« Imagine... | Main | Empty Words »

The Conversations of Children

When I was a kid I was dumbfounded when I found out that my best friend’s parents were Democrats and were voting for Truman. My parents were Republicans and they “liked Ike” Eisenhower. From the talk I’d heard at home, Truman supporters were something akin to devil worshippers. They and my wonderful parents had nothing in common. So what was I to think? I hadn’t felt such confusion since finding out that another of my best friends actually supported the hated Yankees against my beloved Dodgers in the World Series. Kids don't think very well on an abstract level and I understand why I made such leaps of belief and condemnation when I was 9 years old. But now, 65 years later, I’m feeling those same things all over again, and I’m trying to understand why.

I’m not afraid of Donald Trump, I’m afraid of his supporters. During the campaign I had no fear, since I felt that Trump was a clown who would get so few votes that those foolish enough to support him would see that they were completely out of touch with their fellow Americans. I was wrong, and Trump won. Sure, he didn’t receive the majority of the popular vote, but he came closer than anyone had predicted, and he won where it counted, so he was elected to the presidency. Looking at a map of red vs. blue counties and districts, it was evident that people like me—coastal from the West or Northeast (I’m a Seattle, Boston, California person), urban, educated (I have a Ph.D.) voted as I did. But great bunches of Americans, some from similar backgrounds to mine, but many more from Midwest, rural, Southern or “undereducated” backgrounds, not only agreed with Donald Trump’s message, but saw him as their savior in what turned out to be a culture war.

Exaggeration and hysteria are the enemies of rational thought. Because I believe that, I hasten to say that I don’t equate Trump’s supporters, nor Trump himself with neo-Nazis, or White Supremacists. They may feel that white people are being displaced by Asian and Middle Eastern immigrants who are better educated and given preference for jobs requiring technical skill, or by Mexican and Central American immigrants, who will work for lower wages and end up occupying all the entry-level, low-skilled jobs that used to fall into the laps of less educated white people. They may have a suspicion that Black people have been given preference over them for government positions, such as fire department or police jobs, and/or are poisoning our cities with gangs, drug dealers and welfare moms. They may feel that, as the company jobs in steel-making, coal mining, or clothing manufacturing dried up, it’s been because no one cares about how they were supposed to make a living, or when their pensions and health care disappeared as the company they had relied on reneged on the promises it had made, they were not only powerless, but had no one to go to bat for them. And they may have hated the anti-gun, apparently Godless, pro LBGTQ culture of which they had found themselves a reluctant part, and they knew that their friends felt just as they did and that, until Donald Trump came along, there was no one to take their side. So  Donald Trump became their champion.

My fear is that there are an awful lot of these people. They scare me because I don’t agree with any of their opinions and I don’t know what I have in common with them. I have no idea how to talk to them or to change their minds. When I try to have a conversation, they are going to yell; they might be armed, they congregate together and to face them is to face a group who all agree with one another and disagree with me. My favorite arguments, quoting Bobby Kennedy, Noam Chomsky, James Baldwin, Maya Angelou, and various columnists from the New York Times, will fall on deaf ears—and probably incite more vitriol.

But of course, those people think the same of me. When they quote the Bible, my ears are plugged and I ridicule their source. I claim their statistics are biased because they heard them on Fox News, while I bring up studies from Harvard and Berkeley, both institutions filled with left-learning faculty. I can dazzle them with references they’ve never heard of and make them feel as uninformed as a pea, despite the fact that they do their best to keep informed by listening to talk radio, reading their local newspaper, and watching Fox News everyday—and they have eyes to see what is going on around them, while the sources I quote are often  books and journals. I’m welcoming to Blacks, although they think they’ve spent as much time around Black people as I have, and they’re not biased in their assessment of them, as I am. I proudly embrace my LBGTQ brothers and sisters with no consideration of how they might fear that their own children will make such a choice if it becomes socially acceptable. I refuse to believe that Islam is hostile to the Christianity they believe in and wants to impose itself on America. On the fringes of my group are the Antifa, who scare them because Antifa and other left-wing protesters feel free to destroy property and commit violence in the name of their beliefs. And as more and more Americans, including their own children become college educated and attend universities, they know they will be subjected to left-wing indoctrination and probably return home despising their parents and their values. To them, I am the embodiment of evil. They are in a fight for the soul of America and I am on the side of the Godless liberal devil.

