Are your Political Opponents People or Caricatures?

Are your Political Opponents People or Caricatures?

Your view of political opponents can empower or destroy your campaign. Democrats learned this lesson the hard way last year. Learn from their mistake!

I just got done reading an Esquire article about the Presidential election last year (how has it been a year already?!). It’s a compilation of interviews from both Republicans and Democrats, campaign staff, commentators and journalists. Check it out if you haven’t read it!

One of the things that came through so clear and tragic to me was the despair they felt after her loss. I’m not talking about, “We lost an important election that I was sure we’d win,” kinda sad. So many felt a visceral fear for their children, country and even lives.

What drove that fear? It was a combination of factors. But chief among them was that they saw their political opponents as something they were not. Instead of real people, they transmogrified them into cartoon villains.

There are two lessons I want to take away from this:

1. If you don’t humanize your political opponents, you’ll underestimate them.

It’s actually part of why they lost, not merely a commentary on their reaction. They couldn’t conceive of a thinking, breathing, feeling person ACTUALLY voting for Trump… So they assumed he would lose. They didn’t understand their political opponents, so they underestimated them.
Democrats became trapped in their self-created echo-chamber and it became their world. They would have recognized a real disconnect with the public at large if they’d broken out of it.
I say all this as somebody who thought Hillary was going to win. I didn’t see a way around it. But, I saw a huge gap between what Democrats assumed and what was actually transpiring.
In the end, that gulf was even bigger than I imagined.

2. Humanizing your political opponents is the only real way to persuade anyone.

The caricature in their mind kept them from understanding what undecided voters cared about. They hated their cartoon villain and his sidekicks in a visceral way. As a result, they defined Election Day as a zero sum game: Win and we’ve reached the ultimate achievement. Lose and we will lose everything.
This meant that it was impossible for them to engage in marginal persuasion. They couldn’t empathize with an undecided voter, let alone discuss why Hillary was better. This self-reinforcing thought spiral kept tightening around them like a python.

Don’t be like them!

This error isn’t found only among Democrats. I’ve seen plenty of Republicans fall victim to this disease! Even among conservative republicans. As a matter of fact, the same mental block was on display among a large swath of Trump voters.

Remember these things:

– There is more to your political opponents than their political ideology. Understanding a handful of political data-points will not tell you WHO they are. You must be willing to explore more than a narrow sliver of an individuals personhood. Otherwise, you will have a very difficult time understanding, let alone persuading them.
– Your blind spot is 360 degrees when your head is in the sand. According to Sun Tzu, “It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.” Believing the caricature that you’ve drawn of your political opponents will completely blind you.

Raz Shafer

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