|Wednesday, November 3, 2004
16:41 - Stop all the fussin' and the feudin'
Megan McArdle on InstaPundit says:
A DEMOCRATIC FRIEND OF MINE JUST GOT A PHONE CALL from a Republican she doesn't speak to that often, allegedly to "say hi" but transparently to gloat. This is my plea to Bush voters to give peace a chance. If we have any chance of ending the sniping and bitterness that characterise the current political scene, it's going to start with Republicans being gracious winners. If you have to indulge your schadenfreude, do it silently by lurking on Democratic websites and reading hair-tearing left-wing editorials, not by alienating people with whom we'd like to eventually build a better America.
It's easy to be magnanimous in victory, true. But it's also a moral imperative.
I've been studiously avoiding striking up conversations with any friends or acquaintances who I know are deeply distraught about the election results. If they initiate a conversation with me, I'll be happy to talk, but even then—unless they're really revolting in their demeanor—I won't bring up politics. Like the guy I wrote about in this post: even though he sent out a grotesque "Obituary for the United States of America: Dead at 228" e-mail to his personal announcement list (which I'm on), and even though I'm taking this opportunity to enact the Great Unmasking, I'm doing it with the intent of keeping the bridges of communication structurally sound, not slashing his chest open with a swish and a swash of my rhetorical snickersnee. I have no interest in making fresh enemies, and while I can see the impulses that would force someone to do so after a humiliating defeat, to do it from the winner's seat seems unutterably low.
So I won't. Instead, I'm going to wait for his next e-mail where he'll flood me with another 30K of rambling prose in which he expresses shock at my revealing my true form, insistence upon keeping an open mind to other points of view, clever and intricate metaphors and references to musical theater and noir films and oddball stand-up comedians which circulate around some elusive point, and random sideswipes at previously unmentioned targets like Mel Gibson or H&R Block. And then I'll slowly start building up from my own terse, two-sentence communiqués and offers of links like this one to start putting things into my own, demonstrated non-confrontational words.
I'll start by pointing out that I voted for Gore in 2000, and was peeved (but only mildly) when he lost; I viewed the recounts as a waste of time, because I really didn't care, to be honest—the election that year was fought on the basis of dreadfully boring matters like health care and Social Security and environmental policies, and I just couldn't get interested. Yet for that first year I remained as I had through high school and college: fiercely, internally murderously liberal, entertaining all kinds of wild fantasies and pseudo-intellectual ramblings in which I eviscerated the religious, the business-centric, the environmentally unsound, the anti-"progressive" impulses I sought so hard and with such media-fueled certainty to see in everyone around me, even though they really didn't exist outside of movies and books. I just never seemed to notice, and school provided little counterexample.
But then 9/11 happened, and for a time—a couple of months—I was firmly in a camp Michael Moore would have found homelike, though I'd not yet heard of him: I resented that urban population centers had been hit, not places like the Deep South where the Islamists' true ideological rivals really lay. While I genuinely wanted us to go kick some ass in retaliation, the "Why do they hate us?" mentality held me in thrall. I fumed, I stewed. But then, and the glibness of this admission embarrasses me, but it's true: hungry, perhaps, for some small validation of the swirling patriotism I felt around me and in which I wanted defensively to take some active part, I started reading the opinions of the people I'd always considered so "evil", the ones who get literature with elephants on it instead of donkeys. And much to my shock I found that it was nothing like what I'd expected. It wasn't hateful. It wasn't lowbrow. It wasn't homophobic. It wasn't racist. It wasn't disdainful of the less fortunate. It wasn't even so religious as to be insipid. The only thing it had that I did expect was a greater tendency than I'd been used to to treat the American flag as something more than a symbol of ironic satire; when these people started to rhapsodize about the tenets for which it stood, and quoted idealists throughout history and events that supported them, they meant it. Suddenly, all those flags on people's bumpers and hanging from overpasses in those confused months started to make sense. And my mind, up till then torn precariously between wanting to believe those flags had been posted by good, decent, intelligent folks, and wallowing in guilty bile over how 9/11 had struck so unfairly against so many people who didn't deserve it—well, it all began to coalesce. Suddenly history stopped telling a story and started being coherent. Suddenly I understood the motives of the people who would vote according to how it affected their pocketbook or their family's safety. Suddenly self-defense and the right to bear arms became sensible, even crucial things. Suddenly all those outdated, retrograde opinions that I'd dismissed so readily in the past stood up and waved their unique stories at me, and I realized for the first time that history didn't begin with my birth, that people older and wiser than me had shaped the world I lived in, and that maybe I didn't have all the answers myself.
(And in none of my colloquy with right-wing writers have I ever encountered anyone fantasizing about murdering the opposition en masse, which is more than I can say for this acquaintance of mine.)
There's been no "climate of fear" in this country; only dire warnings of what would become of us under a second Bush term. There have been no knocks in the night. Our e-mails aren't being intercepted, our phone calls aren't being bugged. People are free to protest by the hundreds of thousands in our largest cities, and they have to actually start breaking windows and vandalizing cars before the cops even dare to step in. Filmmakers get away with publishing outrageous slanderous claims against the President and his staff and intentionally sapping the morale of our troops overseas and encouraging their enemies, and said filmmakers aren't charged with treason, they're awarded gold statues and placed in the high seat of honor at the DNC. The dire predictions of the people I used to identify with clash with the real world around me so starkly that I have to doubt either their sanity, or my own. But I know how much more sense the world has made since I switched ideological allegiances, and my mind is far more at ease with itself, because for the first time in my life I actually feel as though there's intellectual and practical precedent for the things I believe in, rather than having to rely on what always seemed like the fanciful tenets of storybooks: wouldn't it be nice if everyone thought the way we do...?
So buck up, I'll tell the guy. It's really not so bad.
There's plenty of work to be done, but I'd much rather get people like this to see into my world and why I've made it my home, than to alienate them and make them all the more dead-set on fighting everything I stand for.
Deep down, I think we share the same values: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We might interpret each of those things differently: while I might believe those things stand for self-defense, self-determination, and the ability to make one's children healthier and wealthier than oneself, he might claim they mean safety, security, and ever-increasing ease. I can understand those motivations. But I've been there to see both sides, and I know where I'm more comfortable. I think the onus to change lies on those who refuse to even unshade their eyes to see what the other side looks like.
It's worth a try.