President-elect Joe Biden is desperately trying to bring America back together after President Donald Trump spent the past five years trying to drive people apart. Biden maintains that there are far more things that unite us than divides us. But anyone who has tried to "unify" with Republicans knows it can be difficult, if not impossible.
New York Times columnist Wajahat Ali tried it. Writing Thursday he described The Quran, which "asks Muslims to respond to disagreements and arguments 'in a better way' and to 'repel evil with good.'"
Ali tried, he said.
“You might not like me, and I might not like you, but we share the same real estate. So, here’s me reaching out across the aisle. American to American,” Ali told Trump supporters in a video posted after the election.
He was really hoping it worked, thinking about language about "real Americans" and "heartland" from 2016, which is really just another word for white people.
"My standard speech was about how to 'build a multicultural coalition of the willing,'" he recalled. "My message was that diverse communities, including white Trump supporters, could work together to create a future where all of our children would have an equal shot at the American dream. I assured the audiences that I was not their enemy."
He recalled the ages when Irish Catholics and Eastern European Jews were attacked for being "the other" in America. He listened.
"Those in the audience who supported Trump came up to me and assured me they weren’t racist," said Ali. "They often said they’d enjoyed the talk, if not my politics. Still, not one told me they’d wavered in their support for him. Instead, they repeated conspiracy theories and Fox News talking points about 'crooked Hillary.' Others made comments like, 'You’re a good, moderate Muslim. How come others aren’t like you?'”
He recalled a 2017 conversation with a retired Trump voter driving a cab in Ohio. They were cordial to each other, but there was never any understanding over politics or unity in the issues. He even tried to talk to Muslims who voted for Trump because of the tax bill that delivered huge cuts to the wealthy.
"I did my part. What was my reward? Listening to Trump’s base chant, 'Send her back!' in reference to Representative Ilhan Omar, a black Muslim woman, who came to America as a refugee," Ali said. "I saw the Republican Party transform the McCloskeys into victims, even though the wealthy St. Louis couple illegally brandished firearms against peaceful BLM protesters. Their bellicosity was rewarded with a prime time slot at the Republican National Convention where they warned about 'chaos' in the suburbs being invaded by people of color. Their speech would have fit well in 'The Birth of a Nation.'"
He maintained that there's no way to help someone who won't even help themselves. He also encouraged Americans not to waste their time.
"Work also to protect Americans against lies and conspiracy theories churned out by the right-wing media and political ecosystem," Ali wrote. "One step would be to continue pressuring social media giants like Twitter and Facebook to deplatform hatemongers, such as Steve Bannon, and censor disinformation. It’s not enough, but it’s a start."
Psychologist Dr. Alan Blotcky said that there's no way to change someone's perspective while we're shouting at each other. These conversations are going to take a lot longer than a 90-minute car ride from the airport.
One former Trump supporter, a self-described Republican evangelical, left the president after her children spent weeks slowly giving her information and being patient and kind with her. While some may be hopeless as Ali says, Dr. Blotsky said that America can't sustain this level of anger at each other. It will only destroy both sides.
Read Ali's column at the New York Times.