Talking About Russia to Trump Supporters: 3 Suggestions

Watching Oprah Winfrey’s segment on 60 Minutes on Sunday night was revealing and important. With the help of pollster Frank Luntz, Winfrey facilitated a conversation with a group of Trump supporters and non-Trump supporters in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Among the many fascinating moments was a veritable explosion of differing perspectives when she brought up the subject of the Russia investigation. A prevalent motif from the Trump supporters are the suggestions that the Russia investigation is irrelevant or contrived by the media. It was a remarkable moment when the walls went up – the Trump supporters for the most part didn’t want to hear about it or discuss it.

Some progressives, like Amanda Marcotte, mistakenly question the patriotism of some Trump supporters who, she claims, “are folks who love their country so little that they would vote for a malicious reality TV star to run it.” I don’t think that’s true. And it’s certainly not helpful. Undoubtedly most Trump supporters feel they are protecting a country and traditions they love and value very much.

So what kinds of conversation points can help engage Trump supporters on Russia? Here are three suggestions that might be helpful:

Trump is deflecting – and blaming the media. Much like what Bill Clinton did during the Monica Lewinsky investigation, Donald Trump is blaming the media for the uproar. Clinton routinely complained that work he was doing and the improving economy under his administration got little attention compared to the latest dribs and drabs of news that came out of the Ken Starr investigation. This is an understandable reaction. Anyone who is working hard and finds their efforts overlooked in favor of unflattering headlines might react in the same manner. In the case of the Lewinsky investigation the smoke did in fact lead to fire – and impeachment proceedings. The media plays a role in this messy process though most reputable outlets subscribe to ethical and legal practices that limit sensationalism. Trump can try to deflect and blame the media, but that doesn’t alter the fact that the Justice Department determined there is sufficient concern and evidence to authorize a special counsel. That doesn’t happen for nothing.

This was an invasion. Trump supporters rightly point to U.S. efforts to sway elections in other countries – even in recent history – and they decry the hypocrisy of those who are outraged but were simply bested at their own game. That’s fair. But the intent of the Russian intelligence agents and apparently Vladimir Putin himself was the destabilization of the United States. We can all agree that Vladimir Putin does not have the best interests of American citizens at heart. With recent evidence indicating that Russia tried to interfere in the state election processes of 21 states in 2016, there is little reason to believe that this was a minor incursion. This was a wide-spread, calculated attack on our democratic process and Trump’s attempts to minimize Russia’s actions are not helping get to the heart of it.

Trump has made it worse for himself. By repeatedly lying about Russia and his campaign and who knew what, Donald Trump is prolonging the story, raising the stakes, encouraging the media to dig deeper, and making it worse for himself. He should not be surprised when he makes an assertion that proves to be false that the media and federal investigators focus on the discrepancy. Further, his firing of FBI Director James Comey certainly created questions about attempts to obstruct justice. Whatever Democrats or Republicans think of Comey, there was no immediate need to fire him at that moment (or in the callous way it was done) and Trump’s decision – not unwanted attention from fake or real media – led to the appointment of Robert Mueller as Special Counsel.

Oprah’s focus group revealed more about the divisions in our country. These are divisions that bubble quickly up as I talk to others.

But the conversations are important and worth the effort if we want to counter the Trump and Bannon agenda of increasing division.

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