Friday, February 23, 2018
Opinion

Column: A surprising life lesson from an unlikely source -- a Trump supporter

The Complaints Department opens the instant I unlock my office door. Sometimes the calls start even before Iíve sat down at my desk. The sound of my voicemail greeting is like an invitation for callers to shout and hurl dehumanizing insults.

In late September, an elderly woman Iíll call "Jo G" left me a voicemail message asking if we could discuss Donald Trump. I girded myself for battle and called her back. Things got instantly combative. Why are you always criticizing the president, she asked. Why donít you give him credit for anything? Why wonít you give him a chance?

I was calm but firm: Our editorials at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch criticize Trump because he is uncivil and has yet to demonstrate fitness for office. He doesnít apologize for his mistakes. His ill-considered tweets bring shame upon the presidency.

As for our op-ed pages, I told Jo G that Iíve scoured our syndicated offerings for conservative writers willing to praise Trump. There are none. Conservatives like George Will, Charles Krauthammer and Michael Gerson have nothing nice to say about Trump.

Still, Jo G didnít like all the vitriol. You need to lighten up, she said. So I asked her: Can you name me three things that Trump has done that are worthy of our praise?

Long pause. I pressed her: Come on, now. Youíre the one demanding that we say positive things about Trump. What should we say?

More hesitation. So I poked and jabbed, insisting that she give me an answer. Jo G became flustered. Suddenly, she broke down crying. "I canít think of anything right now. My husband is in the hospital and heís dying! I just want you to say something nice!" She hung up.

I felt like a jerk. I knew I had to call this woman back, but what could I say? I picked up the receiver and hit redial. She picked up.

"Iím really sorry about how that conversation ended," I said. "You clearly have a lot more pressing things on your mind right now than what we publish on our opinion pages. So what if we just set that issue aside and talk about whatís really important in your life right now? Do you want to talk about your husband?"

She did. So we had a good, long talk. This time, I didnít interrupt or pontificate. I just listened. When Jo G was done talking, I told her she could call me anytime she wanted. No arguing. Weíd just talk.

A few days later, a card arrived in the office mail, saying "Thank You" in four different languages along with a wonderful, handwritten note from Jo G updating me about her husbandís condition (getting worse) and reiterating the importance of finding "good things" to say about other people.

Recently on public radio, I heard a TedX talk by Megan Phelps-Roper, formerly of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan. She used to be one of those protesters holding hateful signs like "God Hates Fags" at the funerals of service members.

Having grown up in the Westboro family, Phelps-Roper had never known any other life. She never questioned the church credo that all outsiders were in Satanís embrace.

One day, though, she had a sort of epiphany. Why had she never actually listened to anything that non-Westboro people were saying? The more she thought about it, she said, "I couldnít justify our actions ó especially our cruel practice of protesting funerals and celebrating human tragedy."

She said that Americans today "celebrate tolerance and diversity more than at any other time in memory, and still we grow more and more divided. We want good things ó justice, equality, freedom, dignity, prosperity ó but the path weíve chosen looks so much like the one I walked away from four years ago. Weíve broken the world into us and them, only emerging from our bunkers long enough to lob rhetorical grenades."

We are all so busy girding for battle and going on the attack that weíve stopped listening unless the other person marches in lockstep with our own opinions and values. Weíve learned to be mean as a knee-jerk response to anticipated meanness.

Jo G and Phelps-Roper are right: Americans must figure out a way to ratchet down the anger and become better listeners.

I hadnít heard from Jo G in awhile, so I phoned her recently just to see how things were going. Sadly, her husband had died the day after she mailed that card to me. Think about it. Even while engulfed in grief and crisis, with her world crumbling around her, Jo G had sat down to write me that nice card.

Weíve never met, but Iíve reserved a big place in my heart for her. Iíll gladly make the time to talk ó and listen ó whenever she feels the need.

Tod Robberson is the editorial page editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
© 2017 St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Comments
Editorial: Improve school security plans with gun controls

Editorial: Improve school security plans with gun controls

Gov. Rick Scott and key members of the Florida Legislature offered ambitious proposals Friday that would plug some holes in the stateís safety net, strengthen school security and spend up to a half-billion dollars in response to last weekís massacre ...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Editorial: Six proposals for reasonable gun control

Editorial: Six proposals for reasonable gun control

Enough is enough. The mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School has renewed conversations about gun control in Washington and Tallahassee. Young people are demanding action, and there are cracks in the National Rifle Associationís solid w...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Editorial: The time to act on guns is now

Editorial: The time to act on guns is now

The nationís conversation on guns took an encouraging step this week in three essential places ó South Florida, Tallahassee and Washington ó as survivors, victimsí families and elected leaders searched painfully and sincerely for common ground after ...
Published: 02/22/18

Editorial: FDLE probe of state fair fiasco falls short

It should go without saying that Florida law frowns upon public officials who take freebies from vendors and whose agency throws business to their family. But that wasnít enough to move the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to find that the ex-di...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Editorial: They value guns, not kids

Editorial: They value guns, not kids

They value guns over kidsSix days after 17 were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High by a teen-ager firing an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, the Florida House refused to even debate a bill banning the sale of assault weapons. The vote, 71 to 36, wasn...
Published: 02/21/18

Editorial: Nursing home rule should be stronger

It shouldnít take months or another tragedy for Florida ó which is hot and full of seniors ó to protect its elderly population from heat stroke in the event of an emergency. Thatís why Gov. Rick Scott had the right idea last year in calling for nursi...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Editorial: Listen to Marjory Stoneman Douglas students demanding change

Editorial: Listen to Marjory Stoneman Douglas students demanding change

Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are traveling to the state capital today and declaring "never again.íí A prominent Florida Republican fundraiser vows he wonít raise another nickel until his party approves new gun controls. Across F...
Published: 02/19/18

Editorial: No more doubt about Russian meddling in election

The latest indictment by the Justice Department special counsel, Robert Mueller, refutes President Donald Trumpís claims that Russian interference in the 2016 election was a Democratic hoax. The indictment details the lengths Russian conspirators too...
Published: 02/19/18

Another voice: Tips should belong to workers, not their bosses

The Trump administration is under fire for proposing a Labor Department regulation that could result in hotel and restaurant employers dipping into the tips customers leave for their employees, depriving the nationís 14 million hard-working restauran...
Published: 02/18/18
Updated: 02/20/18
Editorial: Trumpís rising deficits and misplaced priorities

Editorial: Trumpís rising deficits and misplaced priorities

Itís not popular in Washington or virtually anywhere else these days to express concern about the rising federal deficit. Congressional Republicans who used to be deficit hawks first voted to cut taxes by $1.5 trillion over the next decade, then rais...
Published: 02/17/18