Shockingly, Tomi and Trevor Showed Us How to Argue Without Smugness

Politics Features Trevor Noah
Shockingly, Tomi and Trevor Showed Us How to Argue Without Smugness

Trevor Noah and Tomi Lahren actually sitting down and talking to each other is not a sight many would’ve predicted before 2016. The same applies to nearly everything that happened this year. It’s been a harsh reset, an ear-piercing alarm clock, blaring way too early in the morning, and you couldn’t even hit snooze once. These two spoke with that alarm still blaring, and while their 30-minute conversation isn’t perfect, it is essential. We all need to learn to talk to each other again, in a spirit of civility, or this whole thing’s just going to blow sky high.

I like to think I’m a pretty mellow, moderate guy; I want to be the kind of person who can always see the other side and keep my cool. But full disclosure: I do not consider myself a mellow, moderate guy when I see a Final Thoughts video by Tomi Lahren. When I see one show up on Facebook, I click it like any good masochist would and all the centrism I have in my body goes flying out at the speed of a bullet train. I want to go as far left as possible. I think about becoming an avowed Marxist, pencilling in “The Resurrected Corpse of Eugene V. Debs” during the next presidential election or posting the entire text of Das Kapital in the comments section of all her videos. All that to say: I don’t think it’s good this happens to me and I want to change it.

This also happens when I see footage of Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, Steven Crowder and Lauren Southern. It’s not purely an “I have a problem with right-wing pundits” issue though. Bill Maher really gets on my nerves while I find Mark Levin and Milo Yiannopoulous intelligent, humorous and entertaining, despite my many points of disagreement with them. Ultimately, the thing driving me bonkers about certain people can be boiled down to this equation: condescension plus arrogance minus a strong enough argument to warrant either of those things.

Then again, does a strong case, an airtight argument, warrant arrogance or condescension? No, I don’t think it does. If your viewpoints hold water, the bottom won’t fall out should they be put forth with humility and grace. It’s this sort of smugness and eye-rolling that’ll start poking holes in the bag. If you consciously try to display your moral or intellectual superiority, it should come as no surprise the other side will respond in kind. It’ll be a muscle-flexing, mouth-flapping competition but it sure won’t be a good argument.

That’s why the Noah – Lahren conversation is a decent sign of things to come. It was guaranteed neither would change their mind and it was evident neither appeals to reason alone. Noah goes for laughs, specifically laughs about the right-wing. Tomi Lahren goes for rage and frustration against people like Noah laughing from their coastal pedestals. What’s encouraging about the interview is that neither goes for the other’s throat.

Sure, there are moments where both are frustrated and show it. Noah massages his eyes, Lahren gets a few jabs in and the audience laughs and boos where expected. “I don’t see color” is a statement the crowd roundly denies and Lahren gets her comeuppance for a deleted tweet comparing BLM to the KKK. Noah occasionally goes for the laugh when he should go for further questioning. But for the most part, the conversation remains civil.

These days, it seems the one thing we can all agree on is how divided we are. Trump may or may not build the wall between us and Mexico but we sure as hell have already built the wall between each other. Noah and Lahren are still on opposite sides of that wall but, for thirty minutes, it was quiet enough for them to talk and question each other without shouting, without storming out of a Thanksgiving dinner.

It’s especially hard to hear the other side out nowadays given how wrapped up everything is in human rights. Disagreeing on how to tweak health care can get people heated, disagreeing on whether fetuses are people or gay people should have the same rights as anyone else will get people furious. To hone in on abortion, in particular, the pro-lifers consider their opposition murderers while the pro-choicers consider their opposition misogynists. Ergo, keeping your cool in relation to that is going to be a major feat. It’s damn near impossible to have a civil conversation these days but it was also damn near impossible that Britain would leave the EU or that Trump would win the election. I’d say this is worth a shot too.

You won’t convince your opponent they’re wrong but that isn’t the point. The point of a talk like Noah and Lahren’s is about giving those watching an opportunity to make up their own minds. It’s also a talk constrained by its format. Twenty six minutes flitting from one hot button issue to another isn’t good enough. The sorts of conversations we need to have will be long, arduous and returned to time and again. We need to understand each other, we need to respect each other, we need to care for each other.

This was a “disgust” election, plain and simple. The turnout was low, the voters were dissatisfied and I don’t think I talked to a single person about who they voted for without the phrase “lesser of two evils” being used at least once. There were the Clinton shills, the Bernie bros and the diehard Trumpists who’ll never sway. There are the cold-hearted racists, the unshakable elitists and those for whom deplorable really is the only word But then there’s the rest of us and there’s a lot of us. We’re the ones who aren’t quite Noah and aren’t quite Lahren. Now we can say even those two managed to talk without throttling each other’s throats. It’ll be easier for us than it probably was for them.

Confidence in your beliefs is important, arrogance about them is only going to work against you. We all know this deep down. The people who watch Fox News think the people who watch CNN will never understand them and the same goes the other way. There’s truth to that: we’ll never all understand each other completely. But we can understand each other better than we did before. The danger is when we just adopt a spirit of arrogance on either side and don’t try to understand each other at all.

Toward the end of this year’s campaigning, Barack Obama would often quip, “Don’t boo, vote!” The voting is over but I think similar principles will apply for the rest of our lives. Perhaps what we need most right now is another set of admonishments: Don’t boo, listen! Don’t boo, question! Don’t boo, argue and argue well! It all comes down to the one cardinal rule, the one thing everyone except the most boorish people in the world agrees on: don’t boo and, for the love of God, don’t be an asshole either!

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