How to reason with a Trump voter

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Story highlights

  • Ben Mallicote: Liberals are too quick to vilify all Trump supporters
  • Over the next four years, liberals should try to appeal to the majority of Trump voters through reason and decency

Ben Mallicote is an attorney and an alumnus of the University of Tennessee. He writes about faith, politics, and where the two intersect at www.benmallicote.com. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)We are too quick to vilify those on the opposite side of the political aisle. I am firmly opposed to Donald Trump, but because of where I live, I know a lot of good and decent people who voted for him. If I feel the urge to disparage Trump supporters as a group, I have to reconcile that urge with what I know about the Trump voters with whom I work, eat and pray.

Ben Mallicote
There are unquestionably people who voted for Trump for ugly reasons, and those folks are probably beyond persuasion (at least by me), but I've decided I'm going to spend the next four years trying to persuade the good and decent people; to appeal to their reason and the "better angels of their nature."
Persuading them means addressing the motivations they've expressed, not the motivations we might ascribe to them based on the worst and loudest people on their side. That's what I tried to do with a piece I posted last week on Facebook, and later on my website. It ended up getting a lot of attention on the internet, and a version of it is reprinted below.
Surprisingly, the most common criticism I've gotten from the piece has not been from those on the right saying I'm a "libtard snowflake," but from those on the left who think I should have said, "You voted for Trump because you're a fascist," or the like. While it's surely true of some Trump voters, it's grossly unfair as a blanket criticism of all Trump voters. Such hot language rightfully alienates decent people, and cuts off any opportunity we might have had to change their minds.
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Contrary to the social media headlines, we shouldn't aim to DESTROY or EVISCERATE or ANNIHILATE the other side; we must persuade them to consider a different perspective. That's not easy, but it's necessary.
That doesn't mean we should allow wrongs to go unanswered, or yield even an inch in the defense of our rights. It's incumbent on all of us to remind our fellow citizens -- boldly and continuously -- about the ways that this administration is violating democratic norms and American ideals. A call to treat one another with respect is emphatically not a call to "normalize" what the Trump administration and the worst of its supporters are doing.
To the vast majority of American people, we can say this is evil without saying you are evil.
We should, however, address their stated rationale for voting the way they did. So to those good and decent people who voted for Donald Trump, here is what I wrote on Facebook and would like to say today:
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You voted for Trump because Hillary Clinton was going to be in Wall Street's pocket. Trump wants to repeal Dodd-Frank and eliminate the Fiduciary Rule, letting Wall Street return to its pre-2008 ways.
You voted for Trump because you thought the Clinton Foundation was "pay for play." Trump has refused to wall off his businesses from his administration, and personally profits from payments from foreign governments.
You voted for Trump because of Clinton's role in Benghazi. Trump ordered the Yemen raid without adequate intel, and tweeted about "FAKE NEWS" while Americans died as a result of his carelessness.
You voted for Trump because Clinton didn't care about "the little guy." Trump's cabinet is full of billionaires, and he's taking away your health insurance so he can give them a multi-million-dollar tax break.
Trump voters on his first week as President
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You voted for Trump because he was going to build a wall and Mexico was going to pay for it. American consumers will pay for the wall via import tariffs.
You voted for Trump because Clinton was going to get us into a war. Trump has provoked our enemies, alienated our allies and given ISIS a decade's worth of recruiting material.
You voted for Trump because Clinton didn't have the "stamina" to do the job. Trump hung up on the Australian Prime Minister during a 5 p.m. phone call because "it was at the end of a long day and he was tired and fatigue was setting in."
You voted for Trump because foreign leaders wouldn't respect Clinton. Foreign leaders, both friendly and hostile, are openly mocking Trump.
You voted for Trump because Clinton lies and "he tells it like it is." Trump and his administration lie with a regularity and brazenness that can only be described as shocking.
Let's be honest about what really happened.
The reality is that you voted for Trump because you got conned. Trump is a grifter and the American people were the mark. Hey, it happens, and there's no shame in being taken in by a pro. But now that you know the score, quit insisting the conman is on your side.