It’s the same sense of irreducible division I felt when I was 9 years old. But is it really true? I just watched a mixture of liberal and conservative citizens in Houston as they risked their lives for each other, without thoughts about political orientation, sexual orientation or race. They were citizens of one community with a social responsibility to their fellow citizens. I saw a similar coming together in Las Vegas in response to a deranged mass murderer. Saturday Night Live, the sine qua non of left-wing propaganda in the guise of entertainment, brought on a country-western singer to commemorate the Las Vegas tragedy by bringing us all together. Two men in Texas, about whose political affiliation I have no idea, took it upon themselves to risk their lives by confronting an armed killer to try to stop his murdering spree.

As a country, as its citizens, we are better than our national conversation shows us to be. The fault is on both sides. I have some close friends from my elementary and high school days who have diametrically opposite political views of my own. Do I really think I have nothing in common with these people?  I have more in common with them than with many of my political allies. Humans are multifaceted, complex and textured individuals, and we need to appreciate one another, not dismiss those we don’t agree with. For our country to move forward, we need to reclaim the American ideal of a country that solves problems through debate not one that becomes so mired in questioning each other’s values that we never solve anything. 

There is room for disagreement in this country. Only 9 year olds think disagreement means our opponents are evil. We can embrace much that we all agree on and use that as the basis for solving our problems through cooperation and compromise.

I don’t have to be afraid of you and you don’t have to be afraid of me. 

Reader Comments (2)

A very generous assessment, as is characteristic of you, Casey. As a girl, then woman of two ethnicities, both persecuted in my native country, then a refugee, then an immigrant, then a naturalized citizen, I never felt I had a lot in common with most people. I have one daughter who is gay and another who is Hispanic. These facts also separate me from a lot of people who support Trump. I agree with you that there were times in my life when I realized that some of my hideous academic colleagues, who'd sell their grandmothers to advance their careers, were liberal and worked for Democratic candidates. Despite our political common ground, I had nothing in common with them. Then there were the ultra-liberal union folk with whom I worked for many years, who were sterling in their support of the best causes, but whose misogyny was as deep and metastatic as severe cancer. I also knew some creative, personally generous types, whose political opinions made me cringe. Yes, we are complicated and multi-faceted as humans. Just today, at a breakfast place here, the man at the next table was praising Trump for saying that the citizen with a gun put a stop to the massacre in TX (a statement that's largely false). BUT he also said that the criminal had no business owning a gun. So, which side was he on? Some human decency there, combined with a woeful lack of critical thinking that would have made him read the news carefully and examine what Trump said in greater detail. We need a much better system of educating our citizens. Since Brown vs. Board of Education, we have done little else than tear down public education in this country, and we're reaping the results. I myself don't think a PhD is proof of higher education. The ability to think, to make accurate distinctions, and to understand that people are entitled to fair treatment is what a true education is, and we can get it from the janitor as well as from the professor, depending on the quality of the person. I also think, and I know this makes me a misanthropist, that a lot of humans are willfully ignorant because they don't have the greatness of heart to undergo mental change, which is not always a painless process.

November 7, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAnca Vlasopolos

Generally, problems are solved not through debate, but through dialogue. Debate seeks to win an argument, not develop an understanding.

There are the formally educated and the practically educated. Some of us are fortunate to have garnered both. I think it's time for the formally educated to stop talking down to and hectoring the practically educated and recognize the validity and quality of their experience and knowledge.

The left is hurting itself with this constant striving to identify and segregate people by immutable and unimportant characteristics, all with the aim of achieving the worthless concept of "diversity." In many cases, this drive is in direct conflict with meritocracy. For example, if my child has cancer and the best cancer treatment and eradication team consists of fifteen Nigerian female doctors.....then that's the team I want for my child. I don't want the Japanese man or the Swedish woman added to the team in order to "diversify" what is already the best. I want "Uniformity." Uniformity of the best, regardless of the immutable characteristics of the best physicians and medical professionals, superficial qualities about which I have little or no interest.

As far as the right goes, it is often heedless of the fact that although statistics show many facets of American life and interaction, these facts don't necessarily reflect the experiences of many individuals and the struggles they've faced. I can cite many studies and statistics that support a conservative/libertarian ideology, but at the same time, I can't discount that there are outliers and exceptions to every statistical reality. Conservatives are also reluctant to admit that statistics may be skewed by certain systematized dispositions in the gathering and evaluation of relevant data.

In the end, I'll say this: You should be scared if you want to debate me. I've red pilled dozens of lifelong progressive-liberals into a more moderate way of thinking. However, if you want to engage in dialogue, then you have nothing to fear. You can maintain all of your current beliefs but also have a better understanding of mine. I find that honesty and acceptance are virtues that find a middle ground fairly quickly.

November 7, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMark Wheeler

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>