Make America Shut Up And Listen Again
Get out your rosary. Make the Sign of the Cross. Knock on wood. Throw salt over your shoulder. And/or pray to whatever spaceship Tom Cruise prays to....I'm going to need the luck.
Let's do this like a bandaid.
Nay, American politics: The Game Where No One Wins.
I have a degree in Political Science from a very good(-ish) school. That is to say, I spent four years debating why I shouldn't have to take a math class, and the last three weeks of my college career negotiating my way out of a couple thousand dollars in parking fines.
It was a simpler time. Also, as an aside, nothing about my life has changed.
I love the history of politics, and I love seeing how formative events change conversations based on the level of fear in the society. Like, I'm serious, I actually find this stuff interesting. I mean, sheesh, 9/11 happened less than a month into me moving 2,000 miles to go to college. Formative AF.
I don't shy away from political discourse because I have an expensive degree saying I'm technically proficient in it, but I don't exactly engage these days either. The problem is that there is no such thing as discourse anymore. We are lousy with discord, sure, but are woefully lacking in civility. And coming from someone who can hold her own in an argument when I try, it's genuinely obnoxious to feel like you're yelling your point, and that what you're yelling at is a brick wall that is giving you the stink eye and a middle finger.
The difference between discourse and discord is the same difference between a protest and a riot. The difference between First Amendment rights and civility is the distance between standing up for what you believe in, and yelling "Fire!" in a crowded theater. One might be annoying, but empowering; the other is dangerous and unproductive.
We are so divided as a country, that it scares many of us, myself included. And if you're not scared, that scares me more. I don't care what "side" you're on, things are a mess. I mean, geez, we can barely stand in the same room with each other unless we know for certain whether your blood flows red or blue on election day.
We're so far removed from an intellectual conversation that we might as well be on another planet when it comes to hearing other's perspectives. It's almost funny. Almost.
I find those that bring up something politically divisive in order to spark a reaction boring. Being intentionally aggravating just because you have the words to do so is such a waste of my energy. Ain't nobody got time for that kind of high blood pressure, man. I'm looking at you, 24-hour news jerks. The only thing you've done for me is make my cardiologist and my therapist rich. Knock it off.
Words mean quite literally everything to me, and the lexicon of this period in politics is actually fascinating. Assuming we come out of this part of history without a civil war or some kind of nuclear winter, it will make for a really good Ken Burns documentary in about 80 years. I would be interested to know how other people feel about this, but I really believe that we have used our words to force people into little boxes of beliefs based on our assumptions, and are making each other choose one side come hell or high water, then we punish each other for the choice.
We have pigeonholed the people in our lives into terms that help us categorize how we can hate them by using words like "liberal" and "conservative" as swords, turning them into "socialists" and "fascists". I tested this theory tonight by power-texting everyone in my phone and asking: "Give me the first word you think of when I say I voted for [insert opponent here]." The answers were harsh, polarizing, isolating, and interestingly, instantaneous. Gone are the days of "tree-hugger" and "bible thumper", and here to stay are "naive commie idiots" and "closed-minded xenophobes". We're we're really nailing it in 2017.
This, in my tiny 11:30pm on a Thursday night opinion, is the new "your momma", and is designed to ruffle feathers because bullying feels rewarding on some primitive level.
And before you get on your high horse, both sides are doing it. Be mad at me if you want to, this blog isn't exactly paying the bills anyway. Just think about it. Did the naked statue of Trump in New York showing him with comically tiny hands and a micro-penis put him in his place? Or is it the same behavior of objectifying someone in the way we are demanding he stop his objectification of women?
I'm not defending misogyny, relax. I'm just asking. Are you eye-for-an-eye'ing, or are you trying to make a change?
I know the answer for myself...I know my ego wants me to win the fight, and to make someone cry with remorse once my impassioned argument makes all the mikes drop in three counties, but all it does is make people clam up. Not one person ever has ever had a change of heart because I've yelled at them, made fun of them, or reduced them to the degree of smallness that they made me feel.
I think we've lost room for curiosity in our lives, just in case you were wondering how I felt. We are not ok with making a little room in our brains for being curious about how the other side thinks. So we make up facts that fit the anger we want to feel (#fakenews), and consequently all stories outside of the one we invented are lies and attacks. This is exactly why we are the most medicated, least educated, most reactionary society like ever*.
<It's true, but don't fact check that...I certainly didn't.>
I called my parents and made them put me on speaker and interrogated them, as they are politically astute and very passionate about the comings and goings these days. I asked why we don't have the capacity to hear other people when talking politics.
