The Politics of Niceness and Meanness: Why I Want to Smooch a Republican
More and more, I have been feeling that the real problem is that the leaders on both sides of the aisle desperately want to keep us at each other’s throats, and that the best way to protest an increasingly out-of-touch government is to be nice to the people we disagree with.
I know how this sentiment sounds coming from a white, born-on-third-base liberal, who has enjoyed the benefits of every un-earned privilege that our lopsided culture is able to bestow. In an era when open, unapologetic racism and xenophobia have suddenly been made okay again, when the climate is not only being ignored but is being joyfully kicked in the teeth by the current administration, and when the American presidency has been usurped by the living, breathing embodiment of all that is ugly about American big business, it really sounds like I am employing the “very fine people on both sides” trope that the big man himself used to justify unjustifiable in Charlottesville in August of 2017.
Indeed, perhaps if I were not born under such privileged circumstances, I might be better able to see the flaws that almost certainly exist in my logic. But, then again, I will never be able to reach that level of understanding without listening respectfully to those with whom I disagree.
Perhaps I will be better to able to illustrate the thesis of this rambling commentary by describing the recent interaction that has gotten me thinking so much about these issues of disagreement and kindness.
A week ago, I was scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed when I came upon a meme that had been shared by a former college student of mine. The meme was a simple black background with flecks of purple and blue on it, along with the following words:
If you feel stupid, just remember, there are people depriving themselves of oxygen, to protect them from a virus they’re going to inject themselves with later…
I experienced a mixture of emotions when I read this meme, mostly surprise, frustration and disappointment. First, I was troubled by the fact that, having had this young woman as a student, I knew that her command of punctuation and syntax was superior to that of the author of the meme; this detail is circumstantial and has little to do with my primary thesis. Next, I was troubled by the fact that my friend was passionately advocating for a position that I disagreed with. This point, upon examination is also not terribly relevant; though I generally tend to believe that my opinions are correct, I own that I am not a biologist or epidemiologist, and my opinions are merely an amalgam of those presented by my preferred media sources.
The reaction that is relevant here was my surprise at the judgement and venom denoted by the meme itself. I have always known my friend to be an intelligent and thoughtful person, not to mention a kind person who cares about people. By contrast, this meme was telling me that I was not only wrong, but that my opinions were stupid.
I responded to my friend’s post, letting her know that I was troubled by the judgement that she was espousing. She told me that she had intentionally shared a “garbage meme” in order to get people’s attention and hopefully foster a valuable discussion about the issue of mask-wearing in the era of COVID fear.
It’s and interesting rhetorical tactic, not unlike a presenter at a business convention yelling “SEX!” just before starting their PowerPoint, in order to ensure that their audience is listening. Is it effective?
I tend not to think so. While the presenter may be very knowledgeable and may have useful information to impart, I will always think of them as the doofus who gratuitously tested the limits of decorum at a business convention.
My experience was similar throughout the ensuing correspondence that I had with my young Facebook friend. She shared with me a great deal of the information that had led her to espouse her chosen position on the issue. She had clearly done some homework. Perhaps she had better information than I did. She may even (dare I flirt with the possibility) have had a point?
But did she change my mind?
No, she did not.
She had already said that my position was stupid. The resistance response was already churning somewhere in my primal being, and my resolve to wear a mask grew inexplicably and unjustifiably stronger. This resolve was not being fed by intelligence, but by something even stronger, a bruised ego and hurt feelings.
I looked through the other responses to my friend’s initial post to see if any minds had been changed as a result of the valuable conversation that she had been hoping to facilitate. What I found was that those who had already agreed with my friend continued to agree with her. Those who disagreed became irritated to the point of being abusive, and the antipathy between the two camps grew as the conversation unfolded.
Since I have been cognizant of such issues, I have heard complaints about, and witnessed evidence of, the partisan gridlock that keeps our governing bodies in a state of paralysis. Nothing can get done because any thinking that falls outside the parameters of a party’s platform is a betrayal of that party. Nobody can be convinced of anything, because that kind of intellectual growth would be tantamount to an admission of failure.
Consequently, bipartisan struggle is both the means and the end of political discourse. The reality of this problem is perhaps one of the few things that people of all social and political stripes can agree upon.
Resolving the issue would require real work on the part of the elected officials who make up our governing bodies. It would require a lively and respectful exchange of ideas and a genuine engagement with real issues and concerns. I do not believe that they are willing to do it. As soon as those on one side of the aisle begin to acknowledge the humanity of those on the other, they would be forced to turn their attention to the actual issues that are facing our country. These issues are daunting, and it is much easier to stoke the engine of blind animosity that keeps our government running than to try to solve actual problems.
Rather than engaging with the real world, our governing bodies have found ways to manipulate it by translating legislative gridlock into social gridlock, and by amplifying this paralysis until it becomes the air that we all breath. Weather it is Hilary Clinton describing the Right as a “basket of deplorables” during the 2016 presidential campaign, or Trump continually describing peaceful protester as anarchists and thugs, our politicians are playing us for fools.
We are all being shown a monstrous, unreasonable picture of those that we disagree with. The people who sit on the other side of the aisle simply cannot be reasoned with, so why try? My party is not to blame for gridlock; just look at the other side.
Not only this, but the people on the other side are mean. They use hateful and venomous rhetoric. They think that I am stupid.
I believe that that our politicians want us to employ rhetoric like that used in my friend’s meme. They want us to abuse, belittle, and make fun of the other opinion, because the idea of a nation united terrifies them. They want us to start with hate, just as my friend did, even if we know what we are talking about. That way, they will be able to ensure the continuation of the national divide that keeps them employed.
I don’t think that our elected officials want us to be nice to each other. They don’t want us to engage in any kind of meaningful or empathetic way. They don’t want us to attain any kind of social understanding. They know that, as soon as we start acknowledging the humanity of those we disagree with, we will start trying to unravel the mystery that is…them. As soon as we start doing the work of understanding one another, we will expect them to do the same, and this proposition is a non-starter.
It is at this point in my musing that I would like to present a modest proposal. I would like to find a republican, a pro-life, second amendment loving, climate denier, a banner-waving adherent to the gospel of unregulated, free market capitalism. I want to find someone who carries a picture of Ayn Rand in their wallet. I want to find someone who disagrees with me about all issues except for this one, that our government is holding us hostage by promoting partisan tribalism. There has to be somebody out there who fits this description.
If said republican is out there and reading this, please contact me; you will certainly be able to get my contact information from the NewsFletor editorial board.
In any event, when I find the conservative that I am looking for, I would like to arrange to meet them at the bottom of the steps of the Capital Building. From there, we will walk hand and hand to the very, very top. Once we reach that final step, we will passionately embrace and start smooching. I am talking about sloppy, wet, inappropriate PDA.
I honestly think that this is the only solution. Once Mitch and Nancy see that partisan grandstanding cannot conquer a genuine love for humanity, they will start running. Once democrats and republicans start showing up en mass to French on the Mall, our politicians will have to make a new plan.
So I will wait by the phone for my republican to contact me. I know that it can’t be long now. But until the fateful phone call arrives, a will sit at home, listen to my Elvis Costello records, and wonder, “What’s so Funny about Peace, Love and Understanding”.