What Happens When Republicans Step Out of the Epistemic Bubble?

It can destroy the caricatures that conservatives have developed about liberals.

According to those who have spoken at the Republican National Convention, Joe Biden is a socialist who will unleash violent mobs and take away your freedoms. The folks at the Lincoln Project pulled together some of these quotes, noting that this chaos is actually taking place under Donald Trump’s presidency.

What is happening at the Republican National Convention is simply a ramped-up version of how conservatives have been lying about Democrats for decades. For example, you might remember that Barack Obama was accused of hating white people—even after he gave his speech in 2008 on “a more perfect union,” in which he empathized with working and middle class white people.

Most working and middle-class white Americans don’t feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience — as far as they’re concerned, no one handed them anything. They built it from scratch. They’ve worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pensions dumped after a lifetime of labor.

Similarly, during her convention speech, Nikki Haley said that “In much of the Democratic Party, it’s now fashionable to say that America is racist.” Perhaps she didn’t hear the Democratic nominee speak eloquently on that very subject.

All of this is why I was struck by what Ashley Pratte, a board member of Republican Women for Progress, wrote in an op-ed for USA Today about her decision to vote for Biden.

This is the first year that I watched the Democratic National Convention without a Republican lens and found myself agreeing with the issues, speakers and most of all the positive rhetoric…

I recognized just how many of my views of the Democratic Party were shaped by the talking points of the GOP and just how wrong that was. Over the past four years, my eyes have been opened and my views forever changed. I have come to realize that all along, I aligned more with the moderate wing of the Democratic Party.

That speaks profoundly to what happens when conservatives step out of what’s been called the epistemic bubble created by Republicans and their enablers in right wing media. Pratte not only learned that Biden and Harris aren’t the people that have been caricatured beyond recognition. She realized that her values align more closely with those of the Democratic Party.

I’m not suggesting that every Republican who stepped out of the epistemic bubble would reach the same conclusion. But wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a conversation with conservative friends if it was possible to base it on who liberals are rather than the distorted images developed by the right? That could lead to a discussion about real differences rather than a constant struggle over lies.

Pratte’s experience isn’t unique. That is precisely what is so powerful about the videos from Republican Voters Against Trump and people like veteran GOP consultant Stuart Stevens. They capture the testimony of Republicans discovering they’ve been lied to by their party and right-wing media. Opening the door to that kind of cognitive dissonance can be the first step in a fascinating—but sometimes terrifying—journey of changing one’s mind.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.