Conquering the divide

When I was at my first full-time newspaper job, I first noticed how polarizing the conservative/liberal divide can be.

That particular day, some financial development had brought the ire of the publisher, who was ranting in the morning meeting about how liberals were constantly trying to steal Americans’ money with programs funded by tax dollars. He turned to me and said: “Aren’t you mad that you have to pay Social Security taxes? I mean, it won’t be there when you’re old enough.”

“But other people—including my parents—will need it sooner,” I said. “Why would I begrudge that?” He looked at me like I had three heads, and it suddenly became very clear how very different our lives had been and would always be.

I’m the son of a truck driver and a stay-at-home mom, who worked at the Pentagon and played on the U.S. Air Force women’s basketball team in her younger years but traded all that in to get married and raise four children. Two of those kids graduated from college—one thanks to the U.S. Air Force ROTC program—while the other two went straight to work in white- and blue-collar jobs. I think we all started out Democrats—the ’70s Teamsters kind, not the Berkeley liberal kind—and have drifted in our own various ways over the years and situations. I’m probably the most liberal member of my entire extended family; living for years subject to bigotry and prejudice against gay people—still not illegal to discriminate against us in more than half of U.S. states, including Arizona!—tends to make you believe that there’s still a boatload of progress that needs to be made.

This election made me lose faith
in the inherent goodness of people.

I’m having trouble with the fact that so many people voted against progress in things like science, diplomacy and human rights. At the federal level, sure, but also at the state level. The GOP-led legislature of Wyoming just introduced a bill that says that it’s OK to discriminate against a gay person, as long as you’re doing it for religious reasons. In the same state where two men crucified a 22-year-old because they hated gays.

I’m trying hard to remain sociable and friendly, but I spend a lot of time seething, which I don’t like. God knows I love to pull an “I told you so,” but it’s hard for me to take much glee in, say, that Florida lady who voted for Trump thinking his talk about repealing the Affordable Care Act was just bluster, and now her daughter’s about to lose her insurance coverage. Hearing that satisfies my more-base inclinations (“Good! If anyone deserves it, she does”) but at a higher level, it’s sad that now there’s someone out there without access to care. When I read an article about the soybean farmers who are out millions of dollars because Trump pulled out of the TPP before setting up replacement agreements, my initial reaction was, “Great vote, Iowa!” … but that’s also millions of dollars of loss in our economy—and it could be years before individual bilateral agreements are made.

Where do we go from here?

I’ve got no clue about “we,” so I can only speak for myself. I believe a lot of the liberal-leaning folks got a little complacent over the past eight years, thinking more of the nation thought like we did. So we stayed quieter than we could have or should have. Clearly, that was a misguided move, so one of my first steps is to reignite my activism. I’m putting my money where my mouth is, with paid digital subscriptions to The Washington Post and regularly recurring donations to organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union and Credo Action. It’s important to support the groups you believe in—not just by img_3078clicking “Like” but also by clicking “Pay.”

In a similar way, it made me so happy to get an update from the folks at Penzeys Spices that said that their online sales have increased since their CEO began sharing posts like this one on Facebook and email. I laughed when I saw one subject line—“Racism Update!” (complete with exclamation point)—but have to respect him for taking a stand on where he and his company stood, and why. A typical intro:

The kindness of tens of thousands of generations of cooks created our humanity, but racism, sexism, and homophobia can all very quickly unravel all the goodness cooking puts out into the world. As the voice of cooks, we will never sit idly by while that happens.

I was already a customer—their Bicentennial Rub makes my boring chicken breasts and vegetables taste delicious—but I placed a big order that day, and will keep doing so. (I’m not the only one; their online business is up a whopping 40% this year.)

Conversely, last year I cut my allegiance to Discount Tire after the owner put up signs endorsing Joe Arpaio for sheriff. Because Mexicans. (Even though Arpaio’s racial profiling lawsuits have cost Maricopa County taxpayers millions of dollars—including one case that has paid out $72 million and counting so far.)

