-supporting friend re-posted a meme asking who else thinks that Trump and Melania did a great job at the Republican convention, and stated that Trump was a Godsend. I responded not with a like, but an angry/upset face. One of my discussion partners felt proud that I was the only ‘dissenter’, and my new friend called my posts ‘becoming redundant!!’. I don’t think I repeated myself. There was just so much to unpack in how they argued. I thanked them for allowing me to state my views.
Rioting was probably the biggest issue for the Trump supporters. So to top it off, I asked that they might consider focusing their attention commensurate with the danger that arises from the issue: Once deaths from riots rise to 180k in six months, I will concede that riots warrant more concern than Covid. I pointed out that unnecessary deaths of Americans from Covid is the equivalent of sixty (!) 9/11s. An actual ‘Godsend’ would not have let this happen.
That must have pushed my new Trump-supporting friend over the edge. She finally blocked me. As a side effect, most of the above is recounted from memory, any errors or omissions are my own.
It looks like my counterpart and her friends in the Trump bubble are not interested in an intellectually honest or fact-based conversation. Her blocking me is the Facebook equivalent of sticking fingers in your ears and shouting loudly. But I did get a chance to say what I wanted to say, needed to say. Of course there’s always more. U.S. reputation in the world is destroyed. Small businesses are closing at alarming rates, and may never come back. Low interest rates wipe out pension earnings. The U.S. Dollar has declined by about 10% vs leading other currencies, making Americans poorer and travel more expensive — that is assuming Americans can work their way to becoming welcome abroad again.
I didn’t think the American Carnage was meant as an election promise.
Did anything I said inside the Trump bubble register with anyone? I don’t know, but I am concerned that it didn’t. Sam Harris said that conversation is the only tool we have as a society to resolve conflicts, other than war. If conversation breaks down, we have nothing left to bring society forward.
Covid has shown that the U.S. is more vulnerable in more ways than commonly thought. Health issues should not be political issues. One thing that Trump certainly helped destroy is American exceptionalism. I understand that Trump supporters may be frightened of the future, and running to a populist may feel comforting. But denial is not the only way to deal with the monstrosity of the failures of this presidency. We need a reasoned handling of the disastrous situation. We need every vote. I believe we need to discuss these issues with people who do not agree with us, however frustrating it may be. If you know any Trump supporter, engage him or her. If you are a Trump supporter, engage Democrats, discuss but also listen with an open mind. Whoever you are, don’t just discuss within your own camp. It makes America weaker. The future of America is on the line. America can do this. But America needs you.
It’s somewhat ironic that I am a German observing this. Maybe there are obvious reasons why. Germans used to enjoy believing in authorities, and it went terribly wrong for them. If you ever wondered how the Germans allowed Hitler to come and stay in power, now you know. In school, I was trained to recognize propaganda, and I hope I learned critical thinking. I was taught history.
When I hear about unidentified forces with unmarked vans operating at night, my alarm bells go off.
Hitler’s Gestapo, the secret state police, would come early in the morning to take people away. It was terrifying. I got an ironic ‘Trump for Führer 2016’ t-shirt when it was still funny that a TV show host would want to run the country. I was concerned then but laughed it off. I am not laughing anymore. As a German, I know from my own country’s history that it is very hard to get rid of a dictator once you have him.
I am married to a U.S. citizen so I have good reason to care how well America does. I came to the U.S. years ago as the promised land, and California as the pinnacle of software development. I like America. Not being a U.S. national means I can’t vote myself. Please don’t disappoint me at the next elections, or in the run-up. If you do, someday I might be carried off to some cage or camp for having been a dissenter. But a German consular officer would likely stand up for me. U.S. citizens will not have the same privilege. It breaks my heart.
Latest update: Through a follower on Medium I found a very illuminating article showing how I probably could have done a lot better. Worth the read!