This video from Chris Hayes’s MSNBC Town Hall with Bernie Sanders in Kenosha, Wisconsin, has been making the rounds under headlines like “Watch Bernie Sanders convince a Trump voter she voted for the wrong person” or “Bernie Sanders persuades Trump voter that she’s actually a liberal.”
The clip begins just after a community organizer named Reema Ahmad makes a statement about the fear felt in communities of color during Donald Trump’s candidacy and the ability of Trump voters to overlook, or even embrace, that threat:
Bernie Sanders: “She is saying that Trump won a whole lot of votes based on bigotry, trying to turn one group of people against the other. What do you guys think?”
Matt Augustine (Trump voter): “No. He started a dialogue. There’s not one person in this room, Democrat or Republican or Independent, that would allow anything to happen like that [banning Muslims and deporting immigrants]. Even our Congress. That would not be acceptable to anybody.” . . .
Gail Sparks (Trump voter): “You know to some extent I’m hoping it [does happen].
Gail is the Trump voter Bernie supposedly converts to liberalism at the end of the video by getting her to say, Yes, I agree it would be nice for billionaires to “pay their fair share of taxes so we can adequately fund Medicaid and make public colleges and universities tuition-free.”
I wouldn’t be so quick to pat ourselves on the back for that one.
I’ve seen the look on Gail’s face before, the one she has while Bernie is talking. The tense jaw, empty eyes, and folded arms. It’s not the look one of someone who is seeing the light. And it’s certainly not the face of a convert.
It’s the look my mother used to give me when I’d ask her to finally stand up to my father and stop letting him abuse us. When I’d ask her, “Aren’t you sick of the abuse?” she’d show the same “outrage” Gail does at the end of the video. And every time I’d think, maybe she was finally seeing the light. And every time she’d fall right back into the same old pattern with my father and the rest of my family.
That’s because Gail, like my mother, like all of the Trump voters on this panel, is an enabler.
You can’t reason with an enabler
Enablers are people who make excuses for abusers. They’re the moms who say, “Honey, when daddy says he’s going to punch mommy’s face in, he’s not serious. He’s just venting.” Or the dads who say, “When mommy says you’re a stupid/worthless/disgusting/ugly/fat mistake, she doesn’t actually mean it. You have to stop being so sensitive.”
They’re the Trump voters who stare into the face of Muslims like Reema and say things like, “Sweetheart, he wasn’t serious when he said he was going to round up your family. When he said your people are ruining America, those were just words.”
Anyone who has grown up in an abusive family knows it’s absolutely useless to try to reason with these people. Enablers are not “misinformed.” They don’t suddenly realize their mistake by hearing some magic words from a caring therapist like the one Bernie so expertly plays in this town hall. For chrissake, enablers are the people who stare into the face of a weeping, abused child and say, “Stop crying and it won’t hurt so bad.”
Enablers want their reality. They choose it. Because the alternative — to admit that they are acting like monsters in order to preserve some myth of family unity or to save face publicly — is so heinous, they will never, ever confront it.
Progressives cling to this notion that if only we say the right words, present the right facts, make the correct emotional appeal, or let enough time go by, the angry and confused Trump enablers will realize their mistakes. We lie to ourselves that some savior, someone like Bernie, can convert these people by reasoning with them.
No. Most Trump voters aren’t just misinformed. They weren’t simply hoodwinked by fake news. And Democrats didn’t create them by not listening to their economic needs. Trump enablers want their reality. And they can’t be reasoned with any more than their abuser-in-chief can.
Enablers don’t actually want to throw off their abusers
I don’t think most Trump voters actually want to throw off the billionaires. Their chosen role is to enable America’s abusers (billionaires) in order to keep the American family looking “great” (again). Sure, billionaires cheat, swindle, and lie. But what about all of their good qualities? They’re so refreshing (telling it like it is!), they give us jobs (sometimes!), they make Americans look cool and successful (we think!), and above all they give us the awesome private jet, hookers-and-cocaine fantasies we need to put up with our miserable, boring lives!
Being an enabler is not rational behavior. That’s why none of us, not even Bernie, can truly reason Trump voters out of their distorted reality. They can’t admit they are victims like we can. They think they need to be “strong” for the good of the American family.
The only way forward is for Democrats to stop pandering to these enablers and start publicly reaching out to the victims — in particular the young black and brown folks who got trampled on in this election. Democrats need to start putting them on stage in large numbers for a change. I mean, how many more of these white Trump voter panels do we really need?
When we give victims of political abuse the microphone — not just to ask questions but to actually talk about their solutions — that’s when minds are blown and hearts are won.
Too many Democratic leaders fear turning over the mic to any but a select few “nonthreatening” black and brown folks. That nonsense needs to stop. It didn’t help us win this election and it sure won’t help us win in the future.
Democrats need to start asking the victimized what it is they want, what their vision is for the future. They are the only people we should be talking to right now. If we want to be the healers, that’s where the healing starts: by listening to the victims, not the enablers.
SO so SOOOOOO true…