Opinion | Reaching Out to Trump’s Base

To the Editor:

“‘Reach Out to Trump Supporters,’ They Said. I Tried,” by Wajahat Ali (Op-Ed, nytimes.com, Nov. 19), is a perfect example of how liberal efforts to reach a conservative population are doomed to failure.

Perplexed as to why so many voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 election, Mr. Ali spent four years giving talks to universities, companies and faith-based communities in an attempt to “win over some Trump supporters.”

Admirable intent, lousy method. This is exactly the approach rural people are insulted by: intellectuals showing up to tell them what to think. Not only is it condescending, it is also naïve. Take the 90-minute drive to the airport with a retired Trump supporter that Mr. Ali describes, in which “neither of us changed our outlook.” Big surprise!

Any progress we make in our fractured country will necessitate years of listening, not an evening lecturing at the lectern. Our problems go back centuries. It will take considerable understanding and relationship building to make progress toward reconciliation. Don’t give up, Mr. Ali, you’ve only just begun.

Philip Kenney
Portland, Ore.

To the Editor:

As progressives, we heard regularly in 2016 that we needed to reach out to Trump supporters and try to understand their position after Donald Trump won. Now that Joe Biden has won and Republicans have badly lost the popular vote again, shouldn’t Trump supporters be the ones reaching out trying to understand progressives?

David VanSpeybroeck
Lake Oswego, Ore.

To the Editor:

I’m a two-time Obama voter and a two-time Trump voter. I’d be happy to chat respectfully with Wajahat Ali about the dynamics of the Trump voter base and help any way I can.

It seems lately that no one is having an honest open discussion, and it’s too easy to jump to conclusions about people. All the vitriol in this article really saddens me. If everyone on the left just completely gives up trying to understand 70-plus million people in this country, doesn’t that sound ominous for our future?

It is a special kind of hubris to believe that other intelligent beings would reach the same conclusions as you given the same information. There is a lot of nuance here that is not reflected in the current narrative.

Matthew Robanser
Lynden, Wash.

To the Editor:

Wajahat Ali, recounting a conversation with a Trump supporter, cites “neither of us changed our outlook” as evidence of the futility of reaching out. This might be a sign of failure if the objective of civil discourse is to convert the other to one’s own worldview — a kind of ideological imperialism not unlike a religious missionary. But there’s more to it than that.

Of the same conversation Mr. Ali notes that “we made jokes and we shared stories about our families.” In similar situations, I’ve tended to warm to the other person despite our differences. We may well conclude as we began — at odds. But I don’t feel as if we got nowhere. I walk away from good conversations with greater respect for the other person — in part for better understanding why and how they think, but more important for the chance to appreciate our shared humanity.

I’m grateful, in this polarized era, to remember that there is more to people than their politics. There will always be difference and misunderstanding. A hallmark of liberal societies like ours is precisely diversity and pluralism. Will our social fabric prove strong enough to live up to this ideal?

Brandon Wasicsko
Charlottesville, Va.

To the Editor:

Reading Wajahat Ali’s article urging people to stop wasting their time reaching out to Trump voters, I recognized many of the same emotions and frustrations I have experienced. For me Trump voters include siblings and cousins.

It’s easy to give up on people because of frustrations. It’s much harder work to find what people really need — and to not give up on them. One brother and a cousin stepped away from President Trump. It’s not impossible to help those who felt unheard and forgotten to believe in themselves and democracy more than a charlatan.

Jasmine Marshall Armstrong
Merced, Calif.

To the Editor:

I applaud Wajahat Ali for reaching out to heartland Trump supporters, but he missed the point. He “assumed” he could win over some of them, but laments that not one “wavered in their support for him.” He says the endeavor was therefore a waste of time, and I agree, but for a very different reason.

He set out to proselytize, not to understand how millions of people could see the world so differently than he does. He took a dozen trips to Middle America but does not mention one thing he learned. The idea that he could fly in from the coast for a couple of hours and change the minds of people whose lives he does not know smacks of the elitism that gave rise to Donald Trump.

I am reminded of a quote from Daryl Davis, a Black man who has convinced 200 people to leave the K.K.K. through his friendship: “I never set out certain that I would convert anyone. I just wanted to have a conversation and ask, ‘How can you hate me when you don’t even know me?’”

Nick Cady
Charlottesville, Va.

To the Editor:

Wajahat Ali strikes a nerve when he says it isn’t worth trying to reach out to Trump supporters. Growing up in the Midwest and often driving across the country, I’ve seen much goodness in America and all kinds of good people. What’s more, we are brought up to be open to different points of view, to try to broaden our understanding of the world.

That, however, must be a two-way street. There is no way to reach someone who just shouts you down, who believes his right to do what he wants outweighs everything (and everyone) else, who picks and chooses which rules to accept only by whether or not they are good for him, who doesn’t believe that truth and facts and experience and competence have much value.

I no longer believe that it’s my job — or even possible — to reach any meeting of the minds with such people. I believe we simply have to oppose and defeat them so we can be true to who we are, trying to make life better for everyone. Then, perhaps gradually, those people will be willing to walk into a better future with us.

Gail Goldey
Harrison, N.Y.

To the Editor:

How are we to “reach out” to people whose opinions are founded on the likes of birtherism, QAnon and other such absurd conspiracy theories? “Yes, I understand that you believe that Hillary Clinton, Hunter Biden and George Soros stole this election to further their goal of diluting the white race out of existence, and I respect that opinion. Why can’t we just get along?”

Mutual understanding requires common ground. It has become increasingly clear that there is none.

Stephen Chernicoff
Bethesda, Md.

To the Editor:

“‘Reach Out to Trump Supporters,’ They Said. I Tried” embodies the same attitude that gave us a “basket of deplorables.” Wajahat Ali showed up where Trump supporters live, gave a speech to them and decided the effort was not worth it because his audience continued to support President Trump. What if a nice, friendly Trump supporter had showed up where Mr. Ali lives and given a speech to him? Would Mr. Ali have become a Trump supporter?

Meeting face to face is a worthwhile first step, and Mr. Ali should be applauded for having taken it. But genuine communication and understanding is a two-way street; you are changed as much as your interlocutor. From his article, it’s clear that genuine communication was not what Mr. Ali was looking for and certainly not what happened. He brought back with him the same elitist attitude that Trump supporters find so maddening.

Heather Morton
Acton, Mass.

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