Because of emotion, they agreed. People on extreme ends of the political spectrum are emotional and offended easily. We take politician's successes and failures as personally as most of us took Jen and Brad's break-up, and how the rest of us take the news that someone in the family just came out as a Red Sox fan.
Then my mom said I should write a blog about "how much you love your mommy." Hashtag: I'm thirty-four-years-old.
We're coming up on a holiday weekend, which means family time.
Which means drinking (at for me).
Which means things will be said.
Which means I'll probably end up crying whiskey sour tears...or at the very least, shame eating my weight in badly cooked s'mores and a bag o' stale Doritos.
It's my process.
Maybe we can come up with some strategies together to help us navigate the dark and murky waters that are filled with very sensitive sharks.
Uh, I think I mean the water is anything political, and the sharks are your drunk uncle who says that being gay is a choice. Or something, pick a metaphor.
I use anxiety like it's a serious case of asthma. "Oh, I can't talk about gun control and mental health loopholes in relation to nationalized health care...you know...anxiety, and I didn't bring my inhaler."
<I use anxiety as an excuse when friends move too. Aunt Air doesn't *do* manual labor. Well, unless there's a DeFazio's pizza at the end of the U-Haul.>
But just because my anxiety is not an actual disability for me, doesn't mean that I don't have to set boundaries more concrete than Trump's Wall when it comes to my emotional hygiene.
Here are my very serious ground rules I have when it comes to any conversation with anyone in my life. These boundaries are patrolled heavily with armed guards when it comes to hot button things like politics, and are lines in the sand that will not be crossed for my own safety and sanity:
- No personal attacks: I do not accept language that attacks someone's physical appearance or characteristics. (e.g. "That fat bitch is probably a lesbian anyway, so of course she hates all men.") ((ps, that was a real sentence that was used in a real conversation, with real adults, about me.))
- No bullying/shaming/defamatory words: I do not accept language that uses shame in an attempt at belittling to make your opponent cower (e.g. "Dude, did you just said you were a feminist? I didn't know you were such a fag." #AlsoHappened)
- No fearmongering: fear has quite literally run my life for as long as I can remember. I do not need help in that department. Therefore, I do not accept language that uses fear as a means of control. (The best example of this in the history of life is Lyndon Johnson's 1964 "Daisy" political ad. Essentially it was a little girl in a field of flowers, counting, and then out of no where, a nuke explodes, and you hear a voice-over that says the stakes are too high to not vote for Johnson. I love this commercial so much.)
- No minimizing: I don't accept language that puts Baby in a corner. If something is important to me, and you like me even a little, you'll recognize that and respect me for it (e.g. "Get over it, women have all kinds of rights now, stop being so disgruntled.") ((Literally said to me at work this week.))
- No 24-hour news commentator one-liners: you are not now, nor have you ever been Anderson Cooper or Glen Beck. Calm down, and stop trying to have a great comeback.
For what it's worth, here are my tips for you navigating Uncle Bob's quasi-racist rants whilst he flips burgers, and your Cousin Jane's leftist catastrophizing as she reminds you, again, that she's vegan:
- Empathize: you might not get why your dad wants to build a wall to keep people out of the country, but he doesn't get why you don't want someone to tell you that you can't have access to birth control. Remind yourself, out loud if you have to, that you know what it feels like to not be heard and understood, and that your perspective seems just as far fetched as theirs does to you.
- Be kind: do not use language that you would not used to you. Reign in your sarcasm, and figure out where your humor stick is pointing.
- Find common ground, even if it almost kills you: did your mom's cousin just say he'd pray for you because he thinks you're gay? Ok, don't panic. Wait a few minutes, then ask him to describe the first time he was in love. Ask him what the butterflies felt like. Or what the silliest thing he did to impress his crush. Or maybe look closely. Do you guys have the same color eyes? That's a start. Work up from there.
- Make it a drinking game: did your mom bring up abortion whilst passing the chicken parm? Cool. That's the third time today. Take a shot with Nana, she'll be down for sure.
Guys, we'll get through this. We made it through a lot worse spots than this. America is a tough old Broad, and if we keep trying to talk - and more importantly, listen - things will move forward, I promise.
But in the meantime, when in doubt this weekend...here's my last tip:
The Navy Seal Dive: do this with me....plug your nose with your right hand; place your left hand on your right elbow; hug your ribs in tight; lean back, out of your chair; roll to the nearest exit.