I remember when the colors of the American flag were co-opted into cattle pens from which we could hate each other.
It was during media coverage of the 2000 presidential election. Our states were no longer simply organized on a digital map to keep track of results—they were appropriated and renamed. Not Arkansas and Massachusetts and Hawaii—“Red” and “Blue.” Simple. Different. Easy to insert the word “versus” between.
We, the people, in order to cope with the manufactured quicksand of our lives, purchased a new mirage of certainty that night, and in the years that followed, for the price of our sister- and brotherhood.
We have paid it to the manufacturers. They are easy to hold responsible (media, the political establishment, corporations) because their products are everywhere. On our televisions, our smartphones—the list doesn’t have to go much further, does it? Those screens are where we live now. But what is it that we really see? Not their teleprompters or their talking points or balance sheets. We see the photos they attach to articles, and the ideas those images are too often meant to evoke. A black teenager wearing a hoodie: danger. A Don’t Tread on Me flag: narrow-minded. Ultimately, it is each other we blame, just as we are told to do. It’s a neat trick. It works. We proclaim our hatred with our ugliest words: “F***ing Democrats.” “God***n Fox News.” We buy.
Friends, let’s choose a refund. No one has to agree to give it. All one person has to do to get started is set his phone down on the end table and say “Good morning” to the person with the Trump sign on their lawn. I know—if you consider yourself a liberal, that’s hard to swallow. I’m not suggesting you accept Trump—just your neighbor two houses down. I guarantee that more connects you than separates you.
Let’s embrace pluralism. Let’s replace “versus” with “and.” We are not helpless. We can believe that laws must be respected *and* that provisions must be made for those fleeing privation, corruption, mortal fear. We can take pride in American accomplishments and leadership *and* recognize our historical misdeeds.
Our words are key. They can be a currency or an arsenal, a bridge or a slamming door. Consider the following examples:
One Facebook friend posts, “Republicans f***ing hate women.”
Another writes, “I think the proposed abortion measures in Texas are too restrictive.”
If you label yourself a social conservative, which conversation are you more likely to join? (I’d like to do away with the labeling, but one thing at a time).
Here is another:
“Democrats want to take our guns.”
“President Obama has proposed stricter background checks for buying assault rifles, but the law was never passed.”
The first is a soundbite nearly everyone has heard on cable news. The second is a specific statement of fact and outcome.
To be clear: I do not discount the importance of anger in the face of injustice, or the need to vigorously protest violations of civil or human or constitutional rights. And certainly we are all free to use social media however we like. But the shrieking voices are numerous and plenty, and the civil eloquence is in short supply.
We deserve better. We deserve to vote our consciences and then have a barbecue no matter which candidates’ signs are on our neighbor’s lawn. We deserve to say, “I really disagree. But let’s have a drink.” We might end up talking about the movies, or we might end up talking about health care. We might discover that our circumstances are more similar than we assumed. The actions of our leaders are a separate conversation—this is about ourselves. We deserve better than “versus.” If we keep our eyes open, we can have it any time we choose. And no one can take it away.