Both sides looking for a safe space


Whether I’m speaking to Trump voters or Clinton voters, their emotions are off the charts. I know Trump voters who think he’s a miracle who saved America from disaster, and I know Clinton voters who think he’s a devil who will bring disaster to our country.

When emotions run so high, we need to be around people who feel as we do. This is what is happening right now with the winners and losers of this election — each side is finding comfort in their ideological bubbles, in that safe space where people only hear what they want to hear. 

If you’re on the side that is depressed about Donald Trump, you’ll find plenty of emotional sustenance in the media, which has been full of reports, analyses and editorials criticizing the president-elect and warning about a Trumpian future. When a major news source like The New York Times agrees with you, it makes you feel better.

What doesn’t make you feel better is to be contradicted, especially when you’re already depressed about the results. In this fragile and angry state, what you need more than anything is a massive dose of ideological confirmation.

Trump lovers are also looking for this confirmation — but in their case, it’s to celebrate. Their emotional sustenance is a mix of schadenfreude and the thrill of having dodged a bullet. 

The point is this: We are human beings with intense emotions. We get worked up about things. In a free country like America, where power can shift so easily from one party to another, this can rattle the nerves if your party loses.

My friends who voted for Clinton got used to seeing their country through a progressive lens. After eight years of Obama, the prospect of going from an Obama America to a Trump America is emotionally unbearable. They know that a president has enormous power, and that no matter how much they will fight and resist, they won’t get their way on many issues dear to their hearts.

It’s the opposite with Trump voters. The ones I’ve spoken to hate pretty much everything about the Obama years. They feel America got soft, weak and lost its way. Their key sentiment is, “Thank God we won’t get another four or eight years of this.” There is a huge sense of relief that the country is now trying a different direction. Trump is their version of “hope and change.”

Whether celebrating or grieving, both sides are looking for a safe space where they can unleash their emotions.

This need to be with like-minded people is not new. It’s human nature. It has accelerated, though, in recent years as we have become more and more polarized. Now, with an election that has shaken people on both sides, we seem to need our cozy human bubbles more than ever.

Of course, we pay a price for the comfort of bubbles: If all we do is seek confirmation of our beliefs, how do we expand and improve?

If Democrats stay in their funk and keep blaming everyone but themselves for their loss, they will fail to make the changes necessary to regain the power they so enjoyed during the Obama years.

If Republicans fall into a state of hubris and triumphalism, they will overreach and potentially turn off millions of centrist voters.

Regardless of ideology, when we dig in, our minds contract. And right now, everyone seems to be digging in. Trump haters can’t imagine anything good coming from his presidency, so many of them have decided to just fight. Fighting is important, but it’s still not a substitute for honest self-reflection and courageous engagement with other views.

Trump lovers also are digging in. They seem too giddy to care about what anyone else thinks. They have all the power now. This feels so good that they don’t need to engage with disagreeable views that will diminish their joy.

The truth is, so much of our lives comes down to doing what feels good inside a safe space.

For those of us running a community paper and devoted to real news — not the fake stuff and not advocacy — our goal is not to provide a safe space, if by safe space one means a place where your feelings and opinions will never be contested. That wouldn’t be journalism.

The challenge of our time is to hold fast to our values, seek what is true, and remain open to different perspectives. That openness to the uncomfortable can only happen if we have the courage to step out of our safe spaces and live a little dangerously.

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