After Tomi Lahren’s interview on the Daily Show with Trevor Noah posted online, social media was abuzz with mostly white liberals, especially from the millennial generation, crowing with glee that Noah had masterfully dismantled Lahren’s positions on everything from the Black Lives Matter movement to Donald Trump, and before an audience of millions to boot. “Trevor Noah Expertly Skewers Conservative Tomi Lahren,” blared a headline from the news dept. here at the Huffington Post. “Watch Trevor Noah Drag Tomi Lahren To Hell And Back,” blared Affinity magazine.
Before we go any further, consider that in April 2016, millennials surpassed baby boomers as the largest voting-eligible generation in the country. If we turn out, we are a powerful political force. But as the Washington Post reported, Hillary Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook touted a lack of millennial enthusiasm for Clinton as a major reason for her loss.
He noted, for example, that younger voters, perhaps assuming that Clinton was going to win, migrated to third-party candidates in the final days of the race. Where the campaign needed to win upward of 60 percent of young voters, it was able to garner something “in the high 50s at the end of the day,” Mook said. “That’s why we lost.”
A major reason for that overconfidence in a Clinton victory, apart from most pollsters and pundits also believing it would occur, is a little harder to see but no less important, and the reaction among young folks to the Noah/Lahren interview proves it.
We have situated ourselves, on social media and in terms of where we get our news (sometimes one and the same source) among people and outlets with like-minded views, and we project those views onto everyone else. Blindness to differing viewpoints is the single biggest obstacle preventing us from becoming a more powerful political voice, and we must overcome it.
For example, when we see Noah’s interview with Lahren, we’re quick to forget that at last count, Lahren had 3.5 million Facebook followers and over 300,000 Twitter followers. Her recent video on the Jill Stein-led recounts in the midwest was viewed 2.1 million times and shared by almost 31,000 people. There are countless folks in this country who agree with Lahren and believe she speaks for them, just like there are countless people who cheer for Trevor Noah and believe he speaks for them, too. Especially for white millennials who don’t experience daily confrontations with racism like people of color do, we’ve got to come to grips with the fact that Lahren speaks to people for whom Donald Trump’s racism, xenophobia, and bigotry were not ultimate disqualifiers.
But when we liberal millennials develop a world view in an echo chamber, where the only voices we hear are those that conform with our own opinions, it is too easy to feel vindicated by Noah’s performance and forget about the enormous political potential and responsibility that we have as the nation’s largest voting-eligible generation. That temporary high might be why we disregarded our responsibility to turn out and vote for Clinton. We simply got too comfortable.
So rather than acknowledging Lahren is a mouthpiece for the millions of voters who helped to elect Donald Trump, we pretend she only deserves attention when she gets lambasted in an interview, and consequently miss the boat and do the progressive cause an enormous disservice.
Thus, the lesson white liberals, and especially millennials, ought to take from this is that if we want to see the progressive change in this country we constantly preach about on Facebook, we are going to have to do more than just cheer for late night comics to conduct blistering interviews. Three things are more important.
First, Lahren isn’t some alien TV show host who only comes down to early to get drilled by our favorite liberal TV show host. What we may find reprehensible about her various diatribes (which are too numerous to summarize here) a good many folks in this country agree with. Moreover, she speaks to those people whether we think Noah waxed her in that interview or not.
Second, exclusively surrounding ourselves with news sources like the Daily Show prevents us from engaging with those people in the first place. This isn’t to say we shouldn’t watch the Daily Show, but rather that using the Daily Show as a thermometer for the political climate in this country is really a way of putting on ideological blinders we would be better off without.
Third, instead of only dismissing Lahren, let’s try and understand (however painful a thought experiment it might be) why people are drawn to her, so we can have a meaningful and productive dialogue with them, instead of writing them off as too crazy or radical to engage. I imagine most white liberals spent the most recent Thanksgiving holiday either too afraid to talk to their relatives or friends who voted for Trump, or in denial that they know anyone who voted for Trump. That’s another microcosmic example of a generation that only feels politically active behind a computer screen, happy to type salacious posts about those we disagree with but unwilling to have a civil discussion with them over the pumpkin pie and mashed yams.
But we have to do exactly the opposite. Tip O’Neil, the former Democrat Speaker of the House during the 1980s, who was famous for working across the aisle with Ronald Reagan and the Republicans famously quipped that “all politics is local.”
If you are a white liberal millennial, like me, and unhappy with the current state of politics, an important corollary to that rule is that all political change is local. So re-friend those Trump supporters on Facebook (and if you’re a Trump supporter, re-friend those Clinton supporters). Watch those Tomi Lahren videos. Expose yourself repeatedly to news from sources outside your comfort zone, even if it feels like a cold shower.
The first step to productively refuting those you do not agree with with is acknowledging that they exist, and that someone who disagrees with you isn’t stupid or less passionate than you are. The moment that thread is lost, politics becomes a shouting match, and not a persuasive one. It is why Trevor Noah’s dialogue with Lahren was so brilliant in the first place. Despite what must have been revolting frustration, he calmly plowed through well-reasoned points that effectively persuaded a neutral viewer that he was right, and she was wrong.
So instead of passing around the video of Noah’s interview like it’s the Burn Book from Mean Girls, let’s dig a little deeper into what makes Lahren and her supporters tick, and figure out how we—like Noah—can find the Tomi Lahren’s in our lives instead of ignore them, and talk with them, instead of shout over them.