More United Than You Think
Truth, Integrity, and Evil
I grew up Republican. Please, keep reading.
Bear with me. Put the fact-checker down, and release your clenched fist. In an emotional pandemic year that has had more changes than a Taylor Swift concert, where these United States seems more divided than ever, I’m going to make the pitch that we’re more similar than you think.
My dad didn’t vote, hated rich people, and worked really hard. My mom was an evangelical, instilling me with ideas of fairness, morality, and biblical principles. I sided with Mom, watched the Reagan-Mondale debates, cheered for George H.W., and booed Clinton at seventeen, cursing God for making me two-days too young to vote.
Then I found Rush Limbaugh and became a “ditto head,” believing the man was never wrong. I was practically Alex P. Keaton minus the entrepreneurial drive. (I’m also taller.)
I was sheltered, with only the narrow view of a small, White world. Yet, Mom also taught me to be a good, compassionate person. I was raised “color blind” with friends of various ethnicities and backgrounds. I assumed Systemic Racism was a liberal myth, a dramatic hyperbole that stemmed from isolated incidents that only happened in southern backwaters.
In my world, every Republican was fighting for the country; every Democrat was fighting for socialism and their own power.
Flip the Script
A funny thing happened: I started paying attention and asking questions. It’s a long story, but as I questioned my faith, I began asking other questions. Specifically, “What if I’m wrong?” — a devastating question. Soon, others followed: questions about racism, oppression, economics, and healthcare.
I began watching all politicians with a healthy skepticism, noticing hypocrisy on both sides. “Dirty Democrat tricks” were now being played by the Republicans “for the greater good.” Hello, self-righteousness.
And as I began pointing to gaps in logic on social media, researching facts (I am a writer), and looking more deeply at both sides, I was labeled by the stalwart idealogues of the social media spheres. They called me liberal, a commie, a racist. Meanwhile, my Democrat Congressman wrote me a response where he accused me of being part of Laura Ingraham’s following. By this time, I was a man without a party. I no longer bought into the Republican platform. But neither the Democrat nor Libertarian platforms appealed to me.
By the 2016 election, I was divided. I decided to opt for the business guy because–hey, at least he might shake things up (ha!), and I didn’t like Hillary’s playing dumb about wiping the email drive with a tissue. Still, I hesitated in the booth longer than I ever had before.
Question the Labels
Two other things happened in 2016: First, I learned about the power of vulnerability through Brené Brown’s work. Secondly, I became a professional writer.
These two decisions led me to a writing conference in New York City where I had a heart-to-heart with someone on the polar-opposite side of the political spectrum. The conversation stayed respectful. [Here’s a link to the article I wrote about that encounter.]
Along the way, I met many fine people on all sides and regretted past assumptions. I began voting for statespeople, those who didn’t rubber-stamp everything their party put forth.
Are MAGAs really ignorant racists who care nothing for the poor and oppressed? Are all Biden supporters in favor of open borders, exorbitant taxes, and no military? I don’t think so.
Most voting Americans are decent, hard-working people. They are your neighbors, your family, your friends, your teachers. They are people who would pull you from a burning building, and vice-versa. The media loves the ratings from focusing on the small percentage who scream, loot, carry guns, and chant threatening rhetoric. Aside from extremists, though, both sides want the same things.
I know. You’re thinking that Republicans want to kill old people and leave the poor destitute or the Democrats want to welcome new voters from Mexico and wipe out businesses, and are wondering how they’re the same. You’re thinking too small.
We all want to take care of our children, to feed and clothe them, to ensure a good education. We all want to earn enough to support our families and loved ones. We all want to feel safe and secure walking down our streets. We all want to challenge ourselves to grow, succeed, and take risks, to see how far we can go.
Lazy & Greedy, or Disenchanted & Afraid?
Fear drives the worst parts of us forward. Media and politicians prey on this fear to their own advantage, though some play the game harder than others and use this leverage more explicitly.
We can push back to the fear by viewing our “enemies” as people with the same needs, hopes, and fears as us. Intelligent, caring, people who want the best for all.
Sales and communications expert Bob Burg recently tweeted, “In traditional ‘left-right’ #politics it used to be, ‘I’m right — you’re wrong.’ / While not ideal, people could still engage one another. / Now, however, it’s ‘I’m right – you’re evil! / And from that premise, engagement (thus, persuasion) is not possible.”
My parents never divorced, but they probably should have. By the time I reached my teen years, they had been married twenty-seven years, none of which seemed happy. And yet, they remained married until the death part of “do us part” arrived. The election of 2020 has felt eerily similar to their marriage.
Divided by means, my parents’ ends were similar: take care of us kids, keep a roof over our heads, and provide for a future. Mom believed in scrimping and saving. Dad believed in the almighty lottery, among many other misalignments. Had they taken the time to understand the actions of the other, maybe their marriage would have been better.
Not unlike my parents, voters want many of the same things and we are divided only by the stories we tell ourselves about the other side. But we are in this democracy — this republic — together, whether we like it or not. Yes, keep your principles. At the same time, be curious. The other side may surprise you.
So, regardless of what angry tweeters say, I know you voted for truth and integrity. We all did. Let’s compare notes.