Until early 2018, David Weissman was an online MAGA troll. A self-avowed one too. The kind you should just either report or block on Twitter. Engage with them and soon enough you’ll wonder why. But the Weissman who once tweeted comparing Hillary Clinton and Satan is far in the past. David Weissman 2.0 just cast his first vote as a Democrat — for Biden in Florida. So, if this former troll can support Biden, couldn’t anyone?
Weissman’s change of heart started with the outspoken, irreverent comedian Sarah Silverman, who responded to this tweet:
Weissman recalls how it felt to have a “Hollywood elitist” listen to his words and ask him what he actually liked about Trump. Not expressing anger or frustration, Silverman’s voice was able to cut through all the noise.
Like other Republicans who had consumed a steady diet of right-wing media, Weissman had spent years — both of Obama’s terms, to be precise — feeling unheard and forgotten. Right-wing thinking taught that Democrats, in their desire to help others, particularly immigrants, had abandoned white Americans. But Silverman’s tweet response, complete with a heart, pierced the conservative talking points.
Falling back on the traditions of his Jewish faith, Weissman started asking questions. Lots of questions about his system of beliefs. And also questions about the other side. “Why do liberals do the things they do?” he wondered. At the time, he had no expectation of leaving MAGA or the Republican Party or rejecting Trump.
To find satisfactory answers, Weissman had to move beyond the right-wing media bubble. He talked more with Silverman and with other liberals and people on Twitter. Change did not happen overnight, but his curiosity led to an entirely new worldview, with each discovery building upon the one before it. Like when he queried Silverman about Democrats taking away Americans’ rights. Her answer startled him: “No, I don’t want to take your guns.” This was a wow moment. “Sort of like an intervention,” he said. Another eye-opener was discovering that Hillary Clinton had actually done some “wonderful things” in New York; she didn’t just hide her emails or engineer the attack on the US Embassy in Benghazi.
Little by little, everything Weissman had believed was proved wrong. Once he accepted this truth, he began to dig deeper into other issues, like police brutality and racism, which led to what he called, a “holy crap moment.”
Weissman came to view Trump as a draft dodger, a failure in business, even Putin’s puppet after the two leaders met in Helsinki. (He “couldn’t believe how Hillary Clinton was right.”) He quickly realized that Trump was a liar, that he’d lied to get voters. That’s when “liberal values really got into my heart,” he remembers.
So if someone as once-objectionable as Weissman could make this leap from MAGA to Biden, what prevents others from doing the same? Trump supporters live in their own bubble, he says. They believe America presents one way of life and opportunities to everyone, regardless of a person’s background or the color of their skin. They can’t see the reality of society “outside of their box.” Unlike Weissman, they don’t have a Sarah Silverman to break through.
And just like other large groups of voters, they are diverse. “MAGA is like an onion,” explains Weissman. There are many different kinds: single-issue voters, isolationists, the white supremacists, the hardcore base.
Of course, one of the first things that people want to know from Weissman is how to deprogram their family, friends, neighbors and loved ones. Show them compassion and empathy, Weissman counsels. Trump represents an ideal, and his supporters defend him because of it.
Also, while Trump supporters always seem ready to reject facts with their alternate version of reality, Weissman believes there are a few places where we can still reach them. The Constitution offers one of the biggest opportunities. Weissman suggests pointing out that Trump violated the Constitution with the Ukraine call, in which he threatened to withhold aid in return for digging up dirt on Biden, or by urging NFL team owners to fire players who took a knee, in violation of the free speech clause of the First Amendment.
Similarly, trot out the president’s track record to prove to his supporters that he is not a conservative. Trump does not stand for the values that Republicans have always said mattered to them. Until he left the MAGA bubble, Army veteran Weissman had no idea that Trump had ever downplayed PTSD or used vets as props.
With the election coming up, Weissman also wants to remind them they can remain Republicans and still support Biden. They don’t have to tell anyone who they voted for. They can even lie about it.
But he readily admits he has not succeeded in turning any of his former MAGA troll buddies. “I am an outcast,” he says. “They shun me.” That doesn’t mean he has no impact. He inspires people daily on social media. He has connected with a number of former Trump supporters and started a Facebook group to give people a safe space so they don’t get treated the way he was. And he continues to look for the “cracks” — the moderate Republicans who might offer a way in.
“It is crazy how we go from Obama to Trump,” Weissman muses. But that’s what happened. Now we just have to go forward and stay the course. He is continuing to spread his message and fighting to elect more Democratic lawmakers. Republicans will retaliate “big-time” if Biden wins, he believes. They will try to have Biden investigated and impeached — basically, what Democrats did with Trump — except without good reason. At the least, Republicans will make it extremely difficult to get anything done. And there is a lot to fix in a post-Trump era: climate crisis, gun violence, white supremacy that “came out of nowhere,” but Weissman is here for all of it.
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