Going home for spring break felt oddly similar to traveling to an alien planet, mostly because there were dozens of massive, grotesque plastic weeds pockmarking yards and medians, making everything look more like something Dante made up than like the town I grew up in. Imagine the horror that struck me upon the realization that many of these ugly weeds were not there on accident, but had been planted by many of my own neighbors! The horror, the horror!
All right, all right, perhaps I’m being a little melodramatic (just a little.) Still, heading home and seeing so many blue signs emblazoned with the name of one nasty, bleached pumpkin whose outlandish rhetoric has unfortunately dominated news coverage of the 2016 presidential election cycle was super weird.
I didn’t expect my area to be Trump country, though the Virginia state primaries proved he was its favored GOP contender. Not only that, but numerous friends and relatives of mine (between sharing cat videos and Minion memes) have made their support for him crystal clear. You wouldn’t be too hard-pressed to find a Trump supporter here on the Richmond campus, either.
If you’re like me (and I’d prefer to think a lot of you are), then you’re disgusted by the man’s success. Someone who spouts such hateful, hidebound, doltish speech – so disagreeable as to elicit the approval of the Ku Klux Klan – ought to have no place in American politics.
The trouble is, he does have a place. And people I know and love have helped him obtain it. So, what can we do?
Well, I wholeheartedly agree with The Collegian’s editorial board that the first step is to get out there and vote for anyone other than Trump. I fear political apathy is far too commonplace among people our age. And since so many of us are eligible to mail out absentee ballots in states that haven’t had their primaries yet, we really have the chance to make a difference. And we should.
But what of Trump’s supporters themselves? Can they be swayed? Naturally. I hold that most anyone’s mind can be changed, given enough time, an able tongue and a whole lot of empathy.
Empathy – the capacity to comprehend the feeling and sentiments of other people – is something I think we all would do well to improve upon. Understanding, or at least attempting to understand, precisely how certain people arrive at their political views is crucial. Trump may be morally bankrupt, but it isn’t right to assume every last one of his supporters has no conscience.
Immediately dismissing anyone who supports Trump – or any Republican candidate – as homophobic white-supremacists accomplishes little in the way of convincing them why they should reconsider.
What I’m advocating for is more discourse across partisan and ideological lines. I’ve seen far too many cases of people I know completely cutting off communication with an acquaintance upon discovering that the acquaintance’s politics fall on the right side of the spectrum. In my opinion, we should do the opposite: Engage those with different viewpoints and try to learn why they think that way. This will not only cause us to ponder why we’ve come to our own conclusions, but also will better equip us to explain why those of Trump supporters are wrong.
Now, please don’t mistake my sentiment. When it comes to the presidential election, I’m no appeaser. I’ll do everything in my power to ensure a Democrat is elected come November – but that doesn’t require mudslinging anyone who desires otherwise.
So, fellow leftists, Democrats and Berners, please lend your eyes to my conclusion. The refusal to make any attempt to empathize with those countrymen of ours with differing political views will do nothing to improve the situation. In the words of the late, great Harper Lee, "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view."
Since we’ve got reason on our side, let us make the most of it.
Contact columnist Hunter Moyler at firstname.lastname@example.org