The ties that bind aren’t always the strongest.
I’ve always been the odd one out in my family, but it never really bothered me. It wasn’t my fault they couldn’t see the rainbow light or smell the leather roses, right? We disagreed on almost everything, but I was never afraid to share my thoughts with them.
Yesterday, I commented on a family discussion with a sentence of support for the proposals laid out in this year’s State of the Union address. I expected the usual eye-rolling dismissal from my more conservative relatives. I never would have imagined the furious tirade I received instead.
For the record, my only point had been that universal healthcare hadn’t destroyed Britain or Canada. It was the shortest comment by far in an explosion of righteous fury.
To say I was taken aback by the response would be an early candidate for Understatement of the Year. How dare you, it began. We don’t want to hear from a liberal socialist. You don’t get a say because you never served in uniform. You have some nerve, voicing opinions like that to real Americans. Who do you think you are, anyway?
Someone who reads the news, for one thing. Our economy is growing and creating jobs at the fastest pace in nearly two decades. The United States remains the strongest nation in trying times, reasserting its dominance as China slows and Europe stagnates. You may not like the president, but America is hardly spiraling into socialist decline. On the contrary, he has has presided over something of an American renaissance.
Not that any of it matters to anti-Obama conservatives like my relatives. They loathe the president on principle, forgetting that labels like “socialist” don’t carry the venom they once did. As difficult as it may be for them to believe, Americans genuinely like “socialist” programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. They send their children to “socialist” public schools and relied on “socialist” assistance to weather the Great Recessions.
Let me put it another way. How many conservatives pledged their total solidarity with France following this month’s brutal attack on the Charlie Hebdo magazine? How many knew that the country has been governed by its Socialist Party since early 2012? Whoops.
Now, it’s important to note that my relatives were right about one thing. I’ve never served in uniform, but I helped elect someone who did. The marine in question advised General Petraeus and earned two bronze stars for valor across four tours in Iraq. He’s also a progressive Democrat and a proud supporter of the agenda laid out in the State of the Union. If only soldiers are allowed opinions on public policy — an argument he would reject as patently absurd — I wonder what excuse my relatives might have to dismiss his “liberal socialist” ideas.
My point is this: How dare I? How dare you. My family members believe things I wouldn’t hesitate to call ignorant, xenophobic, or hopelessly uninformed. They post articles and statuses riddled with falsehoods and inconsistencies. But I have never once insulted or demeaned them for what they believe. I have never called them “racists,” “fascists,” or other hyperboles to score points on the Internet. I have done my best to treat their opinions with respect and understanding, because that’s what we do.
The greatness of America was not built by liberals or conservatives alone, but by citizens at every point along the ideological spectrum. We’re strengthened by the free exchange of ideas, including those with which we disagree. To reject that exchange is to betray the basic principles codified by the Founders in the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. Far too much hangs in the balance for petty politics to come between us.
But more than that, these were people I have known literally my entire life. Have our politics really become so poisonous that families need split along party lines, Democrats at one end of the kitchen table and Republicans at the other? I refuse to believe we’ve reached such a shameful low. There has to be a better way.
On Tuesday, President Obama told a joint session of Congress that “the shadow of crisis has passed, and the state of the union is strong.” Yesterday, I was reminded that while the crisis has indeed passed, our union is only as strong as those willing to sustain its lofty ideals. Perhaps that’s easier said than done.