We Have to Appeal to Reason, and Maintain Faith in American Democracy

A friend sees this election between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump as a choice between good and evil, and plans to tell those considering voting for Trump that if they do, they are going over to the dark side.

I discourage him from taking that approach. Jimmy Carter in 1980 tried to portray that election as a choice between good and evil, and it did not work. It failed miserably. You don’t persuade people on the fence that one choice is pure evil, the other good. They’ll think you’re too hyper-partisan, and too self-interested yourself to make such a call.

If you could have whispered in the average German’s ear and told them to revolt against Hitler in 1933 because it was a choice between good and evil, and in going along with him they were losing their souls, would it have worked? Not likely.

Preaching to the choir will not work. By listening to people with an open mind, and validating their observations and inclinations, and being open-minded enough to consider changing your own views, you are far more likely to persuade them to change their minds than by condemning them out of hand.

Now that the primaries are almost over, I think we have to appeal to people’s reason. My 19-year-old son, who voted for Sanders, and I were talking this morning and as a freshly minted economics student, he was saying (off the top of his head) he might agree with Trump about putting a 30% tariff on American manufacturers that ship jobs overseas. He witnesses American manufacturers who can open plants abroad and avoid paying minimum wages, avoid pollution standards, avoid health and safety regulations. This may be a way for Trump to win over Sanders’ voters.

It is up to me, using reason and logic, to persuade my son that this proposal will not help America or concede that it is right.

I have had, perhaps naively, a belief and a faith in American democracy, that in a general election the majority of American voters generally make their choices on the basis of reason, and they have been, over the centuries, pretty good judges of reason and character. If we do not have that faith, then aren’t we saying we have no faith in American democracy?

The only election in my lifetime in which I believe the American people fell for the irrational, and a con man, with disastrous consequences, was 1968, Nixon over Humphrey. The country would have been far better off if they had chosen Lyndon Johnson’s Vice President, Hubert Humphrey. That election was painfully close. Yet I understood why they chose Nixon that year. They wanted a change from Johnson’s disastrous Vietnam policies, they were disappointed in and exhausted by the Great Society, and they wanted an end to the cultural wars. Sadly, with Nixon, they got much more of the same, and worse.

In other presidential elections in which I voted for losers, in retrospect I conceded that their leadership was weak or inconsistent, they were out of touch with the country, their party was hopelessly divided, their proposals were incoherent or had no chance of passage. Or the country understandably wanted to give the incumbent president the benefit of the doubt.

I also happen to believe the country would have been far better off in 2001 if Al Gore became president, but I have “let that go,” because Gore would have had a very hard time as president, would have gotten no credit for averting 9/11 or refusing to invade Iraq — indeed, Lieberman might have resigned in protest, only to join a pro-war campaign by McCain against Gore in 2004 that might have won. With Gore’s election, you would have no Obama, no Obamacare and all of his other accomplishments. Probably a successful terrorist attack against America was inevitable at some point.

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