Pollak: Trump’s Televised Listening Sessions Will Change American Democracy

Trump Inslee (Chip Somodevilla / Getty)
Chip Somodevilla / Getty

On Monday, President Donald Trump held an open, televised meeting with the nation’s governors at the White House to discuss gun violence.

It was at least the fourth such meeting the president has held this year, after the round table meeting on immigration in January; the “Listening Session” on the Parkland, Florida shooting at the White House last Wednesday; and a similar meeting with state and local officials on gun policy last Thursday.

Americans have never seen anything like these meetings. They are not stage-managed. They are not photo-ops. Participants disagree openly with the president; at the “Listening Session,” some even shouted at him, and others cried.

And President Trump — so combative in press conferences, so verbose at campaign rallies, so impulsive on Twitter — has simply listened, humbly, for the most part, occasionally offering his own opinions and objections.

Last Wednesday’s “Listening Session” was the first time Americans had seen a wide-ranging, mutually respectful discussion on gun policy that included virtually the entire spectrum of views on the issue, and where no one tried shutting anyone else down. It was, in fact, the first time Americans had seen such a civil and open discussion on any difficult issue in decades. The participants were not politicians: they were ordinary people, speaking their minds.

President Barack Obama once held a meeting on Obamacare at Blair House, where he invited Republicans to share their own ideas and raise objections to the bill. But it was all for show: Obama had no intention of changing his mind. By then, the Senate had already passed a version of the legislation. The president merely endured the likes of Paul Ryan pointing out the many pitfalls of the Affordable Care Act, and went back to ignoring the opposition.

In contrast, Trump has put himself at risk in his open discussions. On Monday, for example, Washington State’s governor, Jay Inslee, blasted the president’s proposal to arm teachers in schools, and added a dig at the president himself: “We need a little less Tweeting, a little more listening.”

Instead of taking the bait, or showing any kind of hostility, Trump did exactly what Inslee asked him to do: he listened, then called on the next governor in the room.

These discussions, if they continue, will have a dramatic impact on our democracy — not just because Americans are able, for the first time, to see real deliberations among policymakers and stakeholders, but also because the discussions are setting a new standard for civility. President Trump, so often maligned as divisive, is teaching us how to talk to those with whom we disagree. We may even, against the odds, begin to solve some of our problems.

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He was named to Forward’s 50 “most influential” Jews in 2017. He is the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.

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