Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Democrats and Reasonable Republicans Need To Come Together

Let me start by saying that all of us are on a continuum, and our major differences stem from where we sit on that continuum.

As Americans, most of us believe in the same general ideas. For instance, in America we use the tax system to fund our government and the things we use in common that can't be built individually. So it's not that Democrats believe in taxes and Republicans don't; it's where on the continuum we stand on them. We have a set of laws and regulations that define us as a society. If every single thing we do in public or private is regulated by the government, we have no freedom; if nothing is regulated, we have no freedom either.

We're not polar opposites; we are just on different places on the spectrum.

The way our democratic/republic system is supposed to work is that we have input from different points of view, and by negotiation and compromise, we come to a place where there is something for everyone - no one gets all of what they want, but everyone gets some of what they want. We are not an autocracy where everything is determined by one person or party. We are not supposed to be trying to stamp out the other's point of view. It is not good vs. evil.

Somewhere along the line, but brought to a fine point by Newt Gingrich in the 90s with his "Contract with America", came the idea that Democrats were not the loyal opposition but enemies to be eradicated, and that the goal was not a compromise between both parties in the marketplace of ideas, but to usher in permanent Republican rule, as Karl Rove declared. These radicals evolved into the Tea Party, and it's not too strong a statement to say that their aim is not cooperation but permanent political dominance. And this position has gotten more and more extreme, with little to no respect for the other side. Liberalism is not a balancing factor but a dangerous ideology, to be vanquished whenever and wherever possible. Hatred for liberals was a significant factor in Trump's election.

But it has not only been Democrats who have been demonized; it has also been reasonable Republicans. Moderate Republicans have been largely forced out or marginalized by this radical right, which is largely responsible for the inability of the Republicans to pass much significant legislation despite controlling the House, the Senate and the White House. In the meantime, a rogue President goes unchecked.

Reasonable Republicans are in a bind - they don't want to align with the radicals who are clearly out of their minds, who defy facts and science and math, who are racist and misogynist and homophobic and xenophobic and theocratic, who are going against everything that this country stands for - immigration, equal rights, public safety, separation of church and state, the integrity of the vote - yet they are not ready to identify with Democrats, either.

To them, I say: it's OK. You don't need to be a Democrat to help us regain what the radical Trumpists have taken from us. I know you worry that by aligning yourself with Democrats you are betraying your core identity as a Republican. But let's be honest - Democrats and reasonable Republicans have more in common than reasonable Republicans and the crazy Trump fringe. We're not asking you to give up your identity or be a Democrat or a liberal. We can agree on common facts and reality. They are in an 'alternative' universe. Which would be fine, except they have taken the power to inflict that alternate reality on us. This is already damaging us both inside our country and with our relationship to the rest of the world. And it can literally lead us to nuclear war. We have never been closer, even during the Cold War, because it would not happen as a deliberate policy decision by a nation, but as a confrontation between two unstable world leaders. Any little mistake, accident or provocation could bring it on.

As firmly as I believe in my liberal ideals, I also believe that my ideas should not be the only ones. I believe that Democrats and Republicans have to work together to temper each other's extremes or excesses. I don't want a permanent Democratic majority. There are good and bad ideas on both sides, and that's what America is to me - a place where everyone has a voice and can work together, a place that was built by and enriched by immigrants from its very inception, a place where one side does not control everything. It should also be a place where we share our common values, and respect facts and science.

So I'm calling on reasonable Republicans, not to become Democrats, but to take your party back from the fact-challenged extremists who are not even conservative. You don't have to give up your beliefs to join us, because at the end of the day we have more in common with each other than with Trumpism.

(I should add that this applies to progressive v. centrist Dems as well - we can hash out differences in party direction later, but right now this is triage. We cannot afford to dilute or fracture our vote and risk losing another election, or at least enough seats to have some kind of say rather than being shut out altogether as we are now.)

Our differences can be debated from a foundation of a shared reality. Not so with the Trumpists. They are neither real conservatives nor Republicans, but authoritarians following a narcissistic, childish despot-wanna-be. It is urgent that we come together to save a place where we can have those differences  - while we still can.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

How About How Liberals Feel, For A Change?

Once again, it's the Left that's being asked to consider the Right's feelings. It's the Left that is, as usual, being asked to do all the compromising for the sake of moving past gridlock. It's the Left that's accused of not respecting the opinions of the Right.

In the wake of the horrific and tragic Marjory Stoneman Douglas school shootings, the ever-temperate and moderate bothsiderist David Brooks tells us that "The people who defend gun rights believe that snobbish elites look down on their morals and want to destroy their culture."

