The campaign to become the 45th President of the United States has inspired seemingly no end of blather about Nazis and Socialists and bigots and racists and hillbillies and political correctness. Across all news channels, including Twitter, it’s mostly Drumpf all the time, and everyone has something to say.
Except for me. Me, I’ve been struck dumb.
But I haven’t written much of anything political this year. And I think it’s because I am so tired of preaching to the choir.
The right drifts further right. The left drifts further left. Both sides fracture into special-interest-group factions. Each faction builds its own echo chamber. MSNBC is for Democrats. Fox News is for Republicans. Outside opinion ceases to exist.
And it’s only going to get worse. On one side, we’re down to a reality TV star or the most-hated senator in his own party; on the other, to an ex-First Lady whose negative ratings are above 50 percent, or a Socialist who became a Democrat just so he could run for president. No matter who gets either nomination, we’re going to have one of the most polarizing presidential elections in history.
Is it even possible to get beyond preaching to the choir? If you believe in your side’s cause, can you actually help change people’s minds?
Hey, I’m an advertising guy. If I didn’t think it was possible, I’d have to turn in my gray flannel suit. If you’re game to try, here are five strategies to help you get started.
Understand the emotion.
If there’s one thing we learn in advertising it’s that you can’t reason anyone into buying your product. Emotion is queen. You get to the head through the heart. So you might think it’s unreasonable that Drumpf’s supporters are scared and angry—but they are, and reason has nothing to do with it. Those are real emotions, and the echo chamber whips them into passions. If you start by trying to reason people into seeing your side, you’re doomed. Unless you first reach people emotionally, it ain’t going to happen.
Listen to the other side.
You say you never listen to Rush Limbaugh or Bill O’Reilly? You never tune into MSNBC? Then how do you know what they’re putting out? You can’t rely on Internet clips to get the whole story. If you want to understand why those folks so far to your left or right don’t think the way you do, you have to endure some of their rhetoric. Hold your nose and read Slate (and listen to their great podcasts). Read Breitbart. Read everything. Political stories rarely have only two sides.
Sniff out your own waste.
You think it’s just the other side that’s spreading the stench? One of the reasons the echo chamber works so well is that we get caught up in our own emotions; our own stink smells just fine to us. We’re emotionally invested in our side of the story, and the publishers of news and opinion know it and give us all the crap we want. You really need to read your own side’s press with a critical eye. I, for example, read Salon every day and agree with lots what I read there. I also know that the stuff I agree with is usually buried in a thick layer of inflammatory BS.
Give your neighbors the benefit of the doubt.
We’re close enough to equal numbers of right-leaners and left-leaners in this nation that we encounter each other all the time. Those vile racist Drumpf supporters are actually our fun-loving, compassionate neighbors. Those closet-Communist shills for Bernie Sanders are our friends from high school. We all obey the traffic laws (more or less). We all love America. Let’s stop calling each other libtards and Nazis and realize that not everyone who believes differently is stupid or evil.
Nobody just talks anymore. That’s what we hear, and it seems true—especially in our echo chambers, where there’s plenty of sneering and yelling, but precious little actual conversation among people with differing viewpoints. But we’re all neighbors here, and we can take matters into our own hands. Have you tried talking about it with anyone on the other side? Had a meaningful exchange? Tried to understand their positions? Resisted responding with outrage or jokey banter? Shared your own perspectives and passions clearly and respectfully? We might agree on more things than you think—even if we don’t agree on the ultimate solutions.
Can it be done? It’s worth a try, right? Preaching to the choir sure isn’t working. And maybe a little less of that kind of noise is something we can all agree on.
Caricatures by DonkeyHotey (Hillary Clinton vs. Donald Drumpf – Caricatures) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.