I cast my ballot a while ago – just a day or two after early voting started – because 1.) Since I have my own personal toddler entourage, it’s easier when I can avoid crowds, 2.) I wanted to maximize the chances of my vote counting in the event that I got struck by lightening or run over by a bus between when early voting opened and election day, and 3.) I don’t trust what the atmosphere will be like with a politically mixed crowd these days. And I’m just exhausted with the nasty, aggressive conflict.
I don’t even feel angry these days. Just done.
The debates left me feeling sick. Literally. When I watched the second one I felt physically ill by the end, which I found oddly embarrassing until I found out the next day that several other people did too. I decided that I could skip the third one since I’d already voted, but in all honesty I couldn’t have forced myself to watch it if I’d wanted to.
And it’s not just right vs. left conflict. As a devoted Dem, this vitriolic general election was preceded by months of grueling primary, rife with aggression and misogyny. Even though I voted for Bernie in the primary, I was horrified by the comments I’d see on a daily basis made by people who were voting the same way I did. Holy cats, the name calling. I saw more bitches, cunts, and other sexually demeaning names during the Democratic primary than I’ve ever seen online (or elsewhere) before. And these comments were being directed at people who agree with each other when it comes to policy – yikes!
I’m going to write a post about Tribe by Sebastian Junger at a later date, but I’m taking my time because I want to do it justice because it’s an amazing book. However, he has a passage about how Americans speak to each other that is relevant to this conversation. Junger writes about coming home to the United States after being in war zones:
First there is a kind of shock at the level of comfort and affluence that we enjoy, but that is followed by the dismal realization that we live in a society that is basically at war with itself. People speak with incredible contempt about – depending on their views – the rich, the poor, the educated, the foreign-born, the president, the entire US government. It’s a level of contempt that is usually reserved for enemies in wartime, except that now it’s applied to our fellow citizens. Unlike criticism, contempt is particularly toxic because it assumes a moral superiority in the speaker. Contempt is often directed at people who have been excluded from a group or declared unworthy of its benefits. Contempt is often used by governments to provide rhetorical cover for torture or abuse. Contempt is one of four behaviors that, statistically, can predict divorce in married couples. People who speak with contempt for one another will probably not remain united for long. (125-6)
Sounds familiar, right?
But I caught a glimmer of hope last week. Bill Weld, who is on the Libertarian ticket as Vice President, went on the Rachel Maddow show and “vouched” for Hillary Clinton’s character. It seemed like a special moment to me amidst the long, drawn out months of name-calling and finger-pointing. It was like he could step back and say, “I don’t agree with a lot of your policies, but I still see you as a decent person.”
Halle-freaking-lujah, sisters! Could we please get more of that?
Where did our ability to recognize the humanity in our political opponents go? Which isn’t to say that we have to agree all the time. Of course not. There has always been and always will be political disagreement. I get that. But I don’t think it was always like this. I think that we used to have a sense of common purpose – of trying to get by and hopefully moving our country forward in the process – even if we didn’t agree on the exact details of how to get there. And, yes, we’d have friends, families, and neighbors who disagreed with us, but that didn’t mean they were horrible people. It just meant we disagreed.
We live in what is probably the most liberal neighborhood of Green Bay, but our immediate neighbors are mostly conservative. And guess what? When we run into each other outside, we don’t debate the finer points of whether Donald Trump or Bill Clinton is a bigger pig. We watch our kids play together. We talk about the weather or the construction that took place on our block. The neighbor to our right loaned us his lawn mower when ours was broken, and the neighbor to our left just brought us free firewood from his property up north and threw in a couple bags of potatoes just for funsies. And when I noticed that one neighbor’s garbage can was still by the road a day after garbage day, I brought it up to their garage for them. Because we’re neighbors. And life is better when you get along with the people who live ten yards away from you, regardless of who they vote for.
And maybe we should do a better job of applying this to all of our countrymen.
It is not going to be easy. We are facing serious issues as a country right now that are very moral issues for each side. I suspect it breaks down like this: On the right, the pro-life movement views abortion as the murder of unborn babies. And while I myself am pro-choice, I can understand that if I shared that view, pro-choice policies would be deeply, deeply disturbing to me. On the left, liberals see a lot of conservative policies as unfair to women, people of color, the LGBTQ community, non-Christians, and the poor. And this unfair treatment of social minorities is an extremely moral issue to us. The misogyny, racism, and homophobia feel – dare I say it? – deplorable.
But we cannot – whether you’re a pro-life voter on the right or a social justice voter on the left – label our fellow Americans as deplorable. As much as I agree with the vast majority of Hillary Clinton’s policies, this was a serious misstep on her part.
When I was about ten years old or so, I was shopping with my mom and saw another mother in a parking lot yell at her young son that he was “a bad boy.” Once we passed, my mom shook her head at me and said, “Lindsay, you never, ever tell a child that they are bad. You can say that they do something bad, but you never call the child bad.” Recently, I was talking with a friend who is into Brene Brown, and she told me that Brene breaks this down as the difference between imparting guilt – you did something bad – and shame – you are bad. There is a big difference there. (And, incidentally, my mom is kind of a genius.)
And you know what? When we’re on social media, reading about something that sets off our moral outrage, it feels justified – maybe even an ethical obligation – to shame the other side. To try our best to communicate just how horribly immoral we find the “other side.” The conservative whom I’ve never met but saw my “Thanks, Obama!” post on Facebook felt like he was fulfilling his moral duty when he messaged me to say that I must be a horrible mother and he feels sorry for my children if I like Obama.
But when you have to see the person and look them in the eye, it’s different. When it’s your neighbor, who you see everyday, you don’t look at them and see their yard sign. You see the time they snowblowed the sidewalk in front of your house. When I sit across from my dad at Thanksgiving, you don’t see his vote. I see the unconditional love he’s always bestowed on me, and the extreme generosity with which he’s always treated me.
And on November 9, when this is all over, we need to start the hard work of learning how to treat all of our countrymen with that kind of respect. Because as much as we seem to have forgotten it lately, our countrymen – even the ones who vote differently than we do – are our family too. They’re our neighbors, our community, our village, our tribe.
So for my part, I’m making November 9 a day of kindness and reaching out. I’m making it my own personal Pay It Forward day, and I’m brainstorming ways to get out in the community and perform some small acts of kindness. And I invite you to join me.
Think about it. We’re a full four years from the next presidential election. We’re as far as we can get from having to hash out our political differences. For one day, see if you can set aside a red vs. blue mentality and try to see the people around you simply as Americans. Would it hurt anything? Is there any harm that could come from it?
I don’t think so. But I think it has the potential to do a lot of good. Because regardless of what happens November 8, ALL of us are hurting from this election. ALL of us need some healing. ALL of us need a reminder that Republican, Democrat, Green, Libertarian, or Independent, we’re ALL American and we ALL belong to each other, for better or worse.
Are you interested, but you’re not sure how to start? Here are some ideas, if you need some. Also, I encourage you to share this idea with your friends and acquaintances and invite them to participate as well.
In the meantime, hang in there, fellow Americans! We’re almost there!