Schwalb: The limits of post-election dialogue

Jess Schwalb, Opinion Editor

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Just days after the election of Donald Trump, think pieces galore called for liberals to reach out to those they have disrespected or ignored. The next four years would require, many wrote, a renewal of empathy for those snubbed by East Coast Liberal Elites: the blue-collar, middle American white people who swayed the election in Trump’s favor. Columnists champion dialogue as a solution to the election’s divisiveness, and my dinner table over Winter Break featured many conversations about how liberals must do better to listen and understand where Trump supporters are coming from.

The hypocrisy is ripe. Dialogue does not work when it is not reciprocal. The white working class should highlight their own call for conversation with the East Coast Liberal Elites –– I have not seen such think pieces.

And yet, dialogue is often romanticized. While the idea of conversation may soothe white liberal fears about the next four years, it obscures the limits of talking. In the context of Northwestern’s campus, I have argued that dialogue is hardly enough to create meaningful change and that conversations to create action are far more productive. When the repercussions are much larger, this principle holds. Dialogue between fragmented and polarized parts of our country will not shield marginalized communities from the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant, anti-abortion and anti-civil rights policy agenda.

More hypocrisy here: Conservative news outlets had a field day describing the “coddled” and “crybaby” liberals who were delegitimizing election results by “rioting” in the post-election days. But in truth, Trump supporters, not just liberal elites, must put forth extra empathy during the next four years. Instead of demonizing forms of protest which are less convenient or palatable, these folks would do well to listen to their own advice and reach out of their own bubble. It is far easier to criticize the manner in which something is said than to engage with its substance.

Dialogue is not sufficient. Simply talking with those who voted differently does nothing to combat the post-election reality of violence and fear, especially considering The Southern Poverty Law Center compiled reports of 867 hate crimes that occurred in the 10 days following the election. To champion dialogue exclusively diffuses blame and responsibility for the intolerance highlighted during this election cycle. It simplistically implies that conversations over coffee can alleviate entrenched prejudices about the populations Trump has excluded from the America he is to make great again.

Not all can walk away from dialogue and return to a status quo where they are guaranteed safety, particularly if they are Muslim or a woman or immigrant. Not all choose discussion as their primary means of social change and resistance. Talking may work for my white, wealthy family (and peers), which will probably not face any repercussions from criticizing Trump’s administration.

I do not seek to dismiss the value of dialogue outright, because words certainly have power. The ability to listen to a viewpoint distinct from our own is a skill worth cultivating during our four years at NU, despite the fact that many Trump supporters have depicted college campuses as politically-correct bubbles. We certainly need more spaces at NU to engage with the rhetoric espoused by Trump supporters, if only to humanize individuals who share these beliefs. We do not need, however, to sanctify the impact of dialogue beyond what is reasonable nor should we place sole responsibility on one group to initiate it.

Jessica Schwalb is a Weinberg sophomore. She can be contacted at jessicaschwalb2019@u.northwestern.edu. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.

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