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How to Talk to a Non-Leftist the Other 364 Days of the Year


They’ve done it again. The same sort of people who thought it would be a great idea to ruin Thanksgiving by spouting political propaganda to their relatives have now offered helpful hints on how to be a jerk by boring your family about ObamaCare over the Fourth of July weekend.

If this is something you are seriously considering doing, I suggest you take Sean Davis’s advice, and then seriously rethink whether politics is really as important to your life as you think it is.

But there’s something else about this compulsion to gird for intellectual battle at family holidays. This guy gets it right:

The problem isn’t what’s happening on the Fourth of July or Thanksgiving. It’s what’s not happening the rest of the year. Too many young people are walled off in the left-wing monoculture of the universities or in hipster enclaves where everybody gets their news from the same sources and believes the same things. They need talking points to figure out how to discuss ObamaCare with “Uncle Ted” and “Aunt Janine” (as this latest version calls them) because discussing politics with people who disagree with them is such an unfamiliar experience.

If you feel that you need talking points to guide you through the exotic process of arguing for ObamaCare against people who hate it—who constitute more than half the adult population—then you need to get out more.

Here is a handy guide for young people who want to broaden their horizons and find a favorite right-winger to talk to in between family holidays.

First off, where oh where do you even find people on the right to converse with? If you live on a college campus, or in Park Slope, this is a real dilemma. So here are a few pointers.

Desegregate your Internet.

In theory, we’re all tied to everyone through online “social networks.” But those networks tend to be ideologically segregated. It’s natural enough. Opposition is grating and annoying, and when we check Twitter or Facebook or whatever else every five minutes, we like to hear things that we like to hear, which is the sweet sound of people agreeing with us. And it’s not all our fault. Some of it is Mark Zuckerberg’s fault. Facebook algorithms have figured out that we like to hear affirmations, so they tend to filter ideological diversity out of our news feeds. If you live on social media, as so many of us do nowadays, I’m afraid you live in an echo chamber.

Here’s a good test. When a celebrity on the left, like George Takei, says something offensive, do you hear about it first from a report about what he said, or do hear about it first from a defense of him in a sympathetic news source? Or have you not heard about it at all?

If so, make an effort to friend or follow someone on the right. Since you probably already know a few people who lean right, even if they don’t advertise that fact to you, engage them in polite discussion and debate (more in a moment on how to do that) when they post something expressing their views. There’s a good chance Uncle Ted and Aunt Janine are on Facebook. Engage them during the rest of the year, instead of waiting for the family cookout to ambush them.

I’m of the school of thought that it’s a good idea to talk about politics with relatives. While it’s easy to yell at random strangers on the Internet, there’s a much greater incentive for everyone to be nice when you’re talking to people you’ve known for a long time, who you know you are going to see again at every family event for the next 30 years.

Talk to people beneath your station.

At a university or in an urban hipsterville neighborhood, you may think that everyone around you is on the same page ideologically. But you are almost certainly wrong. Part of the problem is that a lot of the people who differ from you on politics are the people you don’t notice. They’re not the professors or administrators or graduate students, or the performance artists, and baristas, and artisanal vegan sriracha curators. They are receptionists and groundskeepers and especially small business owners who run some of the stores and shops and restaurants you go to.

Some university employees might be on the right, but I’m afraid they probably won’t talk to you about it. Why? Because they are afraid of losing their jobs. They are afraid that if word gets around about their retrograde views, people will show up with mattresses demanding that they be fired. At the very least, their bosses will quietly disapprove and their potential for advancement and new opportunities will shrink. Maybe they would open up if you talked to them nicely, but chances are that they just don’t trust you.

The same goes for people who work at your graphic design firm in Park Slope. People respond to incentives—you’ll discover this is one of the things those of us on the right believe—and your right-leaning coworkers have little incentive to advertise their heresies.

So you might have to go a little outside of your normal sphere and talk to people who are independent of your left-leaning enclave. And this may mean talking to people on the other side of the one real American class divide: the college-educated versus the non-college educated. Talk to blue-collar types—you know, the “working class” that your favorite politicians always say they want to help. Find out what they think. They’re at the hardware store, Walmart, Bass Pro Shop, Outback Steakhouse, or at their church.

I was at the dentist that other day, for example, and the hygienist asked what I do for a living. I replied that I’m a writer, and that I write about politics. After the awkward conversational pause that this usually creates, I ended up having a lively conversation with her and the receptionist about who was the greater leader: Ronald Reagan or Margaret Thatcher. This sort of thing happens all the time if you let it.

Talk to people older than you.

No one ever warns you about the biggest problem you will encounter when discussing politics with your relatives. The problem is that Uncle Ted and Aunt Janine are older than you. They’ve lived longer and had more life experience and more experience out the real world of work and business. They’ve seen a lot of glib, charismatic politicians come and go. And you may not want to think about this, but they still remember you as a little kid, which was not so long ago from their perspective. Someone who has changed your diaper is not that open to the notion that you are going to educate them about the ways of the world.

