Arts

Popping A Political Bubble By Meeting Folks Next Door

Democrat Jonah McDonald (left) realized most of the people in his close community shared his political views. So he asked any neighbors who voted for Donald Trump out to dinner. Evan Byers (right) and his wife took him up on the offer.
Democrat Jonah McDonald (left) realized most of the people in his close community shared his political views. So he asked any neighbors who voted for Donald Trump out to dinner. Evan Byers (right) and his wife took him up on the offer.
Credit Stephannie Stokes / WABE

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Since the 2016 U.S. election, there’s been a lot of talk about the nation being divided. A recent Gallup poll found three-quarters of Americans feel this way.

In Atlanta, one man recently decided to take action, and reach across the aisle in his own neighborhood.

A Political Bubble

The morning after the election, Jonah McDonald woke up realizing he lived in a bubble.

His home is in Kirkwood, a neighborhood on Atlanta’s east side. He works as an author, storyteller and also part-time at the Atlanta Friends Meeting, which is a Quaker group.

The people he interacts with everyday are, like him, liberal.

“I thought to myself, I don’t know anybody who voted for Donald Trump,” McDonald said. “And it made me realize there was something I was missing there if I don’t have people in my close community that support the person who ended up winning the election.”

He does have conservative Facebook friends, and he’s tuned into Republican media. But Jonah thought he might have a different outlook if he knew Trump supporters as people.

So he turned to his broader neighborhood.

“I looked on our results from our precinct. I think there were 2500 votes for Hillary to 236 votes for Donald Trump,” McDonald said. “And so it’s a neighborhood pretty universally Hillary. But there’s still over 200 people who live near me who voted for Donald Trump.”

He went out on a limb and posted in an online group for Kirkwood. To anyone who backed Trump, he asked: Want to go out for dinner?

And one couple, Evan and Paige Byers, said “Okay.”

 First Up, Stereotypes

Just before the meeting, McDonald wasn’t certain what would come of it.

“I have lots of stories that I’ve been telling myself in my head about what brings somebody to vote for Trump,” McDonald said. “Honestly, everybody I’ve met in my neighborhood, I’ve found some way to find connection with them.”

The three started with small talk, discussing the restaurant they were in, the beer they chose and why Paige and Evan recently moved from Cincinnati. Paige now works as a nanny, while Evan is in financial services.

Once the polite conversation ended, political stereotypes came up. Paige and Evan asked McDonald to share those stories he had about Trump supporters.  

“He kind of said the way the media paints it is the average Trump supporter is racist, homophobic, xenophobic, KKK-supporting person,” Paige said. “And after having a 15 to 20 minute conversation, I think he very clearly saw that wasn’t Evan and I.”

Paige and Evan said they leaned libertarian. The two emphasized they don’t agree with all of Trump’s policies or everything he’s said. Instead, they voted based on their priorities, like conservative fiscal policy.

McDonald admitted he’s voted based on priorities too, rather than the character of a candidate. What surprised him, though, was that the Byers were also so concerned with social justice and equality. He realized he had assumed the opposite.

“I think what my neighbors reminded me of is that they really believe in finding a way to make society more equal and more just as well, but they believe the conservative policies are the best way to do that,” McDonald said.

Willing To Listen

Throughout the conversation, they covered all the topics than tend to divide the two parties, like gay marriage, abortion and economic policy. In the end, both sides say it was pretty stimulating to speak with their political opposites.

“I think we — meaning Paige and I and Jonah — both truly wanted to hear. Like, ‘What are your thoughts?’ Not like, ‘I hate you. I think everything you say is stupid,'” Evan said. “We genuinely wanted to hear.”

For Paige and Evan Byers, that was refreshing. They’ve been a little hesitant to share their political views with neighbors this election cycle, for fear of negative assumptions about Trump supporters.

And as for McDonald, he found the connection with his conservative neighbors he was hoping for.

“I did not get together with my neighbors to have them convince me that Donald Trump was a great guy. Their opinions are not going to change my ideas about him,” McDonald said. “What I needed to feel optimistic about was that my fellow Americans have good hearts.”

McDonald has heard from other conservative voters in his neighborhood who are willing to meet up. He’s still deciding whether he’ll expand his political bubble even further.

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