If you feel like you’ve been overdosing on news and conversations related to politics and Trump, much to the exclusion of other meaningful subjects, try the “No Trump Rule” evoked by essayist Joseph Epstein in the Wall Street Journal:
Every Friday I meet for lunch with three or four friends from high school days. I instituted at these lunches what I called the No Trump Rule: ‘No’ not in the sense of being against Trump’s politics but against talking about him at all, for doing so seems to get everyone worked up unduly. The rule, I have to report, has been broken more than the Ten Commandments. No one, apparently, can stop talking about our president. The Trump talk quickly uses up most of the oxygen in any room where it arises, and can bring an argument to the shouting stage more quickly than a divorce settlement.
Look, I understand that everybody has been amped up to eleven since Trump emerged as the Republican Party’s nominee in May 2016, but some of us don’t want to talk about him—or politics.
I, for one, don’t think it’s a good idea for so much of our news, talk shows, and social media feeds to be devoted to a single subject for this long. Yes, Trump is a polarizing figure, and our country is so divided. But we don’t need to let him, and the anger he provokes, besiege every moment of our lives.
Awareness and activism are vital to civic duty, but hatred isn’t meaningful activism
I’m happy to listen to everybody’s opinions, but I’m fatigued by the extent to which politics dominates present-day exchanges. Ordinary conversations about routine topics tend to degenerate quickly with any evocation of the current state of affairs. Even banter about the weather (“the last refuge of the unimaginative” per Oscar Wilde) can quickly spiral into climate change, the environment, fossil fuels, oil, Russia, Putin, and so on.
More than anything else, I can’t bear the way most people currently think about politics—in particular, how ill-informed they tend to be. I am dismayed at people’s shallow understanding of the significant issues of the day—immigration, trade, nationalism, economic inequality, healthcare, etc. The stakes are high, and, given the depth of people’s political convictions, their anger is understandable. Nevertheless, the propensity to lash out against those with different views and dehumanize them is deplorable.
I will talk about politics with people who aren’t as much interested in winning an argument and convincing opposing people of the wrongness of their positions as they are about understanding more fully why others hold a particular conviction.
Our values, not politicians, should mold the policies and positions we support
Sarah Stewart Holland and Beth Silvers’ commendable I Think You’re Wrong (But I’m Listening): A Guide to Grace-Filled Political Conversations (2019) proposes a framework for having productive political conversations with those you love and yet disagree with.
Somewhere along the way we stopped disagreeing with each other and started hating each other. We are enemies, and our side is engaged in an existential battle for the very soul of the country. We are no longer working toward common goals. We are no longer building something together. Our sole objective is tearing the other side down. Nothing short of total victory is acceptable.
The reality is that we never stopped talking politics altogether—we stopped talking politics with people who disagree with us. We changed “you shouldn’t talk about politics” to “you should talk only to people who reinforce your worldview.” Instead of giving ourselves the opportunity to be molded and informed and tested by others’ opinions, we allowed our opinions and our hearts to harden.
The authors, hosts of a popular discussion-podcast, invite readers “to hear each other’s thoughts, to test our own beliefs against each other’s philosophies, and to better appreciate our own core beliefs by having to articulate and challenge those beliefs.” They emphasize an earnest curiosity for the counterargument and the open-mindedness to leave room for nuance:
Engaging with other people is never easy, but it always will be worth it. Engaging with other people about politics is no different. Let yourself take that chance. Let yourself rise to the challenge. Your ability to stretch and grow will surprise you, and so will the people around you. Once people see you as a person willing to have thoughtful, curious, calm discussions, you will have all kinds of interesting conversations that seemed impossible a year ago.
Postscript: Things are far more awkward in the workplace. Politics has always been a sensitive topic—but in today’s contentious climate, such conversations can rapidly escalate into arguments.