If you’re like me, on November 8th, 2016, you were sad, angry and confused. For a lot of us, these same emotions lasted for some time after Donald Trump was announced as the winner, but for me, the most prominent emotion I felt was confusion. As someone who is constantly analyzing human behavior, I just couldn’t stop asking myself, “How the hell did this happen?”.
Sure, we can look at how the DNC royally screwed Bernie Sanders or how Hillary’s campaign strategy was severely lacking. We can also sit here and say that anyone who voted for Trump is a racist, xenophobe, homophobe, misogynist or all of the above, but is that really going to help us win in 2020?
As I did some research, I started to understand more about why we lost in 2016, and I believe we can turn it around for 2020, but it’s going to require us taking a hard look in the mirror. This is a list of books every liberal should read as soon as possible if we want a chance to win in 2020 no matter who your favorite candidate is.
I do want to warn you though. These books aren’t for the weak-minded. They’re going to tell you things that you probably don’t want to hear, but I promise you that these books will help you understand how we can win in 2020 and maybe even flip some centrists and conservatives.
Unlike my last list of book suggestions, I suggest the following books are read in order.
A few years ago, I read The Moral Landscape by Sam Harris, and although I enjoyed the book, it doesn’t hold a candle to The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt. If you read just about any modern book on morality, they’ll most likely reference this book. Jonathan Haidt is a social psychologist who specializes in moral psychology. In the book, Haidt does an excellent job helping us get away from the false idea we have that people on the other side are just “bad people”.
As liberals, it’s easy for us to think that conservatives just don’t care about anyone else, but if that was the case, why do so many donate to churches and their local communities? Whether you agree with the wars we fight or not, you have to consider why so many are willing to put their lives on the line.
Haidt makes a great analogy of morality being like tastebuds. He explains the various moral factors that create liberals and conservatives. Through what he calls “The Moral Matrix”, we all have the same values, but depending on our political leanings, we just put more weight in some values than others. For example, liberals care the most about caring for others and reducing harm as well as equality. Conservatives are more even across the board, which can make it seem like they don’t care as much about certain values.
This book by Joshua Greene is great to read after The Righteous Mind. Greene references Haidt’s work in this book, but I loved this book because the author dives even deeper into some of Haidt’s ideas.
When I first saw this book, I was reluctant to pick it up because I’m usually not a fan of longer books. I often find that longer books could have been half the size, but I was 100% wrong, and this book made me realize that longer books can be written extremely well. Greene perfectly lays this book out with ideas that build off one another, so by the end, you have a thorough understanding of not only the liberal and conservative mind, but it’ll help you understand humans in general.
Although at first glance, this book seems like it’ll be extremely political, Greene actually saves it for later in the book. He starts by explaining evolutionary psychology, which dives into tribal mentality. Before this book, I thought I understood the psychology of cooperation through studies involving the prisoner’s dilemma, but Greene expands on it more than I could have imagined. Once he gets to discussions of politics, religion and more, you’ll see how it all comes together perfectly like a recipe for a delicious meal.
I guarantee that if you asked more liberals, “Do you think liberals are more tolerant, accepting and open-minded than conservatives?”, it’d be rare for you to find one of us who says, “No”. If that’s the case, why are we trying to limit the sharing of ideas and refuse to have conversations?
After the countless protests and riots happening on college campuses, Jonathan Haidt (a liberal) wanted to understand what’s going on. If we plan on winning the next election and want to flip people to our side, this book is mandatory reading.
Haidt draws on his previous book The Righteous Mind a bit, but as someone who is passionate about mental health, I loved how Haidt uses Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to discuss why we’re in so much trouble. If you’ve ever been in a therapy session or even have an inkling of an idea of what a good therapist is, you know that no therapist would play into your cognitive distortions.
I can’t do this book justice in a short summary, but I’ll tell you this, not only has it made me a better liberal, but it’s made me a better parent as well.
I don’t know how I stumbled across Peter Boghossian, but I’m happy I did. This book is perfect to read after The Coddling of the American Mind. Boghossian’s previous book A Manual for Creating Atheists is about how to have calm conversations between atheists and believers. After writing that book, like Haidt, he realized people needed to learn how to have these conversations when it comes to politics as well.
A major takeaway from Haidt’s books is that we’re never going to get anywhere if we just yell and scream at each other while accusing the other side of being awful people. What I love about Boghossian is that he explains how to shift your mindset of these conversations to one of Socrates. Socrates wasn’t trying to convince anyone of anything, he just wanted people to check their reasoning.
With this book, you’ll discover what it means to be what Boghossian calls “a street epistemologist”. When you enter into conversations as a street epistemologist, without even trying, your emotions will be under control because you’re trying to understand rather than trying to win. Too often, when having conversations with the other side, we’re trying to “win”, which gets us nowhere. This book will teach you easy techniques to keep your chill and maybe even bring others to not only question their own reasoning, but they might even see why some of our candidates are the better option.
I wanted to add this book to the list, but it doesn’t really fit with the others. Thank You for Arguing is a master class by Jay Heinrichs about how to argue. This book is used in courses all over the country for students who are interested in debate or anyone who may need to persuade others. One of my best friends is a high school speech and debate coach, and I convinced her to read this book and get her team to check it out too.
The biggest problem we all have is that we think arguing and fighting are the same thing. Heinrichs explains from the start of this book that arguing and fighting are different, and we need to learn how to argue. Arguing isn’t about “winning”, it’s about persuading. This book has dozens of techniques from masters of argument like Aristotle, and the other does an excellent job explaining how to use the techniques in different situations.
While the previous books are a lot about introspection and having one-on-one conversations, this book is different because it’s mainly about arguing when there’s an audience. I know most of us debate on social media, so if you hope to impact the people viewing the conversation, this is the book for you.
Side note: If you enjoy nerdy humor, you’ll love this book. My girlfriend and I just started his other book How to Argue with a Cat .
I don’t know how many of you will check these books out, and if you don’t, that’s alright, but you’ll be doing yourself a disservice. Over the last 4 years, I’ve watched our side make the same mistakes that put Trump into office because we refuse to take a look at the way we’re talking to others, how we’re acting, and our lack of emotional control.
No matter who your favorite candidate is, I truly believe that our side has incredible ideas that can make this country a better place for all of us. But if we don’t get our act together, we’ll never get the opportunity to show the world how awesome our country can be because we’re too busy trying to silence others and not have calm, rational conversations.