Often when talking with conservative friends, they bring up news items I’ve never heard of and ask me what I think. Because I have no frame of reference, their statements often seem outrageous and totally unconnected to reality.
In fact, they are unconnected to my reality. Because I do not consume the same news.
Lately, the number of news stories on CNN/MSNBC and Fox referring to social injustice as compared to rising crime has an inverse relationship. On conservative news, Trump’s commutation of Roger Stone or Russia offering the Taliban money for dead Americans gets little attention. However, the Seattle “lawless” neighborhood known as CHOP (Capitol Hill Occupied Protest) or CHAZ (Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone) and “indoctrination” by local anti-bias government training intended to strip white people of their “whiteness” does.
So why even look at a news channel that often espouses a perspective with which we strongly disagree? If we want to even begin to cross the divide with our conservative friends and family or push back on non-challenged misconceptions, we need to be aware of these misconceptions and their origins. But what next? How do we address our conservative friends? I do know what doesn’t work. Sharing the news we watch and our perspectives falls flat every time. Trying to prove Trump often lies or bringing to light a huge concern like his unwillingness to call out Russia will never work.
The counter will always be to delegitimize our news source or to attack us for ignoring Democratic leaders’ mistakes and/or alleged crimes from their past. Recently, when I asked a conservative friend what he thought about Trump ignoring Russian bounties on U.S. soldiers, I got this: “First of all, the deep state operatives who still operate in the government intelligence community are out to get the president and thus their information cannot be trusted. And second, what about Obama giving the Iranian government billions of dollars when they were using that money to kill Americans through Iranian proxies?”
Trying to unpack all that will only lead the conversation down a rabbit hole, so I have learned how to prevent that situation from even happening. Here’s what works better:
Wait until the Trump supporter makes an outrageous statement. Listen attentively and appear curious. Tell them you don’t hear that from your news sources and ask them to provide more information. Don’t accept Hannity or Fox News as an answer; if they say so, explain that you’d like to see where Fox got the info. Don’t let them get away with, “How could you not know this?” Just keep repeating that you genuinely didn’t know but would like to learn. This tactic forces them to back up assertions with evidence.
And really, it’s not so much whether or not they can prove themselves right. It’s more that you are asking them to question what they have heard. They might not even look for evidence, but at the very least you may have planted a few seeds of doubt.
Most conservative talking points don’t originate out of thin air. There is usually an element of truth to them, and that is what you need to unpack if you are to challenge those.
For example, a friend asserted recently that in California, people are being arrested for hate crimes when they attempt to clean up graffiti caused by vandals. At first that seemed absolutely crazy, but on closer inspection it did contain an element of truth. Here’s the real story.
A Martinez, California, couple were angry that Black Lives Matter had been painted on a street in their town. They got up one morning and proceeded to paint over it and were subsequently arrested for vandalism and a hate crime. Tucker Carlson stated on his program twice that this couple was simply painting over a street that had been graffitied.
In truth, the Black Lives Matter mural on the street had been sanctioned by the local government. So by attempting to paint over it, the martyred couple were actually committing vandalism themselves.
Here’s another example of an assertion that has an element of truth but is not completely factual: BLM’s slogan is “Pigs in a blanket. Fry ’em like bacon.” That slogan was shouted once in St. Paul, Minnesota, five years ago by a group that was not affiliated with the national BLM group.
Yet another faulty assertion: Biden says police have “become the enemy” and calls for cutting police funding. Here’s the truth: Biden said that when police use heavy-handed tactics they can be seen as an invading army, or the “enemy.” Further, he supports redirecting some police funds, not defunding the police.
We live in a bubble, consuming our own news sources and talking with those who share our perspectives. Don’t be so naïve as to think there is not an equally insular bubble that shares a very different mindset. Remember, we appear as crazy to them with our assertions as they do to us. We each appear even crazier when we have no idea what information the other side is being fed. Until we look at and consider what Trump supporters are being exposed to, we cannot unpack the facts and challenge the assumptions their reality is based on. We cannot blindly look the other way. Only by effectively challenging assumptions can we even begin to start to bridge the great divide that left unchecked will continue to tear our country apart.
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