November 22, 2016

Hey, Liberals And Conservatives: We Need To *Listen* To Each Other

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AK Rockefeller
AK Rockefeller

I did not vote for Donald Trump. Many of my friends will stop reading there. They will stop reading and possibly unfriend me and/or possibly compose a comment in response to that single sentence, all of which they have every right to do.

But I hope they don’t. I hope they continue to read.

I am a white male. I grew up in a rural area of Northern California. I was raised Catholic and went to private Catholic schools from kindergarten through twelfth grade.

I grew up in and around the horse industry. My maternal grandfather was a rancher and National Reined Cowhorse Association Hall of Famer. My father is a horse trainer and breeder. He bred and raised AQHA’s current all-time leading sire.

My stepfather is a team roper, and around the age of fourteen I also became a team roper. I signed up for high school rodeo, and my family began to supply me, as they would continue to do for the decade-and-a-half that followed, with horses and trailers and trucks and tack and all the other accoutrements necessary for a team roper.

I competed in high school rodeo for four years, college rodeo for four years, amateur rodeo for fourteen years, and professional rodeo for twelve years (the latter three overlapping).

The rodeo world is predominately Republican. I am a Democrat. I have “felt” like a Democrat since I was about twelve years old.

I didn’t get it from my parents or from Catholic school or from anyone around me. For whatever reasons, I developed a worldview that more closely aligned with the Democratic Party than the Republican Party. This worldview developed with positive intent: it is based upon things that I believe in, not things that I hate.

For most of my life, I didn’t know many fellow Democrats. But that was never much of a problem. I got into spirited debates from time to time with some of my friends. These debates were always about issues. They were often fun.

More recently, it feels different.

On Tuesday, a close friend posted on Facebook about having voted for Hillary Clinton. She received multiple comments, one from a mutual acquaintance of ours from college who replied with, “Nice knowing you. I love my country.” Perhaps I’ll receive similar comments.

I suspect that my declaration that I did not vote for Donald Trump will lead some to the conclusion that I am therefore less American. That I love my country less. That I am less concerned about the threat of terrorism and about the lives of our military. That I am disqualified from descriptors such as patriot and family man and hard worker.

To this I take great offense. In fact, I will not tolerate it. I am American. I do love my country, I do care deeply about its safety and the safety and well-being of those who defend it, and I am a patriot and a family man and a hard worker, despite the fact that I exercised my right to vote for a different candidate than those who might claim otherwise.

Many of my friends may also view my vote as a sign of deficiency in my character.

I admit it: I am deficient in character. As are we all. And I hope, as I assume we all do, that as each year passes those deficiencies decrease in number. But, in the end, we are all flawed characters, and some of us, who were friends before Facebook hijacked the word, know one another’s flaws all too well, and hopefully rejoice for one another as we shuffle them off.

Speaking of Facebook, the past two days of scrolling seems to be revealing a troubling trend in which, at the end of an election in which issues were less and less the issue and more and more the issue became the extent to which the other candidate was criminal/evil/treasonous/demonic, what is spilling out, there now being no candidates left to demonize, is the demonization of the supporters of each candidate by the supporters of the other.

At this point, I was going to write, “Both sides need to listen to one another.” But a major part of the problem is that we are being placed ever more permanently on sides.

We all need to listen to one another.

We also need to remember that information in service of a single point of view is propaganda, and it is in the best interests of each of our respective parties (or at least of elements of those parties) that we be divided.

Said parties seem to have been remarkably successful at said division, and certain particulars of our contemporary society—the multiple 24/7 news options, the echo chamber of the individualized social media feed, and the handheld devices that keep us constantly fed—have made the delivery of divisive propaganda more convenient and more effective than in previous generations.

We all need to listen to one another.

Said listening requires what F. Scott Fitzgerald sort-of-famously prescribed: “the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”

We need to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time. It’s actually not that hard, and I don’t even have a first-rate intelligence. I do it every time I order three cheeseburgers on the way home from work while making plans for getting into shape.

We need to listen to one another, and we need to do this because our individual experiences are not all the same.

On Wednesday, after the election, at work, I sat in a meeting (or, more accurately, sat waiting for a meeting to begin) with two other white teachers. The population at our school is around 80% Hispanic. The two other white teachers mocked the fact that some of their students were demonstrably in a state of grief over the election of Donald Trump, mocking in particular a girl who had cried.

We must not dismiss or discredit the American experience of others because it is not our own American experience.

We can hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and continue to function. If you are opposed to President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) as a policy, you can hold that thought in mind while also recognizing that the tears of a seventeen year old girl who is months from graduation but who may lose her DACA status are legitimate and understandable and deserving of our sympathy, not our mockery.

It is also possible to hold in mind the two opposing thoughts that while her parents have committed a crime, they are not criminals, a paradox that is proven true by the fact that we unevenly extend (or withhold) it when that extension (or withholding) is convenient to our social, political, or religious points of view (see above definition of propaganda).

We all must listen to one another. We must listen with sympathy to the American experience of displaced factory workers or coal miners.

You can hold that sympathy, and the desire that each and every one of their jobs comes back to them, in mind alongside the logic that because of automation and the simple fact that we now burn less coal, each and every job won’t be able to come back, and that a promise that each and every job will come back, though we may root for it, sounds like propaganda.

We must listen to the American experience of factory workers and coal miners and farmers and small business owners with as much sympathy as we listen to the American experience of those who feel threatened and unjustly treated by law enforcement or our justice system.

In the past year, several of my friends shared a meme (it might be a meme—I’m not entirely confident that I know what exactly makes a meme a meme, but it had a picture and words) that told the story of an African American man who was carrying a firearm when he was pulled over by the police. As a result of his courtesy and obedience, the man experienced no issues with the officer.

It’s an interesting story, though statistically insignificant (just as this man’s experience multiplied by a thousand would be statistically insignificant), and it does not dismiss or discredit those whose experiences are counter to it.

We can hold in our head respect and regard for the job that police officers perform alongside sympathy and concern for African Americans, for whom the American experience is filtered through government policies—slavery, Jim Crow, the Federal Housing Administration—that have discriminated against them (and empowered terrorism against them) since the country’s inception.

We must not dismiss the American experience of African-Americans or other people of color because it differs from our own.

We must not dismiss the American experience of the white working class because it differs from our own.

We must not dismiss the American experience of women because it differs from our own.

We must not dismiss the American experience of Muslim Americans because it differs from our own.

We must not dismiss the American experience of the LGBTQ community because it differs from our own.

We all must listen to one another.

What we do not need to listen to—in any way, shape, or form—and what we must instead fight against in any way we can, is speech that categorically limits or dismisses the views, concerns, rights, or humanity of our fellow Americans—according to race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or any other category.

We can hold in our mind hope for the economic renewal of our nation and the safety of our nation in a Trump presidency alongside an outright rejection of bigotry, racism, sexism, and xenophobia that may be emboldened by his election. In fact, it is our duty as Americans to reject, if not combat, those elements.

You can hold in your mind that you voted for Donald Trump out of a belief that he was the best choice for your country and your family. You can hold that thought right alongside the recognition that in his words and in his actions Donald Trump is not the embodiment of your moral, family, and Christian values. He is not the man you want your children to become.

During the campaign, the argument at this point would turn to “Well, she’s not any better.” But Hillary Clinton has been rejected, and is no longer a factor in this conversation.

Donald Trump no longer benefits from the comparison. He is now accountable to all of us. She is not. TC mark

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