My name is Ann, and I’m a Democrat married to a Republican. I have never written about politics, and I may never write about them again. It is certainly not my natural choice of subject matter, particularly because I am thin-skinned and conflict-avoidant. This morning, I read something that I could not ignore, although I tried really, really hard. I read a post by a young, liberal journalist about the fact that she had been willing to listen to members of the Tea Party in order to learn what made them tick. She did not “convert,” she was not pimping the Tea Party, and she was writing mostly about her own insight into the value of opening herself up enough to hear ideas contrary to her own. This seemed to me a good developmental stage for a person interested in writing objectively about various events and phenomena. The comments on the post were mostly critical, and in some cases vicious, simply because she had listened to and did not actually hate Tea Party members rather than, I don’t know, exposing them as frauds or listing the holes in their ideology. I found this stunningly, terrifyingly oppressive on a forum that is comprised mostly of committed and active liberal Democrats.
My marriage, coupled with my practice of Buddhism have made me what I am today: a real, live anti-gun, pro-choice, anti-war, anti-death penalty, pro-environment Progressive who has lived and raised a child with a real, live Conservative for more than 14 years, including one in which I was employed by a Democratic Congressional campaign. We do not watch Glenn Beck, and we do not watch Rachel Maddow. We cancel each other’s votes, at least in National elections. We have arguments about issues, sometimes passionate, painful, arguments that make me wonder how I could have married someone from another planet. I have no doubt that he wonders the same thing. In the end, there is always a denouement built on mutual respect, love, and, most significantly, on listening to each other as if we were not interplanetary aliens, but members of the very same species with far more similarities than differences.
Those resolutions, and the deep conversations that accompany them, do not “turn” me or make me a Conservative. They make me consider a different perspective in order that I can live and work in harmony with someone who sees some things through a different lense. I would, and do submit that this mutual listening, analysis, and hunt for common ground is a micro incarnation of a phenomenon that could, on a macro scale, lead to actual progress.
Make no mistake: there are things that Conservatives say and believe that are complete anathema to me, but they are not all the same, any more than we are. Over the years I developed a set of beliefs about Republicans that came from my Democrat parents, my years at Oberlin College, and affiliation with many lefty political campaigns and action groups. Those beliefs are echoed by many writers and commenters on Open Salon, including the notions that Republicans are immoral, greedy, sexist, racist, homophobic, unethical gun nuts, hypocritical on issues of choice and capital punishment, willing to cut funding to schools and starving children in order to support the military-industrial complex, and aligned with the religious right. (It is also largely unacceptable to profess any kind of religious faith in this forum, but I’ll save that for another day).
Republicans are sometimes called “Nazis” in these parts, and such incredibly vicious things are written about them that if the same words were written about members of any religious group or ethnicity, hellfire would rain down upon the writers. I’ll say it: Conservatives are objectified and dehumanized here in a way that makes “us” no better than “them.” It leads to no common ground, no understanding, no actual, pragmatic, measurable progress towards fixing anything that’s broken. It is merely, you should pardon my French, a kind of rhetorical circle jerk in which folks congratulate and reinforce the (identical) views of their peers. Aside from force, I see no way to bring anyone into a cooperative relationship in the context of depersonalization and an active unwillingness to deal with people as individual humans. I know “they do it too,” and I don’t like that, either. If we really, truly believe ourselves to be better people, why are we content to behave badly and cry, “they did it first” instead of trying to be the more compassionate, inclusive, liberal exemplars that we claim to be? Wouldn’t it be better to break the Asshole Standoff than to jockey for first place?!
For the record, my husband is not a Nazi, a homophobe, a sexist, a racist, or a member of the religious right. He is flexible on social issues, and was, for many years, a pretty liberal Democrat. He evolved, as many people do, into a set of beliefs based on his own experiences and observations of life, and it is in the gradual revelation of that process that I learn the most about how we arrived at politically opposite poles. I also see, in his remarks about Democrats in general, a vision that we never see if we surround ourselves only with like-minded people, and watch and read nothing that ruffles our ideological feathers. I chafe at his characterization of rich liberals with gigantic houses in Malibu, driving Priuses and buying organic while there are people starving. I hate his ability to look at certain liberal behavior as smug, elitist and “holier than thou,” particularly when it is my own. If not for this counterbalance, though, I would never hear any objective analysis of anything that I accept as “reality.” It is his insight, even when it stings, that helps me come off my high horse and seek common ground.
I have a close friend who is a Republican only because she vehemently opposes abortion after rather harrowing personal events. I absolutely don’t agree with her, but she is still my friend, and we have discussed our views at some length and agreed to disagree. I could cut her off to make a point, but I really love her. I have two uncles who are lifelong Republicans and while I don’t debate them, I listen, I analyze, and I try to understand where they came from, and what we believe in common. These people in my life are…people, not alien, not other, but part of the fabric of the world I live in. I can dislike and disagree with some of their fundamental beliefs, but I have no right to declare their ideas criminal or abhorrent because I disagree. I can ask questions, I can have my logical ducks in a row and make my most persuasive arguments, and I can back off when a conversation veers from “mutually instructive” to “hurling invectives.”
Tolerance and the willingness to listen do not make me any less a Progressive. On every significant issue I am naturally inclined towards the left, and on some issues I am downright rabid. What I do not believe is that the Universe has granted me supernatural insight into the Truth. I have opinions, and I will never be “flexible” on some things – abuse of women, children or animals, or the notion that everyone should have enough to eat – but I am at least willing to have a real conversation about most other issues. Nothing good has ever come from creating and maintaining divisions between groups of humans, from Jim Crow, from ethnic cleansing, from apartheid, or from the Holocaust. It’s also true that we would have no country if people with violently clashing ideologies and motivations had been unable to hammer out an (imperfect, grudging) agreement during a hot summer in Philadelphia.
Every stone we throw from a supposed place of righteousness cements division and promotes alienation. Aren’t we better than that?