Is there a Democrat in the house old enough to get what Republicans are feeling?
Okay, to be clearer, I mean to ask whether there is a Democrat in the house, the figurative house and not the House of Representatives, although that question could work too.
And to stay clearer, I mean “old” not as in physically old enough, but actually as in mature enough. And by mature, I mean are there Democrats available who can empathize with Republicans and their concerns and worries and fears of both socialism, and what they see as a disregard for this country in general and themselves in particular.
And by Republicans, I am not talking about the really snarky ones we see on our television sets who are heading the Senate hearings. I am talking about people in middle America and all the different directions as well, who see Democrats only as bleeding hearts on the left who have left white middle class and poorer people behind to talk about socialism — a word that by its nature and history scares the bejesus out of many people in this country.
Are all the psychologists working for Trump and his guys? Is there nobody helping Democrats to realize that unless they/we speak to Republicans and to their concerns with sincerity and with knowledge and with power to understand, relate, and address their concerns, that we are practically leaving them no choice. No choice but to side with Trump that is.
As a therapist when I see a person stuck in a prejudice I know: it is useless to argue back unless I know where that person is coming from. I realize that I may not always win an argument or convince someone that I can help. But at least I can try.
Let me give you an example. Some years ago I worked with parents who had a boy of six completely out of control, at least much of the time. The mother was also out of control and the two of them would go at it while the father tended to the other two children. One day in my office the boy calmed down, for me unexpectedly, when I was able to relate to what I thought his worry was.
I asked the mother out loud how she would feel if she and her son took a break and had a snack, for example, when the going got rough — a kind of time out for both of them, but one without blame or spite. She balked, and said, “Why would I even consider rewarding him for bad behavior?” I got it: her key worry was about the concept of reward.
I suggested there could be an alternative concept of discipline and structure. I said it’s hard for us to discipline another when we are out of control. Plus, if we all relax and come down from the ceilings so to speak, we might get our bearings, and calm down a bit. Can’t this be considered structure, too, I asked. She said, a reluctantly, “I guess so” and than relaxing her own defensiveness added, “I guess I hate to lose and I hate admitting I’m pretty out of control too. Yeesh, this is hard.”
I don’t mean to say Republicans are either small children or parents out of control. I mean to say that if we want to understand what people need and care about we have to learn their language and not approach them from a superior position from which we come across as know it alls.
The psychologists who are watching know this. They know that Trump is appealing to people who have felt ignored, and have felt left on the side while liberals concentrate on health care as a one-issue campaign and seem also ignorant about the middle of the country. I am not suggesting that we as self-defined progressives ignore issues of climate change and social inequalities as but two examples. I am only suggesting we enlarge our circle of interest for real.
As such I am suggesting that we have not been savvy enough or daring enough to get to know how many Republicans think and feel. And we are not conveying our wish to find ways to compromise rather always be adversarial.
I know that often enough when we speak to people who disagree with us, we can get somewhere when we listen to them with respect, and curiosity. I’m surely not suggesting that we, or anyone, can convince everyone with a different point of view.
I fear that in a Democratic Party, where most of us consider ourselves advanced in our thinking and our knowledge, we are not adept at listening to anyone outside our own inner circles. And please know I am not talking about debate but about listening. I am terrible at debating and furthermore I feel listening and listening well and carefully is what is needed here.
We, many Democrats, are too full of ourselves. We are missing the capacity to unite and to give a damn about America instead of insulting each other. But to do so would be to put down our own defensive arms of superiority and listen. We will be surprised by perhaps a different empathy than we have had with the fears of people on the other side.
Democrats don’t compose one group of people who sing the same songs and on the same key all the time. Neither do Republicans. In fact there are many Republicans who are unsure, skeptical or downright negative about Trump’s hard line and tactlessness and insult of many issues and people. And yet they see no viable alternative. I fear there is nobody speaking to them, and again listening to them.
Meanwhile, I’d like to know if there are other people feeling the same way. I’d like to know if there are psychologists in the house (again not the House of Representatives) who can help us rescue a campaign to want to interrupt the great divide. I know this as a professional and personal liability: it is easier to unite with like-minded people who chant the same slogans.
When it comes to emotional issues, I fear Democrats are quite weak, too weak, while Republican Party leaders know how to galvanize the doubters much better than do we.
And I am not suggesting we stoop to the level of making promises we can’t keep or condescending to those who disagree with us. But I mean that we cannot think about what we have to offer Republicans in disarray or confusion unless we listen with full attention to their worries — also their worries about us.
We can learn from the Civil War too, I think. As much as many of us idealized him, Abraham Lincoln was not always against slavery. The North has often been insidious in our own segregation, enabling the establishment of ghettoes where there is a great deal of violence, allowing through lack of interest or awareness the privatization of our prisons and continued racial and minority injustice. This is not meant as a liberal confession but rather an acknowledgement of what is. Bryan Stevenson says we are all more than the worst thing we have ever done. That must apply as well to us and to our present enemies, even on a political spectrum from which there seems to be no going back.
People say sometimes, “Are you old enough to share?” Well, are we old enough to listen? Are we old enough to get the help we need to get out of our own way?
If not we may as well cash it all in, and stop talking about how much we love or yearn for democracy because that real loyalty means the capacity to help unite, not just feed the divide.