The other thing about people who are older than you is that a lot of them were once as far left as you are now, and they have drifted to the right over the years as they had to pay bills, raise kids, or run a business. So they will know where you’re coming from, but they will have their own experiences and new ideas they have picked up over the years. Engaging them is a good way to encounter people who have different experiences and a different outlook on life.

Don’t shun conservatives.

Chances are that at your university, or in your left-leaning town, there are open, self-identified conservatives, libertarians, Objectivists, Evangelicals, you name it. They have organizations and hold meetings. You don’t know these people or talk to them because they are terminally uncool. Seek them out. Show up to their meetings. Engage them in conversation. You don’t have to agree with them, but after a while, you might find that they don’t seem so scary or exotic any more. You might not need trigger warnings to prepare you for encountering their views, or a safe space to recover from it.

All of these encounters will work a lot better if you know how to talk to people who don’t share your views. And I don’t mean just coming armed with the right charts and talking points. I’m talking about some much broader rules.

Figure out where they’re coming from.

You may not believe it, but it’s likely that people who disagree with you did not start just by hating Barack Obama or rejecting ObamaCare. There is whole worldview behind their political positions. So spouting some statistics or talking points about current sign-up rates on ObamaCare isn’t really going to answer them.

Don’t assume their views come from ignorance or prejudice or are spoonfed to them by watching “Faux News.” (Besides, people who get their politics from fake news shows shouldn’t throw stones.) In fact, people on the right are tied in to a whole network of ideas and books spanning a diverse range of philosophies—from Ayn Rand to C.S. Lewis, from the Founding Fathers to Thomas Sowell. There are ideas about politics, morality, economics, art, culture, and individual rights. Try familiarizing yourself with some of this intellectual background so you know where Uncle Ted and Aunt Janine are coming from.

That also applies to the politics of the moment. If you want to know what Ted Cruz has to say, for example, don’t just watch a Jon Stewart clip with a few lines from Cruz, chosen and edited to make him look deranged. Find out what Ted Cruz actually had to say.

You can’t convince anyone unless you first know his state of mind, the basis for his position. You probably didn’t learn that at college, even though that’s supposed to be one of the purposes of higher education. So you’re going to have to make an effort to learn it on your own.

Don’t reach for the sick burn.

You also can’t convince anyone just by hitting them over the head with glib one-line putdowns. This is another problem with the Jon Stewart/Twitter era: a whole generation of young people has been raised to think this is what a political discussion looks like.

Don’t try to beat down your opponents with jibes meant to expose them as hopelessly out-of-touch losers. What they are likely to take from this is not that they are wrong but that you think they’re idiots. That closes minds and ends conversations.

And there’s an even faster way to end a conversation.

Don’t police for microaggressions.

At today’s universities, you are taught to identify subtle “microaggressions” and other forms of covert racism and privilege so amazingly well hidden that even the people who say them are curiously unaware of their own bigotry. You have been taught that learning to recognize these makes you enlightened and progressive. Actually, it makes you a closed-minded jerk, the sort of person who shuts down every discussion before it even starts by accusing the other person of some imagined moral crime.

Earlier, I cautioned you not to assume people who disagree with you are stupid or unintellectual. It’s also a good idea not to assume that they are evil or have vicious motives. Start by taking their arguments at face value and on good faith rather than trying to read into them some hidden evil.

All of this advice really can be boiled down to one point.


The real problem with all of these “how to talk to your relatives about ObamaCare” guides is that they are directions for how to talk at other people, not how to go back and forth. They’re about how to give a lecture, not have a conversation.

You know what’s the best way to talk to people about politics? Especially people you know, people you like, and people you are going to see again in the future? Start by listening. Take some time in the middle to listen. And end by listening.

You may not win the argument as quickly, or at all. But you will gain more insight into where the other person’s opinion comes from and what ideas and arguments you have to consider. And who knows, you might learn something from him, and you might end up being the one who is convinced. Worse things have happened.

I won’t say that following this advice is easy, and I won’t promise that everyone on the right will make the same effort. We tend to have a greater familiarity with opposing ideas and more experience discussing them, but that’s because we can’t avoid encountering the left’s ideas from the cultural high ground of Hollywood, universities, and the mainstream media, whether or not we make any effort to broaden our horizons. If you’re on the left, it’s much easier to bury yourself in a cocoon where encountering opposing ideas is something that happens only on special occasions, when you bump into that uncle back home on the Fourth of July weekend. So it takes more of a deliberate effort to counteract.

Maybe if you do this on a regular basis, through the rest of the year, you won’t even feel the need to talk about politics during holidays and celebrations. You will feel comfortable not proselytizing to your relatives, and you can just relax and talk about how great Aunt Janine’s potato salad is and whether Uncle Ted thinks his favorite team could go all the way this year.

That’s how normal people spend their holidays, and it’s a lot more fun.

Follow Robert on Twitter.