Prior to the election, I would sometimes say to people that I could see a decent number of Bernie Sanders supporters vote for Donald Trump. Typically, the response I received was incredulity. How on Earth could someone support such opposite personas? Or, Trump stands for the opposite of what Bernie stands for. And so on.
On Tuesday I watched an amazing video clip featuring Sanders talking to Trump voters:
By the end of the clip, Sanders is able to convince the woman to see things his way. Imagine if she had been able to vote for Sanders instead. Now, I’m not going to make the leap and say Sanders would have won the election against Trump based on this one video, but I do think he shows a much better approach here than the tactic Hillary Clinton and the Democrats used. Sanders listens to the woman, listens to all of the voters, before responding to them. He asks her what her opinion is and then asks what she thinks of his idea. He listens with empathy and responds with compassion.
People tend to view the political world in terms of blue and red. Much like the proverbial black and white, the two are treated as opposites. People on one side view the people on the other side as enemies or idiots (or both). But they lack empathy. They don’t see the people on the other side as real human beings. Just like the world is seldom colored in black and white, but rather in many shades of gray, so too does the world of politics have many shades of purple.
The problem with a binary view of politics is that it ignores the fact that voters are people with thoughts and emotions. It also ignores reality to an extent, given that some 40% of voters identify most closely as “independents” rather than an adherent of one major party or the other.
I saw Bernie Sanders as drawing upon the support of voters from all parts of the political spectrum. One of the main issues Sanders would repeatedly talk about was income inequality, which is an issue that negatively affects most people in America. There was a lot of anger amongst voters this year about their economic situation. The media can tell us all they like that the economy has recovered from the great recession and housing crisis, but that doesn’t reflect the reality most people face on a day to day basis.
It is this economic anger and despair that voters responded to when they supported Sanders and/or Trump. They saw the government as not doing enough to help them and they wanted change. The existing system was clearly not working. I heard a sentiment from some people that if they couldn’t have Bernie, they’d rather have Trump “burn it all down” so that we could start over. A dangerous sentiment, but one I could understand as coming from a place of anger and frustration.
Democrats don’t get it
However, Democrats and mainstream liberals don’t seem to understand these emotions. They thought it was enough to say that Trump was pure evil, a new Hitler and that no rational person could possibly vote for him. They thought that only racists or bigots voted for Trump. But they were wrong. Trump won and it wasn’t just with the votes of racists and bigots. It was with the votes of thousands of people who just wanted change, any change.
When I read the Daily Kos piece on coal miners recently, I was furious. Titled “Be happy for coal miners losing their health insurance. They’re getting exactly what they voted for,” the article argued that the coal miners were to blame for Trump being elected because those counties “swung” most heavily for him. The author even adds, “Democrats can no longer offer unrequited love and cover for them” as though the Democrats were the heroes in this situation. But which candidate declared that she would put coal miners out of business? Yes, I know, that was taken out of context, but you can’t deny that it hurt her chances.
The Democrats can’t afford to continue being so out of touch with voters. They can’t just expect certain voting blocks to vote for them simply because the other side is “evil.” Doing so ignores reality. Neither can the Democrats fail to see their own problems. I’ve seen a lot of finger-pointing and blame-shifting after the election, but I have not seen much introspection from Democrats.
We all must seek to understand those in opposition to us. That way, we will be better able to empathize with them and work with them. Perhaps, through compassion, we may even be able to sway them to our side.
As Sun Tzu says:
If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.