My mother was a staunch Democrat whose Depression-era vote for Franklin Delano Roosevelt put her at serious odds with her Republican in-laws. My father liked Ike – Eisenhower, that is - who was Republican.
I was the baby of the family, and by the time I was born, I suppose my affable parents had decided election-season fights rarely changed minds, and created a lot of hard feelings. So I don’t remember learning much from them about politics. But now, I wonder if sweeping such differences under the rug is a good idea.
If parents can’t show their children how to argue with civil tongues, who will? And if kids don’t learn that people can hold drastically different views and still like - even love - each other, they’re likely to retreat into partisan silos of the sort that are now tearing at the fabric of our democracy.
Now, I’ll grant you it’s not easy to keep squabbles from escalating into fights, especially when wine is flowing, but here’s one strategy from a friend who for years has invited her grown children to come for Sunday dinners. They’re spread across the political spectrum, so my friend, the matriarch, suggests in advance a topic for the week – thus encouraging a little research, so that facts, not just feelings, can be invited in.
I wish I’d heard more media roundtables like that during the last election. As a reporter trained to ask who, what, when, where, and why, I’ve usually learned the most from following up with: How do you know that? But during the 2016 campaign, I rarely heard reporters or program hosts press voters to give logical reasons for the positions they took – like the time I listened to a woman from my home state of Pennsylvania say she voted for Trump to save her husband’s coal mining job. And she wasn’t asked how she knew the president-elect could actually accomplish that.
Clinton supporters weren’t always challenged to supply evidence for their preference, either. And while it was important to hear voter voices, there were days when those person-on-the-street chats seemed to outnumber well-informed sources who’d done deep, sound investigative reporting.
Maybe, if we teach our children how to gather reliable information and back up their opinions, the next generation of voters will vote with their heads, as well as their hearts.