It was easy for Van Jones to be a Trump-bashing liberal pundit before he took time to meet the other side.
But once he did, Jones said, he learned “The Messy Truth” -- which is the title of his CNN town hall program.
"Trump is worse than I feared,” Jones told an audience at his South by Southwest presentation. “And his supporters are better than we know.”
Jones said he realized he was contributing to the polarization of U.S. politics after the presidential election, when he saw how his commentary through the eyes of his two children.
“Sometimes you get home and you call the kids and you can tell that they were watching,” he said. “And all I saw was grown folks fighting and not doing any of the things we tell them to do. Not listening. Not sharing. Not treating each other with respect sometimes. Not growing together. Not making friends.”
“I started thinking to myself, ‘Is there something that we’re missing? Is there something not just liberals and conservatives, but that the whole media establishment is missing?’ ”
So Jones decided to get out of his bubble and sit down with those who voted for President Donald Trump.
“CNN let me go to Pennsylvania and talk to Trump voters, to Ohio and West Virginia and Arizona,” he said. “And I met some of the most beautiful people I’ve ever met. Hardworking people. Honest people. Scared people. Hurt people. Good people who voted for somebody I think is undeserving of his office.”
He met coal miners with black lung disease; people who couldn’t find work; parents with kids addicted to opioids; people who just wanted their broken down towns to show signs of life again.
“I came away with a more complex view than I know how to share well on television, which is very frightening if you want to have a career in television,” Jones said.
The experience has challenged him to go beyond labels and name calling, he said. “The easiest thing in the world would be to just go on TV and say the lying liar lied again. And all the liberals would love me, and all the conservatives would hate me on Twitter, and not one thing would have a chance at changing.”
Instead, he said, he is focusing on finding common ground and ways that people can listen to each other, and even disagree, without shutting out other voices.
That’s even more challenging with social media, which amplifies the people we agree with, while muting those with opposing views.
“Everybody now has more information, more data and less wisdom than we had 10 years ago,” Jones said. “Something’s wrong, so I’m trying to find some pathway to help the country see itself a little bit more clearly. I don’t care if you agree with me. We don’t have to agree. It’s a democracy -- that’s the whole point. But you should try to understand, and the media should try to help you understand.”
News on Open Source is free and unlimited. Access to the rest of 512tech.com comes with an American-Statesman digital subscription, which also includes myStatesman.com and the ePaper edition. Subscribe at statesman.com/subscribe.