You Don’t (politically) Know Me At All
Or: political identity is killing our ability to connect as humans
You could’ve just propped me up on the table like a mannequin / or a cardboard standup and paint me anything / any face that you want me to be…
— Ben Folds
In a rare fit of extroversion, I was having drinks with a friend the other night, as well as a friend of hers. I was trying to make light conversation with my friend’s friend about her job, the conversation quickly devolved into bemoaning our politically polarized state of affairs. I should probably note out of fairness that my friend’s friend was ahead of me by a few pints.
“Things are just so terrible right now, you know?” she said. I shrugged.
“Yeah,” I said, thinking of the countless rabbit holes my research has led me down. “…I think things have actually been pretty bad for quite a while, it’s just getting really obvious now…”
“No, but I mean, like, people are horrible,” she says with conviction.
“Well, yeah, you’ll always get that,” I shrug again, smiling my impenetrable Pollyanna smile. “Things are really polarized right now, so I think everyone feels especially— “
“NO,” she interrupted emphatically, “like I don’t understand how you can vote for Trump and be a good person. And it just makes me feel so depressed that there are really that many terrible people out there.”
“Oh,” was my only response. “Well that rigid worldview explains why you have so much anxiety,” is not something I said out loud.
As a means of empathizing, I tried to explain that, as an educator and as an independent journalist, I do my best to ignore party lines and affiliation, and just focus on the details of the story, and how it connects to what I can verify through experience.
“But,” she mused, “that must be really hard to keep yourself that mentally separated from your work.”
“No, it’s not separate at all,” I replied. “I don’t have separate work personas. I’m the same person with the same views, personally and professionally.”
She blinked at me.
“But…so what do you believe, then?”
“Well, I try not to,” I smiled. “New information could present itself that causes me to shift my perspective, so I have to leave room for the possibility that — ”
“Ok, yeah, that’s great, but like…I know what I know. Right? Like, I believe what I believe. If you voted for Trump, you’re part of the problem. That’s it.”
She looked at me like she had just made a profound moral statement.
“Well,” I said and emptied my glass, looking around for the bartender to order another, “you’re right; things do sound really bad when you put it that way.”
The dogma of ideology
I get it — we all have bad days, and we all become overwhelmed and despair at times. I don’t hold it against my friend’s friend at all. I’ve done the same.
This isn’t a post about how smug and morally aggrandizing liberals are. It’s also not a post about how mean and selfish conservatives are. It’s about how dumb everyone is for believing that those two categories actually exist.
It’s hard, sometimes, to write about politics here (ok, all the time), because a) I’d rather be writing poetry, and b) there’s just so much room for misunderstanding. Like, a Grand Canyon-sized pit of opportunity for misunderstanding.