"A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still." - Benjamin Franklin
Tribalism. That, says the former op-ed page editor of The New York Times, is what holds sway in American politics these days. And it's hard for members of one tribe (left or right) to change the minds of those on the other side.
Author Trish Hall says that whether we are conservatives or liberals, we "dislike having our positions challenged." She adds, "It makes us uncomfortable, and we perceive it as a threat."
In her book "Writing to Persuade," Hall suggests that our opinions - political, religious and other - help cement our personal identity and make us feel emotionally "safe."
In a chapter titled "Why Facts Matter, Even When They Don't," she asserts, "If you try to make me look at information about my favorite candidate (or sitting political figure) and that seems to contradict previous stances, I'll just let the logical part of my brain go dead and emotions will take over."
She cites two examples from the 2016 presidential runs of Hillary Clinton, Democrat, and Donald J. Trump, Republican:
"(If) you want me to know that Hillary Clinton took millions in campaign donations from the finance industry while promising to regulate Wall Street ... I'll just continue to support her and ignore your facts."
Or this: "(If) you want me to know that Donald Trump hired many (illegal) immigrants in his own companies I'll just figure he had a good reason to do what he did."
Hall suggests that family groups and work and church associations often influence our political leanings. She calls this "confirmation bias." We believe certain things and tend to associate with peers who feel the same as we do.
Contrariwise, she says, people tend to avoid reading or listening to commentary in the media that clashes with their established views.
It's become almost a clich to say that, "Oh, it's so terrible how the country is so divided - or polarized - today." Well, apparently, if we can believe Hall's analysis, that is something we participate in creating.
Since her book is about persuasive writing, Hall makes an especially trenchant point when she says that the best way to jar the certitudes of someone of an opposing viewpoint is to appeal to that person's own values.
For instance, a Democratic voter arguing against the policies of Trump might ask a Republican friend, "Do you put great stock in telling the truth? Do you believe we need to reduce our budget deficit?" These are Republican values, yet Trump has violated both by running up his "lie count" and by ballooning, rather than cutting back, the deficit.
A pro-life voter might challenge a Democratic co-worker's "pro-choice" position on abortion by asking, "Aren't Democrats supposed to look out for the marginalized and the innocent members of society? Who is more vulnerable and helpless than an infant inside a mother's womb?"
Hall's book does not seem to make allowance for centrists, otherwise known as pragmatists. Centrists can move to the left or to the right on different issues, depending on information received and weighed. They are more apt than liberals or conservatives to change their mind based on new and persuasive data.
They understand that one right, such as a woman's "right to privacy," may clash with another right - an unborn human being's "right to life." Typically they are very uncomfortable labeling themselves either "liberal" or "conservative," since their views in one domain may be toward the left, while in another domain they may lean right. Above all, they like facts - hard, well-established facts. And logical thinking.
John Patrick Grace is a book editor and publisher in Huntington.