Guess what! Several months into America’s seemingly-eternal election process, I’m about ready to flee the country. I can’t be alone in feeling this way.
Don’t get me wrong; I love me some politics. I try to avoid politically-charged labels because I find all they really do is cause one demographic or another to think you’re stupid. But if I did have to take a title, I’d settle for left-leaning Mormon, right-leaning English student, interested in socialist healthcare, sometimes into feminism, almost never into gun rights, avid New York Times reader. I firmly believe most politicians are overpaid narcissists but have a soft spot for Churchill. Registered Republican for anyone who’s interested, but it’s not like I had any reason to vote in this season’s primaries anyway.
Needless to say, my political convictions are important to me, and I spend a lot of time cultivating them to conform to my own ethical and moral codes which are admittedly a bit flexible depending on how my life is going (Sorry – fully aware right now how wrong that might sound to some people, but it’s true! I’m one of those icky flip-flopping millennials).
Let me start with a little disclaimer though: What I’m about to talk about is something I’ve struggled with since my early teen years. I can be really judgmental. I often have to remind myself that a lot of things I take seriously just don’t matter to other people, and that does not make them bad people. Maybe I’m writing this to further convince myself of that, but at this point in the election I think it’s an important message for everyone in our shamefully bipartisan country.
Just to be clear, there are FOR SURE some nasty people living in America. Undoubtedly, our country contains a number of racist, misogynistic, gun-toting, gay-hating “Christians.” People who think universities are the devil’s playground. We’ve got greedy, psychopathic corporate entities and people who literally shoot up abortion clinics. We also have our fair share of Dawkins-thumping atheists who assume “Christian” is a euphemism for homophobic science-denying idiot, and intellectual snobs who look down on anyone without a PhD. We’ve got supposedly compassionate people who view late-term abortion as a form of birth control, man-hating anarchists who don’t understand prisons and think all police officers are Lucifer in the flesh, and bleeding-heart ideologists sopping with naivety who want to take away all our hard-earned American FREEDOM.
But these people are not the majority. At least, from what I’ve seen in my limited years participating in the public sphere, these people do not exist in the numbers we’d might expect. The problem is that a lot of Americans, perhaps a near majority, tend to view the “other side” through these stereotypes, and that’s a HUGE problem. Using differences to incite fear and anger is something humanity’s been doing pretty much forever, and talking about that issue on the level of political ideology should be just as important as discussions on race, gender, and religion. Though I’ve only lived in Washington and Utah, two places bathing in extremist politics, I even see the bipartisan nastiness all over the media and it’s usually a pile of garbage.
Fox News will have you convinced that liberals are idiots who want all your money to perform abortions and abolish the second amendment. MSNBC will spend hours of airtime reporting on conservatives being idiots who really like money and hate black people. It’s not only overblown and laced with anger, but it’s usually really boring. Ad hominem attacks are childish and often dominate political reporting, and that needs to stop; in other words, say whatever you want about flawed policies and shaky ideologies, but the hyperbole and name calling has got to go.
Social media isn’t much help, either. I’m definitely guilty of sharing a post or seventeen disparaging Donald Trump and his supporters. I’ve broken out the snark to comment on pro-Trump friends’ posts only to get said comments deleted, to which I respond “Seriously? If you’re willing to put your wrong opinions out there, you better be willing to engage in a debate!”
Again. Still something I’m trying moderately hard to work on. What I’ve come to realize is that even though I might hate Donald Trump and virtually everything he stands for, I shouldn’t project that hatred onto the people who support him. I’ve never owned a small business. I’ve never distrusted the media enough to believe everything the man says. I’ve never worried about Muslims or Mexicans taking over our country. I’ve never been a billionaire. I very much don’t understand what these people are thinking, but it’s important to acknowledge that it’s not necessarily because I’m smarter or better; I’ve simply had an extremely different life experience which has led me to come to radically different conclusions.
Trump’s supporters don’t necessarily treat women like commodities, give terrible nonsense speeches, dye their faces orange, or disparage immigrants. I’m . . . fairly certain a lot of them do these things. But that’s beside the point: Trump supporters are not Trump, just as Clinton supporters are not Clinton, or Sanders supporters are not Sanders. We can’t just take politicians we don’t like and blame the entirety of their respective party for their deep, unbelievably numerous flaws. Such an act is tempting in a democracy, but usually turns into a stupid pile of petty B.S. that ends with us all hating each other.
What we really should be doing is sitting down and actually listening to different viewpoints. We all have so much to learn, and surrounding ourselves with people who believe exactly the same things, though fun, isn’t going to help much. The far left should listen to the far right, and before they get mad they should think about reasons right-wingers feel the way they do, and vice versa. In the end, most of us are concerned about a very few basic things: our communities, security as a citizen and as a nation, social values, safety, equality, and the pursuit of happiness. We all have different opinions on what will get us there and the kind of country we want to end up with, but we need to remember that our essential needs and desires are virtually identical since, you know, we’re all humans.
