I Voted for Biden, My Parents Voted for Trump—and It’s Fine

Political differences don’t have to end in bitter divisions

In the aftermath of the democratic crisis unleashed last week at the U.S. Capitol, Americans will need to confront the yawning political chasms in society. There should be no illusions that this will be an easy task. But for the sake of the country and our collective sanity, we will need to give these exercises in domestic diplomacy and social harmony a chance. 

But how to begin?

There is no handbook or blueprint for how to bridge seemingly irreparable disagreements between people. From my own experience as a Biden supporter with two Trump-voting parents—who still get along great and have political discussions that don’t always end destructively—I have a few ideas that may or may not be helpful.

First, don’t talk about Trump. This one won’t make my Democratic friends happy. Yet, honestly, invoking the name “Trump” and all that indicates, particularly coming from someone who is not one his supporters, just causes blood pressure spikes and precludes meaningful discussion in the aftermath given the expectation of a major battle ahead. Resist the instinct to make all political discussions centered on the soon-to-be ex-president and life will be easier and political discussions smoother. At this point, there is little left to say about Trump that hasn’t already been said, so don’t if your goal is to tone down discourse and find some positive avenues for learning about how others think.

Second, do talk about substantive policy and ideological differences. Moving beyond Trump does not mean people can’t have any constructive disagreements and arguments about politics. Deflection to another source helps. I find that reading some of the same periodicals and newspapers with my parents helps to spark some healthy discussions. We all try to read the Wall St. Journal every day and share articles or argue about op-eds on topics ranging from the welfare state and public spending to private sector regulation and sources of inequality. Articles about cultural changes and history—big picture pieces that aren’t narrowly partisan—also open the door to some worthwhile conversations about values, principles, and political developments without devolving into bitter splits.  

Third, accept some criticisms of your own side. Again, some hardcore partisans won’t like this but if you want to diffuse political tensions between people one easy way to do so is to acknowledge a few excesses, foibles, and dumb things on your own side and vice versa. For example, my parents and I get a good chuckle out of the more absurd developments in major universities—there’s no shortage of head-scratching events in the colleges these days for liberals and conservatives to bond over. 

Fourth, speak clearly about the ideas or policies that really matter to you. With traditional and social media covering every topic and controversy under the sun, it’s tempting to be an armchair pundit on way too many subjects that you likely don’t know much about which leads to the regurgitation of pre-determined partisan takes that cause fights. Instead, focus on one or two things that really matter to you—for me, poverty and low-income issues and for my parents cultural and social changes—and convey these consistently in conversations with people who think differently. This may lead to sharp disagreements but over time you’ll understand another person’s thinking and what really matters to them in their own words.

None of this may work at a larger societal level and it certainly won’t solve the immediate crisis. But if we can try to implement some measure of interpersonal diplomacy and listening at the individual level, perhaps we can start to build a better democratic politics for the nation.