I’ve been having a hard time writing here for a while now, mainly because I have little hope of it making a difference. And if it doesn’t make a difference, if it’s just a way to blow off steam, or worse—get pats on the back from liberal friends—I don’t see any reason to keep on. Despite some of the good news for Democrats in last night’s elections, I am not particularly optimistic about the future. I don’t see Congress flipping next year, and even if it does, the huge number of people in this country who loathe Democrats, who distrust foreigners, who are sick of seeing football players taking a knee, who are annoyed by seeing two boys holding hands or girls dressing as boys or Indians protesting pipelines—none of these people are leaving. And I don’t see any minds changing—either side of the aisle—no matter what happens.
What is maddening about this is that often when people of different views sit down together, they have far less dividing them than they have in common. It’s just that we don’t live close to each other anymore, so we don’t talk much, so we forget that’s true. When we do sit down together, though, we are actually kind, for the most part. If someone’s uncle shoots himself, we agree in retrospect that with his depression and his drinking, he probably shouldn’t have had a gun in the house. If someone’s 16-year-old has an abortion, we’re all sorry about it in our various ways. None of us, in any case, thinks she should go to prison. The sanctimony of some vegan relative often annoys all of us. We’re all equally horrified to find someone’s son is living on the streets, and we all agree it isn’t because he’s just shiftless or flaky. We all agree he’s had problems since he was four years old. We agree about how self-involved some gay or environmental activist cousin has always been, even if we disagree about whether that relates to his sexual or political orientation.
One thing about all these made-up examples is this—we agree about the facts, we just sometimes disagree about what to do about them, if anything. On the internet, people don’t even agree about the facts anymore, and this is what has me despondent. Because there is stuff that is true, and there is stuff that is false. And there’s a truckload of stuff, of course, we don’t know enough about to even have an opinion on. But on the internet, people have an opinion about everything. If there’s a mass shooting . . . you don’t need to know anything more, if you’re a Democrat. There are too many guns. If you’re a Republican, all you need to know is whether the person was a Muslim. If he was a Muslim, he was a terrorist. If he wasn’t, he was crazy. The same kind of instant opinion comes for almost every other bit of news. Listen to yourself the next time you watch or read it.
We are not nearly that stupid and mean in our personal lives. And if we are, if we yell at each other when the subject turns to politics, it’s interesting that that’s about the only thing that makes us stupid and mean. Or that makes us that stupid and mean.
I don’t know if there’s any way out of this. I am frankly not hopeful.
I think one thing to do might be to stop thinking about which party we belong to and see if we can agree on one or two specific problems. Argue about the solutions but at least agree on the problems. I don’t know if even that is possible, though, frankly. One problem I wrote about last summer was unwanted pregnancies. I thought everyone, no matter what stripe, might agree that’s a problem. I had some suggestions to help solve that problem which someone might call liberal but that I prefer to call pragmatic. But I don’t know. Maybe they’re just liberal. Maybe the only solution many people see is what doesn’t seem a solution to me at all, just slowly and steadily making abortion as inaccessible as possible.
I am not hopeful.
For some reason it doesn’t work the way it does at home, among family. We agree that cousin Summerbright (née Marge) is a self-righteous vegan at Thanksgiving. We talk about various solutions. We might have to all just grit our teeth and cook her another damn tofurkey. When she starts comparing the “fumes” of the real bird in the oven to the smoke over Buchenwald, Uncle Kevin will be the one to nicely call her on her shit, talk her down.
It is possible to work together. It is possible to be kind. It’s possible to remain in disagreement and be kind.
I just don’t know if there’s a tofurkey and Uncle Kevin for this country. I really don’t know if it’s possible for the whole country to be kind.