By Dr. Julie Pham, CuriosityBased
I felt so relieved as I watched the inauguration of President Joe Biden a few weeks ago. There were numerous reasons to finally exhale, related to ensuring democracy in our country. But one of my own reasons for this relief though is purely selfish: no more talking about Trump at mealtime.
At least in my circles of left-leaning friends and acquaintances, bashing Trump has become a ritual in casual conversation for the last few years. Unlike other small-talk staples, though, I found that this one causes many otherwise-insightful conversations to devolve down to people trying to outdo each other’s denunciations of the latest outrageous Trump tweet. Even when COVID-19 came, we just shifted to commiserating over Trump’s lack of leadership around fighting the pandemic.
I regret how many hours have wasted over the last four years by talking about Trump in our precious personal time with one another. Trump-talk took time from sharing how we view other political matters, what challenges we’re going through, and who we are as individuals.
So now that Donald Trump is no longer President and has had his Twitter privileges taken away and we no longer have to think about him all the time, we can…
Probe other political matters. Many people conflate talking about Trump with talking about “politics.” Trump had a lot of power, but we gave him way more than he actually by making him the center of political life. He distracted us from discussing the underlying social and economic issues that existed long before he became President and still exist today. A few years ago, I started to request “no talking about Trump” at social gatherings I hosted. At one dinner, the guests ended up talking about their different experiences advocating for environmental justice for two hours, without using the T-word once. I learned so much about climate change, more than I ever would have had the dinner conversation been simply a list of complaints about Trump’s views on the issue.
Hear others’ personal challenges. Among the great casualties of the Trump presidency are divisions among family members and friends who voted differently. I heard many of my progressive friends brag about how they stopped talking to their loved ones who voted for Trump. Trying to convince Trump voters of how wrong they were left no space for discussion. When I talked to those in my life who supported Trump about their reasons why, I heard, “I’ve been working so hard to save and I feel like I’m barely making it as a small business owner” or, in the case of many in the Vietnamese refugee community I belong to, “I fled a communist country and I’m afraid our country is becoming socialist.” By focusing on Trump, we didn’t leave any time to try to understand where other people were coming from.
Share our own stories. Talking about Trump is an effective way to avoid talking about ourselves, which can feel hard especially among strangers. The first time I proposed the “no Trump talk” rule was at a week-long retreat for a dozen women, most of whom didn’t know each other. After two nights of competing to share the most outrageous Trump news, I made a request that we not talk about Trump, so that we could instead learn about each other. At first there was silence. Then some nods. They agreed. And over the course of the week we ended up laughing, crying, and feeling inspired by the personal stories we shared. We didn’t give Trump any more space at our dinner table or in our retreat.
It wasn’t always easy for me to make the “no Trump talk” request, especially when I was the guest, not the host. There were many events where I silently sat and resented the lost opportunity to connect. I can’t say that Trump alone took that away from me; those around me readily gave their time—our time—to him. I was complicit. Although I am relieved we don’t have Trump or his Twitter account to use as default small talk anymore, I do worry people will rush to find another common enemy to bond over.
President Biden has talked about the need to heal our nation. Now with our reclaimed time, I hope that this healing includes rediscovering how to fill our personal conversations with news, opinions, and stories from our own lives.
Julie Pham, PhD, heads CuriosityBased, a consulting practice focused on fostering curiosity in the workplace, and co-owns Northwest Vietnamese News, a Seattle-based Vietnamese-language newspaper, with her family.