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It’s no revelation to say that America has likely never seen a more divisive figure than former President Donald Trump. Unlike usual transitions of power, where the outgoing president falls into the background of the public eye under the shadow of the new one, Trump remains as popular as President Joe Biden. He has retained relevancy by continuing to appear in the public eye: the Jan. 6 committee hearings, public endorsements in Republican congressional primaries, the frivolity of his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, the question over who will be the Republican Party’s presidential candidate — all timely, frequently-covered concerns that involve the former president. However, these alone do not explain America’s obsession with him. Many other politicians are equally relevant but less talked about.

Let me be clear: The title of this article is purposefully incendiary. It could just as easily be called “Why you should be friends with a Bernie Sanders voter,” except that, for this paper’s audience, Trump is the more radical figure. So I want to make my intentions clear, dear reader, before you embark upon my train of thought. First, you need to know where I’m coming from. I am Argentinian, not American. I am neither a citizen of this country nor a green card holder. In short, I do not vote in American elections. 

So, what authority do I have to offer up my perspective? 

Argentina has been sociopolitically divided since the ’50s, also at the hand of a populist leader. I grew up not being able to talk about politics with anyone who I might have suspected to vote for the opposing party because of the sheer rage their opinions would cause me. Therefore, I know firsthand what it’s like to surround yourself with people that think exactly like you do, and how hard the shock hits when you burst out of your bubble. 

At this point, I should disclose that if I were American, I would often vote blue, which is why I will use “we” a lot, because this piece is directed at Democrats who struggle to find common ground with people on the other side. Despite being an honorary Democrat, my convictions strongly insist that we’re going about this in the wrong way.

Virtually every serious newspaper and magazine out there that isn’t blatantly pro-Trump regularly publishes Op-Eds that continue to dissect how his presidency impacted America. Just this week, The Atlantic analyzed how Trump threatened the Constitution, The New York Times studied Trump’s behavior during the Jan. 6 hearings and the Washington Post argued that Trump should anger Christians more. Why is he still so relevant?

I spoke with political science professor Mika LaVaque-Manty, who shed some light on this matter.

“Trump has been able to exploit what I think many other populist leaders haven’t been able to do before, which is information technology, especially social media,” LaVaque-Manty said. “The way social media companies work is they help exacerbate the polarization by each of us having our own echo chamber. And not just the people on the right — it’s almost equally disturbing on the left in different forms.”

I know that what I’m asking is hard, and I even know it’s not always possible. Conversations are a two-way street, and there are plenty of extreme Trump supporters out there who don’t want to engage in debate with the other side. Plus, there are certain conversations you simply shouldn’t have to have if the person sitting in front of you holds what you deem to be abhorrent beliefs. 

But we have to have some conversations. Otherwise, how do we expect change to happen? While marching and rallying are helpful, they’re not enough. Like CNN political analyst Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton, says: Change comes via the ballot box. Protests help to get people involved in politics, which is great, but those people would probably have voted blue anyways.

To truly enact change, we need to start having the difficult conversations we seem to not want to have. And not just with our opponent but between ourselves, too. If we don’t stop attacking each other, how will we ever come to an agreement?

“I had a student a couple of years ago during the campaign leading up to the 2020 elections,” LaVaque-Manty said. “That student was a big Elizabeth Warren supporter, but she began to doubt herself because she was so viciously attacked by Bernie Bros.”

We’re talking about supporters of two of the most left-wing Democratic candidates — if they can’t talk with one another, how can we expect to debate with someone so far off as a Trump supporter? 

There’s a broad consensus that democracy is the best form of government we have been able to come up with. As Winston Churchill famously said, “Democracy is the worst kind of government — except for all the others that have been tried.” Well, Trump is probably what Churchill meant by “worst” in that phrase. But we still have to make it work, and we still have to keep having debates with one another because I refuse to believe that the 74 million people that voted for Trump in the 2020 elections were racists, xenophobes and misogynists. We can’t continue to demonize and alienate them because, if so, who’s to say an equally debasing candidate won’t win in 2024? 

“(Trump) is not quite as unprecedented as some people sometimes suggest,” LaVaque-Manty said. “In some ways, he’s tapping into conventional right populism: grievance against elites and a sense of disenfranchisement and marginalization. If you have a rhetoric that offers simple explanations to perfectly legitimate grievances, like rural Americans who have suffered the demographic shifts towards the cities, and say, ‘Here is a story that explains why you have been screwed,’ of course people are going to support you.”

We keep talking about Trump so much because, like all other populist leaders before him, he runs on a platform of social division. And despite the transparency of his use of these well-known techniques, we fell into the trap. We encouraged the division and patted ourselves on the back for it. We’re calling them out, we thought to ourselves. We are opposing a racist, sexist, xenophobic tyrant. We were. But in the process we may have lost ourselves. We exchanged our democratic values for a strict outlook that became more and more binary, to the point where people willingly cut ties with lifelong family and friends because of who they voted for.

“I’ve talked to students who are conservative who feel, understandably, and I think legitimately, like their perspective is silenced,” LaVaque-Manty said. “We should give people the benefit of the doubt.”

These rifts may be motivated by Trump supporters bringing their true colors into the light. But it also may be Democrats refusing to see the appeal of Trump. If your close friend, who you love and respect, is a Trump supporter, I don’t think you should cut them off. I think you should tune out all the outside noise and hear them out. Because maybe that way, they’ll hear you out, too. And America will be better for it.

Azul Blaquier is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at