How to Talk to Your Centrist Parents
By Ryan Dennis
I ring home once a week. The structure of these calls follows a predictable pattern: starting with family gossip, then whatever they did that week, then sports, then weather, then politics.
My parents are Democrats in an upstate county that registers two-to-one Republican. Complaining about Trump on the phone is the type of release they can’t get anywhere else.
Ever since 2016, Facebook has served as a theatre openly showing brothers, colleagues and neighbors working out their political differences in threads that run twenty comments long. Luckily, my father isn’t on Facebook, and my mother only uses it to post pictures of her chickens.
And, it’s nice being on the same page…mostly. My parents are moderates in a place where being a moderate Democrat is the equivalent of burning the flag and tattooing The Communist Manifesto across your body.
I’m left of my parents. We spar, but we keep it good natured. When I call they often have “Meet the Press” or “This Week with George Stephanopolis” muted on the TV, and I think these shows sometimes provide their talking points.
I have gotten older, but not outgrown my naive tendency to rant. We usually end up saying the same thing, which has made it easy to transcribe from memory. I have provided the script here, in case you, too, are trying to pull your parents just a little more to the left:
Parents: We have to beat Trump. We need to stick with the safe option.
Me: If you always stuck to the safe option I wouldn’t be here now.
Nothing is safe in a post-truth society. If Democrats listen to Pelosi and stay in the middle they’ll end up losing the most motivated part of their base (Hillary was the “prudent” option, after all).
In fact, you can make the argument that Bernie might be the most cautious choice, after an Emerson Poll found that 20% of Bernie supporters vowed to not vote for another democrat in the general election. And let’s face it: this election is a referendum on Trump, and no one is undecided on him. It’s all about who comes out to vote.
Parents: I think Elizabeth Warren has good ideas, but she just isn’t likeable.
Me: Just because the guy at the grocery store looks like Sylvester Stallone doesn’t mean he can box. Don’t get Warren confused with Hillary.
The first time Warren appeared on the television set as running for President, some people probably got flashbacks from the Clinton letdown of 2016. Warren’s red blazers just felt a little too close to Clinton’s pantsuits. You could hear everyone thinking the same thing: Well, here we go again.
But, watch her for a few minutes and you’ll realize that Warren isn’t Clinton. Hillary could slam shots and talk tough, but she was never able to convince voters that she wasn’t a part of the one percent. That, and while she had plans, they never seemed to add up to a clear message. Warren, on the other hand, has lots of plans too, and a very definite way of defining herself: this girl is obsessed with taking down the one percent. In fact, just try and get her to stop talking about it. We all saw her rub her hands together hungrily when Delany mentioned a wealth tax.
Parents: I like Bernie, but I just think that his ideas are too extreme.
Me: Your sideburns in your wedding photo are extreme.
While conservative strategists work hard to brand Bernie as a dangerous socialist, his policies are rather conventional. Universal Healthcare? That’s the way the rest of the free world does it. Plus, many of his crazy socialist notions (opposing the Iraq War and Defense of Marriage Act, for example) turned pretty mainstream fast.
Plus, how can you attempt to be extreme when the whole country is polarized anyway? A report by Lee Drutman and the Democracy Fund Voter Study Group found that only 13% of Americans actually reside in the mythical “middle,” but instead are pulled across the spectrum on different issues, and sit more comfortably at one of either ends.
Parents: Won’t Warren be an easy target for Trump?
Me: Trump will shoot from the hip and spray bullets everywhere. Warren will take one shot and hit him between the eyes.
Think of everything that Trump isn’t and shape it into a person. Viola: You just made Elizabeth Warren. Warren has taken every criticism people have thrown at her and proved them wrong: She’s Hillary 2.0 (see above). She can’t connect with people (she’s great on the stump). She has a very liberal record (yeah, for a Republican—which she used to be). Trump vows to bring back his Pocahontas slur that he used to love throwing at her, citing her claim to Cherokee ancestry that didn’t go so well. He thinks that old trick will work.
Instead, the Native American DNA debacle shows how capable Warren is in running a campaign. It looked like she was dead in the water before it all really started. Instead, she included the real story of Pocahontas on her website, and used this situation as another opportunity to critique Trump’s relentless bigotry. She’s moved past it, and continues to execute a prepared, researched approach to 2020. She’s the candidate with a plan, and she’ll have the playbook down by the time she gets to Trump.
…And there you have it! Deliver your lines with some gusto, if you can. Maybe slam the table or threaten to hang up once, just to drive it home. Throw in a line about “your generation ruining my generation” for a bit of flair. Something about voting for Bernie making up for the lack of hugs you got as a child. The role has room for a bit of interpretation, really.
Play it your way, because it matters, and to get through those tense conversations so you and your parents can get back to discussing the weather.