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Op-Ed: Conversations with Political Opponents Promotes Progress

Small talk with a colleague following a morning meeting at the office led to a topic which has become wildly uncomfortable in the American workplace: politics. My colleague also happens to be a Democrat, and I am a Republican.

When the political discussion started, my inclination was to divert the subject. However, my desire to share my convictions, coupled with my respect for this individual caused me to lean-in to the conversation instead of retreating – in hindsight, I’m glad I did.

Experience has taught me that trying to convince Democrats that the “Republican way” is correct, is usually an act in futility and leads to frustration. It seems I’m not alone. According to a 2018 Pew Research Center article, “53% of Americans say talking about politics with people they disagree with is generally stressful and frustrating...” However, when talking politics this time, I took a different approach. I chose not to let my frustration with my colleagues’ position guide the conversation.

The discussion began with an analysis of the Covington Catholic MAGA hat incident in Washington, D.C., and its aftermath. My colleague’s contention was that, while social media seemed to judge the situation too quickly, the MAGA hat ignites negative emotions in most Democrats. He went on to explain that, as an African-American, he took issue with the “Make America Great Again” slogan. He said that since America’s founding, the country has done great things, but has not treated all citizens with social and racial justice throughout its history. As such, he feels that America should look forward for greatness, not to the past.

I took issue with my colleague’s sweeping negative perception of the Republican Party. Still, I stayed true to my resolve not to get frustrated and responded as respectfully as I could that, perhaps, he was unfairly stereotyping the party as a whole. I shared that, for me, Donald Trump’s presidency represents our country’s support of small businesses, economic growth, stand against illegal immigration, and keeping the country’s unemployment rate low for all racial and socio-economic groups. He responded that, while many of those things are positive, President Trump has made statements concerning minorities and women that are offensive and has appointed people with little to no experience in key positions.

After nearly an hour of conversation, he and I came to a remarkable conclusion – we had just had a very respectful and productive conversation about politics. Thereafter, he decided that he would not prematurely stereotype MAGA-hat wearing Republicans, and I was able to better-understand my colleagues’ sensitivity to the MAGA hats, given the racial prejudice that he endured that helped form his opinions.

In the end, while neither “converted” the other on any specific political issue. What we did was create an environment of mutual respect and understanding which has framed policy-focused discussions that we have on a weekly basis. My colleague even submitted a question which was read on a televised Republican primary debate in Kentucky. 

As such, my call-to-action to the Northern Kentucky and Greater Cincinnati community is simple and straightforward: I recommend that everyone intentionally engage in respectful, yet potentially uncomfortable, conversations with members of an opposing political party.

Far too often, political conversations are cut short because they are uncomfortable. In reality, these conversations are necessary as we continue to combat a fierce, and growing, political divide in our country, which will only increase as the 2020 presidential election draws closer. I challenge you to seek to truly understand the other person’s point of view, and think about why they hold certain beliefs. If we, as a community, can find the courage to lean-in to these uncomfortable discussions, instead of retreating to our own partisan camps, perhaps substantial and measurable bi-partisan progress on actual policy issues is soon to follow.

Written by Nathaniel Sizemore, Fort Thomas