Contrary Conversations

A single unfriending opened the door to a lot more understanding.

What I’m learning from conversations with people outside my bubble is a lesson in unity that we all need to learn. These are the kind of conversations that need to pave the road between now and November 2018, and November 2020…and beyond.

In the days following the election, many of my liberal Democrat leaning friends publicly ended their friendships with people who voted for Donald Trump. The unfrienders were making unilateral judgements of the values and desires and aspirations of people based on the button they hit in a polling booth. I was surprised by the venomous language coming out of people I had considered to be smart and kind and thoughtful.

I set aside judgement of both the unfriended and the unfrienders, and put on my thinking cap (which is not pink). So much could be going on with both sides. Hurt, fear, anger, shock, disappointment. The only way to know for sure is to talk with people.

One such “unfriending” thread gave me the clue to a new conversation. I wrote to Ken and asked him if he’d get together with me for a conversation on current affairs. He not only agreed, but went out of his way to meet with me. “I don’t normally discuss politics,” he began. “Most people don’t know I voted for Trump.”

I had two goals, I told him. First, I wanted to ask him what motivated his choice, and perhaps discover potential for common ground between us. Second, I wanted him to hold me accountable for my resolve to not argue with him about his views. My vow was to listen closely, and ask questions to clarify my understanding. If we found we could be allies on some issues, that would be a bonus.

What did Ken expect the new President to do, in return for that vote?

Ken’s top issue: “Cut fraud, waste, and abuse,” he said. “I would love to see a massive effort to cut waste and a move toward fiscal responsibility. Big one for me. I’m in love with the idea of small government. While that may never happen, any move that way is positive.” Even the best run governments have plenty of fraud, waste and abuse. I’d recently skimmed a link that Ken had posted about improprieties in financial management and contracting at a Department of Veterans Affairs office in Texas.  If that story were true, it certainly sounded like an example of the kind of thing I would like to see a lot less of. How one goes about that is a topic for another day.

Next thing: Tax simplification. “I like his direction on tax simplification and most of the economic agenda (cut back on regulation and tax changes encouraging repatriation of taxible assets).” 

I don’t get emotionally wrapped around the axle about taxes. Even in years when it’s hard, I’m glad to pay mine. Taxes mostly get me excited in a good way, along the lines of Mr. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes’ quotation, “Taxes are the price we pay for civilized society.” What do I think the taxes of a civilized society should fund? Watch for another blog post. I decided I could wait for a future conversation to compare and contrast visions with Ken on that.

Third thing: “Immigration.” I’d like to hear more about Ken’s views on that, too. As an immigrant, now a citizen, myself, I had had to file paperwork and pay fees and line up and line up and line up and wait for years. I hadn’t really stopped to take apart my own position on a whole complicated collection of issues related to immigration yet, so I didn’t dig any deeper at that point. Once I figured out my own stuff, I would want to pick up that conversation, too. Immigration isn’t a monolithic issue, and I would bet we would find several things where we agreed. Just as we were having lunch, lawyers and protesters were headed to international airports to aid and support thousands of people from seven predominantly Muslim countries who had been temporarily banned from entering the United States by Executive Order of the President.

I asked him how he felt about health care, particularly coverage of pre-exisiting conditions. Ken, for example, has a degenerative disease that. If he were to change jobs, would he want his new employer to be required to cover that condition? Well, yes, if his wife’s insurance couldn’t cover him. Is the Affordable Care Act perfect? No, he and I agreed. Does America’s health care program — under whatever name — need work? Yes. Should it be scrapped without an alternative? Again, no.

Now, my other line of inquiry: What issues or rights did he know were at risk when he voted for Trump, and still remained concerned would come under attack by the new Administration?

His watchdog issues? “Big concerns can probably be sumarized as swing back toward religious right (abortion, marriage equality, sexuality, war on drugs).” It would seem that Ken and I are allies on these issues as well as on sexual freedom (including freedom of expression as well as human rights for gay, lesbian, queer and transgendered people).

So, unsurprisingly, we have many issues where we share common concerns. My bet is that there are going to be more in the months to come, especially if we keep talking and listening to each other.

RELATED: Sam Altman, who runs a Silicon Valley incubator shares highlights of his quest to have a hundred conversations like that. MORE >>

Am I going to be angry for the next four years with everyone who voted for Trump? Of course not.

First, that would be not only a waste of time, but also squander the precious opportunity to build allies.

Second, the polls suggest that the more people I talk to, the more friends I’m going to find, and that those numbers are doing to keep growing.

RELATED: After a month in office, Trump’s favorable rating had dropped as low as 38%. See details on that and other polls MORE>>

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