Of course Bruce Halle won’t go bankrupt because I stopped buying tires from him. And there are a lot of good guys who work at those stores who’d be out of a job if he did, so I don’t wish that upon them. But I will direct my spending away from companies that endorse racist candidates. And I’ll make sure the people I know are aware of why I don’t believe those companies deserve their business, either.

There are some things that are off-limits, however.

What shouldn’t be discussed:


  • Donald’s appearance. Or anyone else’s physical appearance. Making fun of someone’s skin color, hairstyle, age or clothing is what schoolyard bullies do when they don’t have anything else to fall back on (“… and you’re ugly!”)
  • Melania’s old photos. The poses might not be the classiest (to use one of Donald’s favorite adjectives), but let’s stop clutching our pearls about photos of a topless model. The world’s best and most famous models pose nude sometimes—the Pirelli calendar is one of the best modeling gigs in the world, for example, and has featured everyone from Naomi Campbell to Kate Moss and Alek Wek in various stages of undress. And there’s Hailey Clauson over to the right, on the cover of last year’s SI swimsuit issue, with almost the exact amount of clothing on.
  • Anything Barron-related. Remember when you were a kid and were all, “I didn’t ask to be born into this family!” Now imagine being under such an intense spotlight through no fault of your own. He’s 10 years old, so leave him out of your discourse … and that includes speculative, non-professional personality diagnoses.

Where I stand:

  • I don’t mind paying more in taxes if it means a family in Paducah doesn’t have to crowdsource their son’s kidney transplant on GoFundMe.
  • Even though I don’t have kids, I don’t mind paying taxes that go to schools because I believe teachers deserve higher salaries and all the funding they can get: They’re responsible for how children learn and develop into the functioning adults that I’ll be living around for the rest of my life.
  • I support unions. Collective bargaining provides workers with the power to demand more from the employers that otherwise would ignore them. Yes, some unions like the Teamsters have had corruption issues … but so has the banking industry, in case you forgot about the subprime mortgage crisis. Everyone from DirecTV to Montana state legislators are being hit with racketeering and corruption charges. Aetna just got caught lying about why it pulled out of the ACA: out of spite over a denied merger, not because of unprofitability.
  • All industries deserve respect. After the election we heard references to “uneducated” Americans, a biased phrase when used to refer to everyone who doesn’t have four-year college degrees. So-called “blue-collar” industries still require intense, specific education: Mechanics don’t need bachelor’s degrees to repair an engine—but they do need the right training (and don’t forget thousands and thousands of dollars’ worth of tools). Same for plumbers—it may have been “easy” for the guy who came to our house last month to snake the line from our kitchen sinks, but the drum machine he used retails for more than $3,000—and that’s a single tool; a pipe threader and cutter goes for $6,500. Think about the work and machinery required for farmers to grow the food that ends up in your grocery store or farmer’s market. Restaurant staffers are on their feet all day, literally giving you sustenance when you can’t or won’t put in the work yourself. They deserve a living wage, and if the cost of my hamburger goes up 40¢, I’m happy to pay it.

Random, less important things I wonder about:

  • Will what we watch on television change? My hasty, ill-informed opinion here is that Americans tend to seek escape in their entertainment. (There’s a theory that the reason people like horror movies so much, for example, is that they trigger many of the sensations—fear, terror—that don’t get activated in our daily lives, in an environment we know is safe.) During the past eight years, show after show has featured manipulative antiheroes like amoral president Frank Underwood. Lately I’ve been seeing press about series like “The Young Pope” and my reaction has been: “Ugh, like I don’t have to see enough about life-ruining bastards in my real life. Pass.”
  • If Trump truly moves to kill the National Endowment for the Arts (and its sister organization, the National Endowment for the Humanities), I wonder whether actors and musicians would boycott the annual Kennedy Center Honors. (The standing first lady is the honorary chairperson of the board for the Kennedy Center, and the honors ceremony is the cultural event of the year in Washington.) Which artist in their right mind would think it’d be a good idea to share a box seat with the man who cut off funding for the arts and humanities, at a ceremony dedicated to recognizing the cultural importance of the arts?

2 responses to “Conquering the divide

  1. Sam, you brought tears to my eyes, thank you. You are the best.

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