“He’s a goddamned Communist! He’s ruining our country. Look at his smug face. This country is going to shit,” my dad yelled red-faced at the television, stuffing meat from his prepared meal into his mouth and shaking his fork for emphasis.
I remember it being in reference to Bill Clinton, early on in his tenure but frankly could have been any night of the week when I was around my father, though the years of 1992-2000 and 2008-2016 were particularly galling to him for obvious reasons.
Bill Clinton is a good many things, but communist, alas is not one of them.
Still, that didn’t matter. My father’s team wasn’t in complete power, and thus, as any good partisan there was a multitude of real and perceived affronts to rage against. But just seeing his (or Obama’s) face was enough.
I remember replying to one such outburst over the holiday during the Obama years: “I hear that every time Obama wears a flag pin, it’s a signal for the sleeper cells to activate."
Full disclosure: I consider myself a moderate - a registered Independent or “Unaffiliated” - depending on the state I've lived. I’ve voted for Republicans. And Democrats. And Libertarians. (But never the Green Party, yuck). If I lean a direction, it’s probably slightly right, due to my fiscal feelings around balanced budgets, free trade, and speech. Social issues I’m “left” - and honestly, I’ve never understood my friends on the right who want to leave everything to the states, but, you know, gay marriage, immigration, legalized weed, and other issues they find unseemly.
But, on any given policy I’m down to discuss, read and debate. I’m always trying to educate myself on issues, understand both sides as much as I can, as I admittedly don’t have all the answers - I have opinions - but I recognize my viewpoint going in is not always correct.
Modern politics is now essentially one big "my dad”: red in the face, yelling at me for being wrong, and dumb, and soft, or worse. Our world is Twitterized - it’s a hot take, screamed into the ether, with little thought and even less care whether it’s accurate.
Or that the issue may be nuanced.
Remember nuance? For my millennial friends, that was when there were three sides to a story - your view, my view, and the truth. We debated, without shame, and even if we disagreed, we walked away as friends. Because, you know, it’s just politics? It’s not the end of the world. No one agrees with anyone 100%. Want to grab a beer and watch sports?
Now, sports is all politicized. Beer companies like most brand and celebrities are required to take a stand on social issues and most telling, nuance is not just dead but buried in a shallow grave and urinated on while being live-streamed onto your social platform of choice.
If my dad thinks I’m a leftie for being moderate in his worldview, living in California has been an eye opener in the other direction. I haven’t quite been ostracized for thinking much of identity politics is lazy surface thinking or being concerned about underfunded public pensions accounts that make the fiscal standing of the state shakier than discussed. But if I were - and I try not - to bring up the issues to many of my liberal California friends I may get the Antifa treatment and punched in the face. So let’s keep my thoughts on this between us, okay?
(Granted, this is probably just my privilege of being white and growing up poor in a shitty rural town in Ohio across the river from West Virginia talking anyways.)
As a rule, I simply do not discuss politics with hyper-partisan folks. I don’t talk - after much, much pain and grief - with my dad about politics. And same with the other side ranting and raving about whatever the outrage of the day is. Even when I agree, I won’t chime in most times (except when, sigh, red wine).
Because I’ve learned that most people don’t want to discuss issues. They just want to yell at you about their viewpoints as a form of self-loathing cathartic steam releasing. No one changes another person's mind. It’s tribalism at it’s worst. A function of the 24-hour news media and the hyper-moment by moment social media cycle, and maybe, just maybe a sign that we have it a little too good. If we were focusing on finding the next meal for our family or running building to building shooting at insurgents, l doubt we’d worry so much about trying to regulate what everyone thinks and shaming those that don’t pass your personalized political litmus test.
Then again, I do have that California lens now, having lived in Los Angeles for over a decade. Political diversity here is about a prevalent as it is in North Korea, so maybe folks are having detailed, well-meaning policy debates elsewhere and I’m just not aware of them.
Ultimately, I’ve adopted avoidance, and granted my choice to abstain may not be the best approach (and per the above and below, apparently not a 100% absolute rule). I just have the scars from unhealthy “debate” and I have chosen to disengage and make my mark by donating to causes, publications and people I believe in, and, of course, vote.
But when it comes to maintaining healthy friendships, I’m relying on the Cold War concept of Mutual Assured Destruction (yes, “MAD”), understanding that political debates can destroy those friendships. So the threat of discussing will have to be enough. (Don't make me push this very robust button.)
Then again, maybe it’s like that line from Reality Bites, and not having a pick-up line is my pick-up line. And writing about how I don’t care means that I am concerned and do ultimately care about the lack of civility and dialogue, and yes, nuance in the world.
But you won't hear that from me.
I hope regardless we can still be friends, though. Agree to disagree - that’s still a thing?
Let’s have a drink and discuss…anything at all, but politics.