Translating the triggers: A handy primer
Of course, we want to believe that everyone means what they say. We’d love to believe that more educating and presentations of the facts convinces people.
We think that explaining ourselves repeatedly and spending a lot of energy to understand the right-wing and their beliefs (religious or not) will help us get along. We might even be invested in the idea that showing them how much we care about their views — even claiming we “respect” their irrational and bigoted views — will win them over.
And when these things don’t work, we blame ourselves, our lack of listening skills, our lack of empathy, our neglect to spend enough time, or our failure to articulate clearly what we mean.
We treat ourselves as the guilty party in the debates and, though we’d never admit it to ourselves, end up looking down on right-wingers and their dupes in our explanations — as if they’re helpless victims of ignorance, misinformation or illogic, not capable actors who make choices and cling to their prejudices no matter how we argue.
It’s no wonder that the right-wing thinks “liberals” look down on them.
Even in our divided nation, there’s still somewhat a moveable middle that wants to see unwavering initiatives by progressives who stand clearly, powerfully, and convincingly as real believers in what they say. Being wishy-washy — acting uncertain — won’t work with that middle anymore, and certainly it won’t if we’re progressive people working out of some guilt that it’s somehow our fault.
The right-wing knows how to respond so that people will feel that their problem is actually their antagonist’s fault. And people’s backgrounds, childhood upbringings, and unhealed issues feed into how much it triggers them to blame themselves.
So, there are certain strategies that the right-wing (and others) will use — words and phrases that say one thing but are meant to make their liberal enemies fall into guilt, internalizing that liberals are the problem and need to put even more energy into useless arguments.
If we’ve not done it by now, then, it’s time to translate what they’re saying into its actual meaning so that we’ll act positively and compassionately out of creative power and not take responsibility for right-wingers’ failure to respond as we think.
1. ‘You aren’t spending enough time figuring out what we mean and thus should listen forever to our sources’
Baloney. There’s no need to listen more closely to right-wingers (especially members of the extremist anti-LGBTQ+ cult). You should know what they believe by now; they have nothing new to say.
If anyone finds something new and unpredictable, that would be a surprise, but I’ll bet we’ve heard it all before.
Fox “News” and right-wing hate radio and podcasts will only keep you angry and upset. (“Look what they’re doing now!”) They know that, and their goal is to do exactly that to you.
This means that hardly any new mean, self-centered, hypocritical thing they do should surprise us anymore. Hypocrisy is built into their lifestyle to keep it going.
We’ve got to be ready for the hell they’re willing for the rest of us to experience. Their misery loves company — it makes them feel that they’re ultimately right when they’re actually full of doubt about it.
2. ‘You’re not listening to me’ or ‘You don’t understand me’
They hope this will cause you to try harder because you’ll believe the continued disagreement is your fault.
Again: baloney. When right-wingers claim liberals don’t listen or don’t understand them, they’re saying that until you agree with them they’ll not accept that you’re giving them a fair listen or understanding. You must change your opinion to satisfy them.
Understanding does not mean agreement. That’s a liberal fantasy — if we just understood each other, we’d all be singing “Kumbaya.”
The Israelis and Palestinians do understand each other. I, in fact, disagree vehemently with the right-wing on most issues, because I understand them.
So, don’t expect more indulgence to change their argument that you don’t get them. What they’ll only accept is when you change your position to agree fully with their view.
3. ‘You liberals talk down to us’
We are if we think the problem is their ignorance of facts that we know.
But again: baloney. When they say liberals talk down to them, right-wingers mean that liberals keep using facts and careful, peaceful language. Liberals will be accused of talking down to them until liberals agree completely and take on their anger.
And, by the way, no one talks down more to those they disagree with than right-wingers — for example, “We patriots,” “We real Americans.” “We Moral Majority,” “We Christians.”
4. ‘You don’t get the logic in our positions’
Baloney. The current right-wing mindset isn’t based on rationality and logic. It’s about supporting prejudices by any means possible. The more liberals argue as if cool rationality will work, the more they’ll be accused of talking down to them.
Remember, right-wingers are not caught up in their ideology because they’re stupid or just don’t understand something you have to tell them. They’re caught up in something like the comfort of a cult that has teachings that support their prejudices and fears — what linguist George Lakoff calls the conservative frame.
As such, right-wingers will lie, reject anyone who points out that they’re lying, and defend their heroes no matter what they do.
And right-wing religion supports all of this if it makes them winners in their righteous culture wars. Look at their view of the end times, which includes their salivating about the violent, vengeful destruction of their enemies. The key to right-wing religion is experiencing and chasing a high of righteousness that means winning at all costs.
5. ‘We’re being persecuted by…’
Malarkey! Right-wingers love to play you so that you believe they’re the victims of you and your “liberal” culture. No matter how they’re in power, they’ll always talk as if they’re a persecuted minority.
The political party that is anti-LGBTQ+ people and any others that don’t fit its white patriarchal image of America, isn’t dumb or lacking in some understanding of democracy. They have just perfected how to use the minds of their devotees and liberals to get their oligarchic agenda across.
Don’t fall into their guilt-inducing mind control. It’s them, not you.
Realize that when you’re confronting them — especially if you’re supporting one of their targets, such as LGBTQ+ people.
Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at the University of Kansas where he taught for 33 years and was department chair for six years, Robert N. Minor (he/him), M.A., Ph.D is the author of 8 books as well as numerous articles and contributions to edited volumes. He is an historian of religion with specialties in Biblical studies, Asian religions, religion and gender and religion and sexuality. His writing has been published in Whosoever since 2005 and he continues to speak and lead workshops around the country. In 1999 GLAAD awarded him its Leadership Award for Education, in 2012 the University of Kansas named him one of the University’s Men of Merit, in 2015 the American Men’s Studies Association gave him the Lifetime Membership Award, and in 2018 Missouri Jobs with Justice presented him with the Worker’s Rights Board Leadership Award. He resides in Kansas City, Missouri and is founder of The Fairness Project.