I know what I’m trying to get across might seem overly-optimistic and sentimental at best, but I’m afraid it’s the only way out of all the shame and hatred that happens to become especially inflammatory every four years or so. It might be surprising that I, as an ultra-opinionated person, care so much about abolishing inter-party judgment, but I really do have deep respect for many people on both sides. I know kind, warm, loving, intelligent people with all sorts of varying opinions and backgrounds, and I hate to see them diminished to the level of uninformed loser just because they think something different.
When I was in high school, back when I considered myself a full-on feminism-denying conservative, I spent a lot of band trips talking to a good friend who happened to see the world a bit differently. Though the topic isn’t exactly political, we regularly discussed motherhood and our future as strong, confident women (ha).
Now. Anyone who’s read this blog before will know of my ferocious baby hunger and practical desperation to settle down and reproduce. I wasn’t much different at sixteen, which is a little bit terrifying in hindsight. My friend, on the other hand, did not share my interest in domesticity. She wanted to go to school for computer science and start a career in tech. She didn’t care at all if she ever got married, and she knew for sure that she didn’t want kids.
“Do you really not want children?” I’d ask with an air of feminine superiority and a generous dash of ignorance. “Every grown woman I know who felt the way you do and got pregnant anyway ended up loving their kids more than they thought possible!!”
“Well that’s nice, I guess, but it’s really just not for me.”
“But babies are so cute! And how cool is it to use your body to MAKE another person?” I could not contain my enthusiasm for the female reproductive system (and still can’t if we’re being honest here).
“I mean, yeah, it’s cool and everything. I know not everyone feels the way I do. Why does it even matter to you?” she asked.
“I guess I just know so many women who find happiness in being mothers, and I think everyone deserves that happiness.”
Then my friend offered the valuable bit of wisdom: “Not everyone finds happiness in the same ways, you know.”
It’s obvious now that my ignorance came from assuming my friend had the same feelings as I did. My teenage brain couldn’t understand that everyone has different life experiences and aspirations, and that isn’t a bad thing. Just because we might not understand another person’s life goals or beliefs, that doesn’t make them inferior.
Several years later, this friend and I caught up for the first time since the summer after graduation.
“You know what, Emma? I’m grateful for all the conversations we had about having kids.”
I was surprised, seeing as by that point I definitely saw my past self as the ill-informed half of the argument.
“Oh, yeah,” she said. “It was really valuable to learn how important motherhood is for some women.”
She went on to explain that even though she hadn’t changed her mind about having kids, that was the first time she heard from someone who viewed family life with such devotion. Only then could she understand why so many women abandon promising careers by choice to very painfully deliver and raise kids for a large portion of their lives. She learned how to empathize with a group of people she didn’t previously understand. In the end, it didn’t make her feel any differently, but it broadened her respect for a group she might have otherwise dismissed out of ignorance.
I told her what a good learning experience it was for me to hear from a girl who hadn’t been raised her whole life to believe that motherhood was the pinnacle of womanhood. Because of those early, ultra-influential conversations I had with this friend, I at least have a little bit of understanding of what it must be like to be a woman who truly believes she would be happiest without children. I don’t judge these women like I might have otherwise. Instead, I support them in their choices, acknowledge I have different plans, and move on. No one gets hurt. We can all be happy and go on with our lives.
Politics should be the same. I don’t agree with the people who want to ban Muslims from our country. I understand the fear of terrorism; I’d even go as far as saying that I share that fear of terrorism along with just about everyone else. But I also sympathize with Muslims since I’ve lived around them most of my life, have studied Islam in a University setting, and cannot imagine sacrificing their religious freedom for a possible decrease in terrorism. It’s just not worth it to me. That said, not everyone has grown up that way, and they have just as much a right as I do to cast a vote. People view risk/benefit ratios differently. It doesn’t mean they hate Muslims, just as my friend didn’t hate children or women who decided to have them. I need to acknowledge that, and be okay with it. That’s sort of what we sign up for in a democracy. It can be scary and frustrating, but unabashed hatred isn’t the answer, even if it’s the popular response.
I’m sure there will be conservatives who read this and worry I’m promoting moral relativism. There will be liberals who think I don’t care enough about fighting the good fight. But since I don’t like to conform to either side entirely, and do happen to carry the label of “Christian” with a certain level of confidence, I’d like to try doing my best to love people. I want to try and love even the most ill-informed of Americans, even the most die-hard of Trump fans, because if I can love them, I’ll be one step closer to fulfilling Jesus Christ’s very serious commandment to love my enemy. It won’t likely be easy, fun, or otherwise satisfying for a person such as myself, but it’s the right thing to do, and that has got to count for something.