Four years after the election of Donald Trump, and seven months into the coronavirus pandemic, most of us are completely exhausted. We crave a return to some kind of normalcy where the President sets a good example, defends our troops, prevents foreign interference in elections, condemns white nationalism, appoints Cabinet leaders who support and fulfill the mission of their agencies, and doesn’t use the Department of Justice as his personal fixer.
Those of us in Kentucky are even more eager for a senator (and in this case Senate leader) who listens to constituents and understands that the common good cannot be served by a self-aggrandizing commander-in-chief who cannot distinguish fact from conspiracy or fiction. Right now, hundreds of bipartisan bills passed by the U.S. House of Representatives are sitting on Mitch McConnell’s desk, and he is deliberately, gleefully, preventing the Senate from voting on them as the voting public elected them to do. This obstruction undermines democracy and abuses power. He must be held accountable.
What can we do about any of this?
1. Speak up.
Communicating your beliefs involves everything from speaking with friends and neighbors, writing letters to elected officials and news outlets, engaging in peaceful protests, displaying yard signs and bumper stickers. Supporters of Donald Trump are boldly proclaiming their beliefs, but they cannot assume they’re in the majority unless the rest of us are silent. Speak UP!
2. Persuade rather than humiliate or shame.
If our goal is to persuade voters to see various sides of complex issues, we’ll have more success by recognizing their fears and searching for common ground, rather than by ridiculing their point of view. How often do insults and condemnation soften your heart or change your mind? Many Trump voters know they are being conned, and pounding that nail in with a sledgehammer causes them to dig in their heels more, in order to justify their vote. Instead, can we offer a face-saving way to reexamine political policies on their merits?
Try empathizing with issues other voters care about. A lot of Christians, for example, are one-issue voters on abortion. Their goal is to honor the sanctity of life and minimize loss of life—a worthy goal for all of us. They believe that goal is best served by outlawing abortion. Perhaps they do not realize we share that goal, but believe it is better served by prioritizing women’s healthcare, making sure we have accessible and affordable birth control, addressing toxic masculinity, and enforcing laws treating sexual assault as a serious and violent crime caused by no one but the perpetrator. No one is PRO-abortion. Terminating an unwanted or unsustainable pregnancy is a desperate action taken only by people in heartbreaking circumstances; can we find common ground on the necessity to reduce the number of women finding themselves in these circumstances?
Moreover, making any single issue the litmus test for voting gives the candidate carte blanche to do anything and everything else that equally or more egregiously violates the sanctity of human life.
Another approach, of course, is to avoid arguing altogether. Simply state how you’re voting and why. And if the “why” is something the other voter identifies with, so much the better.
3. Amplify voices other voters respect.
Who are the scholars, writers, theologians, or civic leaders most respected by Republican voters? Amplify voices from those voters’ own tribes, people they will listen to. For example, many well-respected conservative columnists have called out Trump and McConnell for undermining democracy and dividing Americans. A few include Jennifer Rubin, Max Boot, and Michael Gerson from the Washington Post. The Lincoln Project, Republican Voters Against Trump, and Veterans for Biden are also raising powerful voices, many of them every-day Americans. More and more self-identified conservatives are leaving the Trump and McConnell camps every day. Since these conservatives influenced like-minded voters in the past, their epiphanies may be influential now.
Christian social-justice advocates like Rev. William Barber II, Sisters Simone Campbell and Joan Chittister, Jesuit Father James Martin, and Sojourners’ founder Rev. Jim Wallis have been particularly effective at keeping the whole of social justice at the forefront of voters’ priorities. These leaders reject a single-issue focus (e.g., guns, gays, abortion) in favor of emphasizing Jesus’s overarching messages of mercy, concern for the poor and marginalized, and justice as the path to peace and unity.
4. Cite credible sources.
Let’s face it: As much as we love the Internet, for most people it operates more like a vandalized library than a repository of peer-reviewed scholarship or fact-checked knowledge. The near universal availability and speed of accessing information has far outpaced most people’s information-literacy skills. It is imperative that we read and patronize impartial, nonpartisan news organizations to make sure we get accurate facts we need to make voting decisions. A few reliable sources are PBS, NPR, and ProPublica. High-quality, ethical journalism matters, and if we don’t support it, it goes away. A free press that holds government accountable is the foundation of democracy.
Social-media algorithms are designed to act as a rapid-distribution echo chamber to expose us to information similar to what we’ve “liked” in the past. If we’re going to use social media, we must invest the time to make wise choices. Heather Cox Richardson, an authoritative historian and author, is an excellent resource; she gives historical context for contemporary politics and can be found on Facebook, YouTube, and her blog, Letters from an American.
Above all, avoid contributing to disinformation.
5. Put your money where your mouth is.
Momentarily setting aside our personal beliefs about Citizens United, PACs, and the need for campaign-finance reform and publicly funded campaigns, political campaigns cost money. Until the law changes, elections are for sale in this country, and the deepest pockets usually prevail. That said, it’s heartening to see some candidates rejecting PAC money and relying on small donors. Government is supposed to work for all of us. Help your favorite candidates buy advertising dollars to reach more voters. Even better, volunteer your time to help candidates you want to elect.
In addition, your favorite social-justice causes need your monetary donations to stay afloat and do their work—including educating politicians about legislation that furthers their missions. Choose organizations whose missions serve the causes closest to your heart, whatever those might be: civil liberties, racial injustice, environmental stewardship, educational quality for all, etc.
6. Offer concrete help to vulnerable voters.
Do your neighbors need help finding information on when, where, and how they can vote? Do they need a ride to a polling place or to the collection dropbox for absentee voting? If Trump supporters are more committed to voting, and if independents and Democrats opt out for any reason, we face an unfathomable four more years with Trump and six with McConnell.
7. Vote like your life depends on it. IT DOES!
Voting is the only way most of us change the course of human history. It is the right and privilege of every American adult to participate in democracy. Speaking for myself, I will crawl through glass if I have to, but I will cast my ballot in the upcoming election—because all of our lives depend on it.
The United States of America currently counts 42% of its population, around 140 million people, as poor or low-income.
Pause to contemplate that number.
Founded by faith leaders, the Poor People’s Campaign has risen to address this challenge and to promote peaceful activism and political lobbying to enact legislation to improve the lives of the lower class. Specifically, they incite our common moral outrage against systemic racism, barriers to wealth like low wages and unfair banking practices, barriers to health like pollution and unaffordable healthcare, unethical/immoral/militarized policing practices, voter suppression, climate-change victimization, and the “false narrative of religious nationalism.” What does that final bit mean? It implies a lot of things, but at its most basic, America cannot claim that it is a nation of moral superiority—yet enact policies that do not lift up the lesser among us.
“We believe that people should not live in or die from
Poverty in the richest nation ever to exist.” ~~PPC
No matter what party you are affiliated with, we can find common ground and work toward solutions:
- Feeling powerless?Here are 7 things you can do during this toxic political climate. - October 2, 2020
- Would you elect—and fund—a leader with no agenda? - August 27, 2020