Sharing Conversation

Sharing Conversation by Carl-Martin Nelson, Content Director,

In March and April of this year I have been listening. I visited rural Kansas and listened to Ellis County elected officials. I sat at the bar at the Trump International Hotel in Las Vegas and listened, asking a few questions along the way. I went to Washington, DC and listened to congressional staffers and elected officials. I’ve listened to family members, friends, and strangers.

I learned a number of important things from dozens of well-meaning and hard-working Americans:

  • Everyone recognizes the cultural gulf separating many Americans from their neighbors, colleagues, and friends.
  • Few people that I listened to are optimistic that the cultural divide can easily be bridged.
  • Trump supporters feel like progressives look down on them; condescension was a key motivator last November for many who had never voted before.
  • Many middle class and under-served Americans are unaware of the progressive policies and programs that have benefitted them and their families.

I typically started my listening sessions with Trump supporters with this simple question: “What do progressives need to understand about Trump supporters? What don’t they get?” I rarely had to ask any kind of follow up and could count on about 20 – 30 minutes of explanation, anecdote, and illustration. I think in a number of cases I was the first progressive person to listen carefully to their concerns or ideas for any length of time without offering rebuttal or counterargument.

Respecting and Listening

In the end, any kind of work in cross-cultural communication begins with listening and respect. This is really important: I can listen to a person and treat them with respect even if I strongly disagree with what they are saying or believe. Treating a neighbor with respect does not mean that I am necessarily compromising my values. After listening to an employee at a state college in a Midwestern state for 45 minutes or so she finally asked me if I thought Donald Trump was racist and what she could do to understand progressives and “the people on the coasts” better. I explained the ways I saw Donald Trump using racist language to motivate voters in the election and encouraged her to diversify where she gets her news since she was getting much of her information through her church. It’s hard to know if these small observations were helpful, but I feel confident that my input was better received after listening to her carefully for almost an hour.

Sharing Conversation

It’s an old-fashioned expression but I like it for a couple of reasons:

  • Sharing means giving something of yourself – a truth, an opinion, a perspective – in good faith to someone else. This doesn’t happen without some level of trust.
  • Informal exchanges of ideas, outside the glare and heat of cable news or a public forum, can do more to inform and engage.

So our great work is to engage persuadable Trump supporters – without compromising our values – so that we can better understand their concerns and then figure out the ways that progressive policies and programs are, in fact, helping them and helping our country.

If you would like to help in this effort, here are three things you can do:

  • Share ways you have successfully engaged persuadable Trump supporters – what kinds of questions did you ask, what kinds of facts seem to resonate the most, where did you most easily find common ground? Use this form.
  • Share resources (books, articles, videos, etc.) that can help us understand and overcome the challenges we face. Use this form:
  • Support GreatPresidentsAccountable, the PAC behind, financially. A gift of 5$ a month will go a long way to help maintain this important work. Donate here.


33 thoughts on “Sharing Conversation

Comments are closed.