His answer, of course, is that "(i)t’s necessary to let people from Red America lead the way, and to show respect to gun owners at all points." After all, if we snobbish liberal elites would just get off our high horses for a minute and try to understand how the Real Americans of the Heartland™ feel, and not just be hating and thinking we're so superior all the time, then maybe we can all move forward.

And of course, we always do.

Cue the tsunami of articles about Trump voters and how they feel and why they feel and why they're so downtrodden and ignored by the arrogant Left. How, they bemoan, can we understand the Red Staters better? What can we say to them to show them we're not haters? When are we going to show them some respect and stop telling them "who they are and what they think" from our lofty elitist towers?

Oddly, enough, this always seems to be a one-way street.

Have you ever gone to any right-wing sites or read any right-wing Facebook posts asking each other to consider the left-wing point of view? To try to put themselves in a liberal's shoes? To wonder why liberals think the way they do, and maybe understand them better?

Go ahead; I'll wait.

No. I haven't, either.

I can tell you that I have spent a LOT of time 'trying to see the other side's point of view'. In fact, I wrote a whole book trying to figure it out. Before I stopped posting my political viewpoint on Facebook, even in my most angry rants, I tried to show respect for those who believed differently than I did and to acknowledge that they (some, anyway) were trying to be the best people they could be and believed in the righteousness of their position as much as I believe in mine. I asked for those people to have an honest and respectful dialogue with me to see where our beliefs connected and did not connect without insults or attacks.

I can count on one hand the people who were actually willing to have that discussion. There were a few people that would, but they were very much the exception. And it was at my invitation, not theirs.

And I never saw, from those on the right, requests for liberals to explain why they believe as they do. I never saw someone from the right reach out to the left asking for respectful dialogue with an open mind to hear an opposing viewpoint with the approach that we are both people of goodwill trying to understand one another. That doesn't mean that it never happens, of course, but I never saw it and I have looked.

We are both - right and left - accused of operating within our own bubbles, more comfortable with surrounding ourselves with those who share and reinforce our own point of view. And this is pretty much true. But I can tell you that, at least with my own experience, when I try to engage the other side, most of the time I am not met with respect.

There are some people who thrive on argument and conflict and do well with confrontation, and they will go out there and give as good as they get. But I have yet to see an argument on Facebook that has resulted in "Gee, you're right! I need to change my point of view to yours!"

In any political conflict where there are diametrically opposed positions, it is always the left that is asked to capitulate for the sake of breaking a stalemate. It is always the left asked to make concessions to their beliefs. When Republicans are in power, Democrats are expected to compromise - and they do. As opposed as Dems were to George W. Bush's agenda, they gave him most of what he wanted, including a disastrous, unnecessary war. They cannot bear to be seen as 'obstructionist'. They believe that you have to give in order to get - you know, the way that the government worked back in the good old days when Dems and Repubs would argue bitterly on the floor, and then go out for drinks afterwards. But when Democrats are in power, they are treated as illegitimate by the Republican party (thanks to good ol' Newt) so that obstructing the Democratic agenda is seen as a virtue, and to compromise at all is to abandon conservative principles. And, of course, we can't be faulted for standing up for our principles, can we?

We're supposed to feel for the Red-Staters who Brooks quotes as "offended by the lawn signs that said, 'Hate Has No Home Here.' The implication: Hate has no home in my house, but it does in yours." It's understandable, even justifiable, for them to be offended by the slights that they see themselves subjected to by the thoughtless and uncharitable Left - but at the same time, they deride liberals who feel offended by their treatment by the right as being "special snowflakes". The Left are always the 'real racists' if they point out racism, and intolerant if they object to being discriminated against because of religious objections. They are 'haters' if they object to being hated.

As the bleeding-heart, open-minded liberal I am, I am willing - more than willing - to consider or even embrace an opposite point of view if you could empirically prove it to me. If you could really show me that tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations truly make the economy better for everyone, I would change my position on tax cuts. I'm not married to them ideologically - I want results. But of course, it has never been shown to me to work  - but if you had proof to show me, I would not ignore it.

So far, though, I have not been met with either respect, good faith, willingness to listen or empirical truth from the right. Until we get some sort of reciprocity (see what I did there?) from the other side, I am not especially interested in continuing the same dynamic where one side does all the reaching out, all the understanding, all the capitulating. Because it will continue exactly like that as long as we allow it to.

And I am not willing to roll over on a matter of principle as important as preventing mass murder.