Here's how to talk to your Trump-supporting relatives this Thanksgiving
Like many Donald Trump voters, it took my father a while to openly admit his support for the billionaire businessman. When Trump announced his presidential campaign in June 2015, my father dismissed it as a joke, just as most of us did in what we now count among our most fatal mistakes in the 2016 election. He'd called Trump an "unqualified idiot" and laughed at his attempts to legitimize his campaign.
My father's misgivings made perfect sense to me, especially as Trump came out with statements calling Mexicans "rapists" and "criminals" and promised to deport the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. Having emigrated from Ecuador in his late 20s, my dad had his first job at McDonald's; when I was 9, he became a U.S. citizen; when I was 11, he became a small-business owner. Surely, my father could see Trump was directly insulting and attacking him, his family and the entire Latino population in this country, denying them opportunity and access to the precious American dream he held so dearly.
I quickly learned, though, that my dad cared less about these affronts and more about Trump's anti-Muslim, anti-black and anti-women stances — with which he identifies deeply.
I watched his ears perk up when Trump promised a Muslim ban. I saw him nod, feeling validated, as Trump reassured, "All lives matter." My mother told me one day, seeing Hillary Clinton on television, he'd said aloud, "I would never vote for a female president."
After Trump's victory early Wednesday morning, I felt I could never speak to my dad again — at least not for a while. Many people feel the same about their Trump-supporting family members. We may have unfriended them on Facebook, unfollowed them on Twitter. We are dreading Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas. But, as Mic's Zak Cheney Rice wrote on Wednesday, only white people could have prevented Trump's rise to the presidency.
It's our responsibility to go home and have the hard conversations with our family members, because, in many cases, only we have the power to reach them and begin the long work of rooting out bigotry in our communities.
Rachel Godsil, the director of research and co-founder of Perception Institute, an organization that uses cognitive and social sciences to study unconscious bias, has some practical advice for how to broach the subject.
Because there are a number of reasons why someone may have voted for Trump, and because all families are different, consider Godsil's plan of attack something of a choose-your-own adventure.
It all begins, though, by listening.
"Try to understand this person initially," Godsil said Monday by phone. "Ask them this: What issues did you vote for? What do you want Trump to do first?"
The answers they provide to these questions will likely be revealing, Godsil said, and they'll give you an idea of where you need to go next. But before you dive in, perhaps hungry to debunk any misconceptions, let them finish. "Hearing them out is affirming to them as humans and we're more willing to listen to someone who's willing to listen to us," Godsil said.
Some family members will fall into the "I'm not racist, but... " category. Others may have even disavowed Trump's hateful remarks and policy proposals about women and minorities, claiming to be holding out hope for Trump on economic fronts. Or maybe they like that he was an "anti-establishment" candidate. He'll shake things up, they might say; he's not a politician.
Step two then, Godsil said, is to tackle some of the cognitive dissonance that allows so many people to claim they're not racist in the same sentence they announce their support for Trump.
"We can amplify the incredible fear being experienced by those who were targeted and demonized by Trump's campaign," she said, referencing the spike in racist incidents and hate speech following the election. "Create analogies and tell stories about why that fear is so acute. Talk about the Muslims who came to the U.S. from war-torn countries — whatever it may be. Find one point of entry and begin to create some empathy."
"Find one point of entry and begin to create some empathy."
Next, it's time to hit your relatives with some hard facts.
Maybe not. And, to be honest, just telling them so or sending them a CNN or New York Times article might not be all that convincing. Distrust of the media has played a huge role in the election and, if your relative supports Trump, they may believe many of these legacy publications are biased.
Godsil suggests finding, when possible, sources they trust. Maybe it's a government website. Maybe it's Fox News. Maybe it's Glenn Beck. Let the facts speak for themselves, Godsil said. "Ideally, they should be the ones to draw their own conclusions," she added.
Move away from talk of political parties.
The goal is not to get someone to denounce their political affiliations altogether. The goal is not for your uncle to say, "Yes, you're right — I should have voted for Clinton." In fact, depending on how receptive your relatives are to your points, it might be helpful not to mention terms like "Democrat," "Republican," "Clinton" or "Trump" at all.
"Instead of having a policy-oriented conversation, talk about the people in our lives we love and care about," Godsil said. This might mean telling them about your own experience as a woman, queer person or minority group. It might mean telling them about a friend you have who fits into one of the categories Trump has targeted throughout his campaign, and explaining to them the way the election has affected them. Or just tell them a story about their lives, their families, what they do for a living, Godsil said.
"If you tell your father about one of your friends, that might be a more successful breakthrough," she said. "He loves you, you love this person, and that humanity comes to him through you."
Help your relatives imagine themselves playing a role in the future you envision.
Godsil said she doesn't mean to empathize with the supposed plight of someone who holds racist, sexist or otherwise bigoted beliefs. But understanding where these deep-seated views originate helps to begin the process of correcting and healing.
Once your relative understands that immigrants aren't stealing their jobs or Islam isn't an inherently violent religion, you can show them a country where people are treated equally is indeed a "great" one.
"If they can imagine themselves as part of the multiracial and multiethnic future, they could be down with it," Godsil said. "Helping them conceive of themselves in this progressive future in a positive way can help dissipate their fear and anxiety."
Thanksgiving dinners typically include many courses, but it's unlikely you'll get through all of this material in one meal. There's also a good chance attempts at meeting relatives halfway will result in frustration and anger. Godsil had some words of encouragement for those thinking about throwing in the towel after one family tiff:
"Given the razor-thin margin in this election, every person matters," she said. "There's reason to believe these tactics can be effective in changing attitudes and underlying biases, which means it's absolutely worth people's time, attention and energy to have those hard conversations. It must be a long-term work in progress."