Fox “News” was in Pittsburgh a few weeks back with a Donald Trump event hosted by Sean Hannity. We were on the inside to witness Hannity orchestrate what was billed as a “town hall” but what was really a pro-Trump rally. Raucous attendees were encouraged to scream and cheer and chants of “Build the Wall” rung out loudly and often. On the outside we talked with supporters (they were really very nice!) to see if we could have a genuine conversation that could begin to puncture the bubble of right-wing media manipulation which made the rise of demagogue Trump not only possible but inevitable.
Watch what happened and let us know what you think:
President Obama’s executive action on guns last week and his “Guns in America” town hall on Thursday on CNN are bound to have the NRA-loving, Fox-Watchers in your life up-in-arms; hopefully not literally.
We all know how it is when they’re all riled-up about Obama coming to take their guns and how any response to gun violence, however measured and reasonable, is perceived as nothing but a slippery slope to tyranny and a ticket to a FEMA concentration camp for God-fearing gun-toters.
But we also know that it’s important that we figure out ways to engage with our friends and loved ones to keep them from slipping away completely into a realm of paranoia and dark delusions.
After all, that’s what the fear-profiteers of Fox and the NRA want: to keep us divided and for right-thinking people to stand down from discussions that will most likely become loud and/or contentious, allowing the loudest-voice-in-the-room effect to dominate the culture.
Here at HearYourselfThink we say: Don’t Retreat, Expose!
What is at the heart of all the bellicose bombast and belligerence from the gun-obsessed? Weakness.
As Eric Hoffer put it:
“The uncompromising attitude is more indicative of an inner uncertainty than of deep conviction. The implacable stand is directed more against the doubt within than the assailant without.”
So to quiet the crazy, we don’t need to get into another polarizing back and forth verbal volley, we need to get people to see how they are being fed false-narratives that are weak on facts but very good at pushing their buttons with appeals to fear and anger.
What’s one simple way to do that? By employing that very power of narrative which has been so effectively used to manipulate them by Fox and the NRA.
We know that when someone is emotionally invested in a position, facts will often bounce right off their ideologically reinforced bubble.
But by avoiding a heated confrontation and focusing on telling a powerful, fact-based narrative, we can infiltrate their bubble-think with an alternate point of view before they can defend against it.
What kind of narratives will help folks see beyond the bubble?
We can give historical context by telling the story of a grassroots organization of gun enthusiasts that at one time worked to preserve America’s environmental heritage for future generations of hunters and sportsmen but has gradually become a tool of the billion dollar gun industry and their big money lobbying arm in Washington.
I found this NRA album from 1970 in a used record store in Pittsburgh. It’s devoted to radio spots promoting conservation of America’s wild heritage read by celebrities like Max Baer of Beverly Hillbillies fame.
Baer down-homily intones:
“You know what preservation means to me? Jars of jelly with the caps sealed in place. Even in the great outdoors, preservation has its place. But what we really need more of is conservation.”
Contrast that with public statements of current celebrity board member, Ted Nugent and we see how far off the rails of its former vision and into the realm of aggression, conspiracy and fear mongering the NRA has gone.
“And in my mind, I’m going why can’t I just shoot this guy in the spine right now; shoot him in the spine, explain the facts of life to him” and “The war is coming to the streets of America and if you are not keeping and bearing and practicing with your arms then you will be helpless and you will be the victim of evil.”
Telling a personal story takes the focus off of a tit-for-tat exchange and creates a space where listening is more likely to happen.
Maybe, like us, you have a story in the family of an NRA member who quit the organization in disgust. Erin’s grandfather, a World War II vet, was a proud member for years but dropped his membership when he saw the NRA had become obsessed with rabidly partisan politics and with selling guns and ammo over all other concerns, even over the objections of law enforcement.
Erin’s mom had this letter-to-the-editor published in our local paper about her dad and the NRA:
The idea isn’t to instantly convert the person but to have the most effective conversations possible that will not devolve into opposing camps shouting past each other and only causing them to further entrench in their ideological position.
At the same time, this doesn’t mean we allow blatant misinformation or insanity to go unchallenged.
We need to be firm in our approach while we find a balance between confronting the unacceptable and methods like the use of narrative power to reach our counterparts in meaningful ways that will change hearts and minds over time.
Remember: their intransigence is actually a sign of the weakness of their position.
As with a cult member, you don’t challenge the entire belief system at once; you instead work on points of weakness which will cause them to question and ultimately abandon their adherence to the cult.
Or at least become less likely to constantly pop off about it with the over-the-top false confidence of extremist ideological indoctrination.
Have you had an interaction (on Facebook, at work, or anywhere else) with someone about guns recently?
Tell us how it went! Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We want to know what’s working to reach people and help figure out the best methods and practices to have powerful and effective conversations that will bend the curve back toward reason, decency and sanity in the American discourse.