Earlier this month, my wife and I decided to enjoy the beautiful spring weather and trek down to one of the big arts festivals in Atlanta. Parking near the festival promised to be problematic, so we opted for MARTA.
As we waited for the train, we were chatted-up by a very tall (six-foot-six, at least) white man, late fifties, wearing sandals, shorts, a black tank top, and a black ballcap turned backwards. He was quite friendly, and pretty soon we learned he was a Georgia Tech graduate, a member of their mid-80s basketball team (indeed, he produced, with surprising swiftness, a photo on his cellphone of himself guarding a young Michael Jordan, back when the latter was a star player for the University of North Carolina). Once on the train, we continued talking about college days, how he came to retire early, and the fact that MARTA was no longer an option for Atlanta Braves fans (seeing as how the team recently moved to a new stadium in Cobb County, well away from any train stops). After a while, he also struck up a conversation with a young African-American woman sitting across the aisle, the two of them yakking amiably about sports.
Somewhere along the line, while switching trains, we detached ourselves from this former athlete and continued on our way. It struck me as remarkable that we were able to have a civil conversation with this guy, given that his backwards hat was embroidered with the words “WE THE PEOPLE… LOVE TRUMP” and his t-shirt was emblazoned “LET’S GO BRANDON.” The latter, of course, is the not-so-secret code for “Fuck Joe Biden,” which has become an obnoxious rallying cry for the GOP base, and has even been uttered by Republican politicians from the floor of the House of Representatives. Just down the road from where we live, a homeowner has decided to plant his yard with star-spangled signs spelling out “LET’S GO BRANDON.” Even within our otherwise cordial subdivision, we were shocked (and greatly disappointed) that our neighbors have decided to fly a “LET’S GO BRANDON” flag from the side of their house.
The reason we were able to have a (superficially) polite conversation with our fellow MARTA rider was because we purposely refused to take the bait presented by his wardrobe. It’s pretty obvious that our towering companion wore that t-shirt and that hat to make a crude statement (with the specious defense that, “Hey, it’s only a joke!”). He was going to an intown arts festival, where it was certain that 95% of the attendees were supporters of our current president, who would find an open declaration of “Fuck Joe Biden” to be offensive and unproductive.
So, the answer to the question “Can you have a civil discussion with a Trumper?” is, as far as I can tell, no—not as long as he or she insists on starting the conversation disingenuously. Although our brief interaction with this guy was polite on the surface, my hackles were up the moment I read his t-shirt, and I wanted to get away from him as soon as possible. The fact that he thought wearing such a shirt was a good idea tells me that he’s an impolite oaf at best, or a repugnant bigot at worst. All my interactions with supporters of the Former Guy tell me that if you scratch a Trumper, you’ll make bleed a fascist (or a hopelessly gaslit rube). I wouldn’t expect conservatives to have a polite conversation with me if I were wearing a shirt saying “FUCK DONALD TRUMP,” so why should they expect a different response from me? Donald Trump is a liar, a cheat, a bigot, an unread ignoramus, a rude sociopath, a groper, a rapist, and a traitor to his country. I don’t need code or a joke-that’s-not-a-joke to make my point, and neither should fans of the former president. But I think that’s the point: Trumpers know their guy is loathsome; they know they are loathsome in presenting joyous support for him; but they just don’t care as long as they “win.” Previously, such people at least wanted at least to be seen as honest, upright citizens who were just misunderstood. We used to call them Republicans. But those people don’t exist anymore. Ninety-nine percent of the GOP base (as far as I can tell) has devolved into a howling, inchoate id of lost privilege; resentment at those who won’t see the world in stark, Manichean terms; and hatred for anyone who dares to assert that this country could do better. How do you have a civil conversation with such folk? I just don’t think it’s possible. So, what remains? In my opinion, to try like hell to outvote them, to try to educate the up-and-coming generations regarding this country’s true history; the obligations of citizenship, and how to be a decent human being.
Trumpers and their defenders make a big deal about how the reason they vote the way they vote is because they feel disrespected, talked down to, ignored, and insulted. Perhaps they should take the same tack when talking to people on the other side of the political aisle. Respect runs both ways.