Politics and Governance

Mad as hell AND want to talk

I am furious at President Trump. In my opinion he has done tremendous damage to our country. He urges Americans to be mean to other Americans. I think he is unpatriotic and has put our national security at risk. I’m furious that he is further compromising our national security by resisting a peaceful transfer of power.

And at the same time I am willing to talk with and show respect to a Trump supporter. I know you have your reasons for supporting him. I want to learn about that. I bet we have stuff in common. I want us to at least talk.

It’s okay to not approve of someone’s behavior yet not walk away. It’s like two people living together, mad as hell at each other, and still come to the same kitchen table. And at least try to get along.

Here’s an NBC News article: Post-election calls for unity are toxic positivity that ignores damage Trump’s done. Author Tonya Russell breaks down the Trump damage to people like her and she’s angry at people like me who want us all to get along with each other.

“You have no idea,” she basically says to a guy like me. “Me and my people are kicked and dying because of this Trump guy and his supporters. You want me to what? Don’t you dare try to get me to be nice to them.” The quotes are my paraphrases. I hope I got it right. Please read her own words and stories here. This is a great article.

I think Tonya Russell is rightfully furious. I get that people are done with talking. I get that people want to be warriors right now. And that’s all okay with me. It’s not for me to say that anyone shouldn’t follow their heart.

But those whose hearts are torn or those who have not yet enlisted in the fight; let’s talk in spite of our differences. Let’s stay at the table even if it’s hard.

Some are called to aggression and some are called to diplomacy. Some are being peacemakers and some are being warriors. And it’s okay to be both; sometimes one and sometimes the other. Both are needed, and every kind of effort in between. It’s okay to be mad as hell AND want to talk.

I just have to say one more thing and that is to check my privilege. Tonya Russell also writes, “These sentiments [like mine calling for harmony] are clearly coming from people whose ability to live comfortably in the United States doesn’t hinge on the outcome.” That’s an actual quote and I believe she’s right about that too. Things like this are easy for me to say.

A nation divided by the stories we believe

How could so many people vote for President Trump? He’s so bad. It’s infuriating! The explanation must be that Trump supporters are getting different news than I am. Not only that, the news they are getting is false.

But wait a minute. Haven’t I also received false news? As a white child, I was taught that Christopher Columbus discovered America. I don’t think this is how Native American’s tell that story. As a white child I heard the joke about George Washington being “the father of our country” – wink, wink – condoning that he fathered children among his black slaves. I don’t think black people spread this joke with a wink.

As a Democrat I can point my finger at Republicans for voting based on false news, yet I have received and believed lots and lots of false news in my lifetime. We are all guilty of believing what we want to justify our moral supremacy.

I suppose this is how it’s always been; different people holding different versions of what’s true. And then all of a sudden, as if by surprise, we wake up and realize that not everyone in the country sees things the same. We become instantly angry. We accuse each other of believing false news. We are all forced to question what we thought was true.

For me, my country doesn’t seem to be the one that I thought I was living in. Based on, you know, what I’ve heard, I have always thought of my country as a place that welcomes and respects immigrants. Not true. I have always thought of my country as a place of equal opportunity. Not true. I have always thought of my country as a place where the government protects the people from bad corporations and bad people. Not true.

Actually, none of these things about my country have ever been true. I have carried false stories for years. I didn’t realize that racism, classism, sexism, and other isms were so alive in my country. I’m figuring out that these divides aren’t new; they’ve just been glossed over in the stories that I have been fed.

The street-level stories that would otherwise demonstrate our true divisions haven’t been showing up in my news feed. I haven’t been getting the complete picture. My parents’ TV news and my grandparents’ daily papers also committed crimes of omission. Those news feeds highlighted stories that appealed to my parents and grandparents, news that reinforced what they wanted to believe. Mainstream history books and text books have also hidden the truth of our nation’s divisions and have exalted false myths for generations.

As a white American of European descent, mainstream news has worked well for me and for people like me before me. But the glorified narratives about America being open to immigrants or about America as the land of opportunity simply aren’t working for a lot of people right now. For many Americans these myths just aren’t true. These myths are being exposed before our very eyes.

Today myths and false news are being spread, and targeted, like never before. Without election results in front of me, it’s easy to believe that my view is correct. No matter what you believe you can find “news” on the internet to support your belief. That’s what I do. It’s infuriating that the election results don’t support what I want to believe!

My country is divided. I can’t help that. We were born that way. Two books by Maine’s own Colin Woodard’s – “American Nations” and “American Character” – explain these divisions very well. Being divided is part of our fabric. It’s in our blood. The different modern-day tribes of America are telling and believing very different stories. Just like we always have. So why am I so surprised that the election shows us so split? Again!

I don’t know the best path forward. But I’m pretty sure it’s about accepting that we’re a divided country. And I’m pretty sure it’s not about hating each other for believing different stories. Different stories is who we are.

 

 

Knock on the doors of your fellow Americans.

Limited time offer. This week only. This is an excellent opportunity – the perfect excuse – to get out there and talk with strangers about politics. Face-to face.

I did it yesterday. As a volunteer for the Maine Democratic Party I knocked on doors and talked with strangers about the election. Have you decided who to vote for? Can I tell you who I am voting for, and why? It was a wonderful experience.

Many people were hungry to talk. I learned from some why voting is a sacred honor and from others why they don’t vote. I heard many theories; things I agreed with and things I didn’t. And I heard full color stories of real people about why they have changed their minds or why they are standing strong; the stories behind the numbers and trends we hear in the news.

And I’m pretty sure that for some people, this was the only in-person conversation they had for days. People are so isolated in the pandemic. If for no other reason, this is a great opportunity to break the monotony and offer a face-to-face connection to someone shut in.

Here in Maine both major parties are recruiting volunteers. They can get you trained and get you out there in a hurry. And if face-to-face is not your thing, they will be happy to train you to talk with strangers by phone. See https://www.mainedems.org/ and https://mainegop.com/.

If you are fed up with politics on social media and tired of shaking your first at your screen,  I am double-daring you to get out there and engage for real; on actual doorsteps and in front yards of your fellow Americans. This is your chance.

And by the way I experienced no hostility and several versions of, “Thanks for doing this, man. Good for you. This is what we need.”