Therapists counseling couples in trouble tend to follow this game plan: Before the combatants start hashing out the issues, they must acknowledge that their mates feel what they feel.
These words stick in my head as Americans face the stress of political schism — each side seeing calamity in electoral loss. Besides steeling oneself for possible defeat, the best way to ensure some inner calm is to recognize that the rational arguments were long-ago made, so let the other side feel what it feels.
That doesn’t mean one has to agree with the other side. One can counter an opinion with reason and facts. It is counterproductive, however, to dismiss what’s churning in the other person’s gut.
My politics are center-left and issue-oriented. My antipathy toward President Donald Trump started in my head and spread to my heart. Trump’s genuine talent is to build a fan base through seduction, to entertain as an entryway to people’s emotions. Thus, there’s little to gain in holding debate-club arguments with its members — conceding a point while noting the on-the-other-hands.
Nowhere does this approach seem more futile than in farm country. Before Trump became president, American agriculture was one of the world’s great exporting powers. Trump’s trade war destroyed all that and replaced mighty markets with government checks. Even the Trump-friendly Wall Street Journal called this policy “farm welfare.”
Many farmers fancy themselves small-government conservatives, and some do suffer a twinge of discomfort over the traditional taxpayer subsidies that keep them afloat. The latest round of checks, though, could mean that more than 40 percent of farm income now comes from the government, according to the University of Missouri.
At a rally in Omaha, Trump blatantly ripped away the veil of farmer independence. He came right out and said, “Some people say our farmers do better now than they did when they actually had to farm.”
His critics heard this as a humiliation to farmers, and it appears that a few farmers have pulled away from him. But 82 percent still support him, according to a Farm Journal poll. Never mind that farm bankruptcies are at an eight-year high. They still see Trump as friend and protector, as a great negotiator who has a plan.
Their thinking is delusional, but their affection for Trump remains untouchable. This is not to question their patriotism or doubt they are good people. It’s that all one can do is accept their worldview as what it is and move on.
Trump supporters elsewhere see him as a way to escape what they feel is their invisibility. How else explain their attention-begging antics — the trucks with the big Trump flags slowing traffic on highways or the threats to a Biden campaign bus. They couldn’t possibly think these obnoxious displays were going to win votes for their hero. But that’s not the point.
While I waited in line outside a Costco in Norwalk, Connecticut, a noisy guy behind me was jumping around and bellowing his Trumpian views to a companion. He was costumed up in Trumpian regalia.
This is Joe Biden country, where support for the former vice president is so strong few even bother putting out lawn signs. This guy’s message was simply “Look at me! Look at me!” The bored people in line found him mildly amusing. Since he had his face mask on and was not about to change any Electoral College votes, I, too, enjoyed the show.
You don’t have to respect the opinions of others, but there’s little point in disrespecting their feelings. They really believe this stuff — or say they do. And when it comes down to political outcomes, what’s the difference?
Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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