Updated: Aug 27, 2020
In the coming weeks, the House Judiciary Committee will draft articles of impeachment. A full House vote is expected sometime before the end of the year. We play a critical role in this process.
The path to impeach and remove a president goes through the people. Contacting your members of Congress regarding impeachment is important. But what if you also got your friends, family, neighbors, and colleagues to call too? Coalition-building is a part of the political process. You can help build public support for impeachment by speaking with your fellow constituents.
“In this age, in this country, public sentiment is everything. With it, nothing can fail; against it, nothing can succeed.” ~ Abraham Lincoln
According to a recent Navigator Research poll, 52% of Americans support impeachment and only 23% fully exonerate the president. In between is a sizable group of people who aren’t convinced either way. This group represents people who can potentially be convinced that Trump’s actions aren’t just bad; they’re bad enough to merit impeachment.
How can we approach the conversation in a way that could influence them? It’s time to brush up on your persuasive communication skills. Here are ten tips to help you have these conversations:
Don’t just dive in. Talk about other things first, maybe discuss something that you know you already share an interest in (sports, the holidays, travel, etc.). Establish a connection and then work your way up to it.
Know the facts.
Know your facts and keep it simple. Leave the Latin and complex language at home. Be able to provide sources. Do not traffic in propaganda.
Here are the key facts regarding impeachment:
Trump pressured a foreign country to launch phony investigations to help him smear a political rival and rig the 2020 elections. This is bribery and abuse of power.
He illegally withheld $391 million in military aid for Ukraine.
He threatened to cancel the entire aid package unless Ukraine publicly announced an investigation into the Bidens and the 2016 elections.
Ukraine is fighting a 5-year-long war against Russia and desperately needed the aid.
Know your audience.
Do your homework. Don’t go into the conversation unprepared, expecting to wing it and be successful. What is important to them? What do they value? How much do they understand and/or pay attention to politics? What does patriotism mean to them?
In the TED Talk “How to have better political conversations,” Robb Willer explains that typically when we are trying to persuade others, we tend to just repeat the reasons why we believe what we believe, instead of arguing reasons that our target audience will find compelling. Don’t do this. Think of reasons that will matter to them.
Meet people where they are.
Find out where they are on impeachment. Did they watch the hearings? Where did they read/watch analysis of the hearings? What do they know about the process of impeachment? How do they generally feel about Trump? How do they feel about where we are as a country. Start from there.
People need to feel heard. If they feel you are genuinely listening to them, they will be more receptive to listening to you. It’s that simple.
Use the power of storytelling.
Storytelling is an incredibly effective way to influence others. Humans are wired to love a good story. Brad Fitch of the Congressional Management Foundation recommends storytelling when speaking with elected officials, but it also works when trying to influence fellow constituents on a particular issue.
Fitch breaks it down into a few simple steps: Begin with the end in mind, set the stage, paint the picture, describe the fight, include a surprise, introduce the potential success/joy, and finish with the hook.
Ex. “I have two children. Like most kids, they argue with each other and come to me to referee, so we have a lot of conversations about fairness. They’re pretty young, so they really don’t care about politics yet. And I have no idea if they will grow up to be liberal or conservative. But what I do know is that I want their votes to count…regardless of ideology or party affiliation. No one, not even the president, should be permitted to rig an election, no matter what. Americans should be elected by Americans.”
Give it context.
It’s easy to get into the weeds on issues like this, so be sure to take a step back and look at the big picture. Consider the long-term implications if we don’t act to hold the president accountable. If the president is above the law, what does that mean for future presidents? Will future presidents believe they can abuse their powers without facing any consequences?
The president is already the most powerful person in the world. Consider what it would mean for there to be little to no real limits on presidential misconduct. Consider what could happen when a president of another party takes office. Would they abide by that president engaging in the same kind of misconduct that Trump has engaged in? What would that mean for democracy if all presidents from this point forward believe that they can undermine the rule of law without being held accountable?
People often assume they simply need to make an intellectual argument to persuade others. But the reality is that we don’t have a rational relationship with information; we have an emotional one. This is why we tend to gravitate towards information silos–It feels comfortable and safe. Challenging our beliefs and potentially changing our minds pushes us out of our comfort zones.
One of the challenges of living in a polarized country is that we are primed to dehumanize the “other side.” Sharing how you are feeling is a way to rehumanize yourself in their eyes. And asking them how they feel is a way to rehumanize them.
Persuasion is a process. Don’t expect a dramatic change from a single conversation. Go into this first conversation anticipating future conversations. You lose the potential to influence someone if they are avoiding you, so aim to be non-confrontational. Plant some seeds. Let it marinate for a bit. Try to move the needle a little further each time you speak with them.
Difficult conversations are hard on everyone. Be appreciative of their willingness to engage with you on this. Thank them for talking with you.
Impeaching and removing a president requires bipartisan support. It’s designed that way. And we won’t get there by imposing our will on others and forcing them to adopt our way of thinking. The trick is to lead by bringing people with you.
World debate champion Julia Dhar said, “People who disagree the most productively start by finding common ground.” At its most basic level, communication can either bring people closer or push them farther apart. When you communicate to connect, you are more likely to want to find areas of common ground, and then move forward together.