Meryl Streep, Donald Trump, and Speaking Past One Another

Meryl Streep made a passionate acceptance speech at the Golden Globes Sunday, and I’ve seen two responses to it on my social media news feeds. Trump supporters are annoyed by it. They feel this is another example of Hollywood elites trying to tell normal people what they should think and how they should act and what they should believe. The anti-Trump crowd loved it. They feel like she made a wonderful plea for accountability from our leaders and the press.

This post isn’t about her speech, though. It’s about my dismay in the inability of both sides to be able to come to the middle and find ground for discussion. I haven’t made any effort to hide the fact that I’m against Trump and pretty much everything he stood for in the election. I was very disappointed he won, and I’m concerned about the direction our country is headed under his control. But at the same time, I also see people I know and respect who like Trump and believe he’s going to fulfill his promise of improving America.

Some of my friends would say that those people should be unfriended right away, or that I should stand up to them and confront them. Make them see that they’re supporting a racist, sexist troll of a human being. There’s a popular sentiment that everything Trump and the Republicans try to do for the next four years must be fought, tooth and nail. That now is the time to dig trenches and do our best to survive the coming years, so that when Trump is voted out of power in four years, we are in as good a place as possible to try and move forward again.

But trench warfare does nothing but destroy the ground its fought on. I’ve watched the Republicans try the same tactic for the last 8 years as they did their best to obstruct anything Obama tried to pass. It made me mad then, and Democrats using the same tool against a different foe is no better of an idea.

Politics seems to be a game where the speeches and accusations remain the same, it’s just the people making them switch sides periodically. We need to move beyond that somehow, even if it seems impossible. Here are a few suggestions I have for ways we might achieve it.

  • Avoid ultimatums. Telling the other side they need to do X, or else.
  • Don’t label the other side (or yourself). We’re all complex human beings. We all make what we believe are rational, sane choices. We all think other people make some truly terrible, impulsive reactions.
  • Get to know people who disagree with you. Don’t try to jump straight to a debate. Let them speak. Listen. Don’t worry about changing minds, and don’t accuse. Listen.
  • Find common ground. I guarantee it exists. It will be in different areas for different people and groups, but it’ll be there.
  • Don’t accuse or point fingers. Even if you feel justified. You don’t always know the whole story. Acknowledge that.
  • Don’t speak in absolutes. They’re (almost) never right.
  • Don’t give up.

The more of these bullet points I wrote, the more I realized that what I was advocating for was no different than the same basic principles of any relationship, be it friendship, co-workers, a marriage, parent/children dynamics. You name it. Go figure.

I understand the fear that Trump is breaking the rules and that he must be treated differently. And that might well be true. But Trump shouldn’t change the way we treat each other. I certainly understand and sympathize with the people who are afraid and upset about what might happen to them and their family under a Trump presidency, and I want to do everything I can to help them and keep the many good things I see in this country. But I believe the path to that is through dialogue, collaboration, and compromise.

When we start going against those bullet points I mentioned above, we get nothing done.

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