My wife and I had dinner last night with friends we hadn’t seen for a while — busy schedules, our children on different tracks — life, in other words.
Rene’s a lawyer. Lovely guy. More honest than the day is long.
What I’ve always loved about “arguing” with Rene is his complete loyalty to The Rule Of Law. If you don’t have receipts to back up your argument, your argument has no place at the table. Rigor is everything.
One of the subjects we wrangled over — actually, it was more like Rene had me in a headlock and I struggled pathetically — was how to appeal to those Trump voters who might come across to vote Democratic. Rene’s a better man than I will ever be. He argued for understanding them so as to appeal too them.
Rene’s point — we had to deal with what they were afraid of in order to bring them in — or even just make them see that we heard and understood them.
“Okay,” I said, “What are they afraid of?”
Economics. Brown people taking their jobs. People of color getting opportunities while they get nothing.
“But none of that’s happening,” I said.
Doesn’t matter. That’s what’s scaring them. Deal with it.
I got hung up on the messaging — that these people were mis-informed and self-defeating. We Democrats should focus on new voters instead and screw the Trump voters. Rene wouldn’t walk away from them. Yes, yes — we both agreed about the 30% or so who are old Nixonians — those scumbags were irredeemable. Rene was focused on that slice of Trumpians who voted for Obama.
The white men, mostly, of the rust belt and coal country. West Virginia.
I insisted that the thing he said scared them seemed like an abstraction rather than a real thing — and that people can’t actually be afraid of abstractions; they need a “thing” to personify the abstraction (like Goldberg in 1984). Rene insisted right back at me that people CAN be afraid of abstractions — and clever, creative people like me should be figuring out how to deal with that fact.
We moved on to other subjects — where Rene continued to make a meal of me. But the first topic stuck with me as we had desert and tea afterwards and then on through the drive home, bedtime and a pretty good night’s sleep. Rene’s question bugged me. How do you sell people afraid of an abstraction?
It still gnawed at me: what, really, are these people afraid of?
I grew up in the shadow of the Holocaust in a Jewish suburb outside of Baltimore. I started Hebrew School at age 6 in 1965 — 20 years after the camps were liberated. Rather than shy away from the topic, my Jewish education obsessed on the topic. The end of the war didn’t mean the end of Jew hatred, it meant the end of this chapter of Jew hatred — a really, really, REALLY “successful” chapter of Jew hatred (from Jew hatred’s point of view).
Israel — while a good, positive development in Jews not getting massacred again — was surrounded by Arab countries that wanted to obliterate it.
“We are still hated & reviled” was pounded into my skull. Fear is the natural ride-along to all of that. Fear is your survival instinct telling you it’s got your back. I have lived my whole life with that fear tickling the back of my neck.
I know from “fear”.
Charlottsville & “Jews will not replace us” — that produced feelings of genuine fear. That old prickling on the back of my neck that I felt the first time I saw this photo — and put myself in that boy’s place…
What that boy feels — that’s fear. What those Trump voters were feeling… the best I will grant it is “fear adjacent”.
Rene talked about the most obvious problem afflicting these people — they were tied to industries and ways of life that were dying if not already dead. They’d replaced hope for the future with opioids. You could try to relocate them to where jobs of the future were but — they liked where they lived. They were tied to it apparently — as if they “owned” the land (which they most certainly did not).
And then it hit me. It’s obvious, really. Just open your eyes, mate: these people are afraid of CHANGE. THAT’S the “abstraction” they’re afraid of. They’re facing profound change to virtually every part of their lives — and it’s scaring the crap out of them. For real. They are on the cutting edge of the very thing that motivated the GOP to steal election 2016 — the White Guy’s Fear Of Change — especially the one where he loses political supremacy.
Rene’s right. Damn him. Those former Obama voters are terrified of change — because change is hitting them first.
If I continue down this road toward decency, as my friend Rene would, I’d start to challenge myself with this question: How does my party appeal to people who are in fact “gettable” as voters — but only if I can overcome their fear of change. And a big chunk of the Democratic Message sounds like profound change…
As I said — what I love about “arguing” with my friend Rene is his rigor. And his profound decency.
As we here on the left can testify to, having changed shoved down your throat is horrible. Even more so when it’s the opposite of what you want. It never sits well. The mission isn’t to compromise the change we want — hell, the change we DEMAND. But, if it’s possible to reel a few people in — maybe more — considering the massive cheating that’s about to come at us, a single vote & voter might make the difference.
Hey, Marketing Department — get in here! This concerns you!