I conversed with a conservative.
I know that seems dangerous given the timing and tension these days. Fortunately it was civil and respectful, even if impassioned at times. His conviction lit up his eyes above his mask, which kept slipping below his nose as he explained sides of the story that I’m never exposed to.
There were moments when I wondered how heated the discussion would get, and what sort of exchange I had fallen into. Times when I flickered towards shutting down, nodding, and finding a way out of the situation. But then I’d speak up, and my thoughts were received and respected, and I would reengage, pulled back from the edge of retreat.
It was uncomfortable to hear perspectives from the other side of the fence, like sound sounding arguments for how welfare and government support is keeping minorities in a depressed victim state. Or a rounder version of why Trump pulled out of the Paris accord.
I have to confess that I am not well researched. I tell myself I’m informed because I get my news each day from the New York Times rather than social media. But I do not follow up. I don’t go listen to the full speeches, or read the actual executive orders and laws. I’m not sure if I even know where to access that information. I began to question how “fair” my news sources really are.
Yet I stayed pretty resolutely on the liberal side of the fence. I took my turn standing up for those who really need welfare, although I agreed with the idea of a broken, self-perpetuating system. I spoke up for big government in environmental regulation, as who else will speak up for an unaffiliated natural world. And as I believe a clean environment should be a constitutional right. The “life” part of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.
But I found his perspective refreshing, actually, once I calmed my pre-programmed resistance to everything conservative and everything Trump. Because I already know there is deep bullshit on both sides, and manipulation. He spoke of the polarized image that’s been created, of the Demonic Right versus the Angelic Left, and a moral high-ground mentality which has historically lead to justification for persecution.
I agreed. I admitted that that was the very reason I’d be voting Democrat, based on the team that seemed to be the most composed, the least hostile. The team that eloquently stated their facts rather than shouting them. Based on a “feeling” of morality, whatever the actual truth. And then I realized that I am no different from die-hard Trump supporters, in my devotion to an image.
He nodded, saying kindly that that was very normal.
After our talk, I felt calm, which seemed unusual for having your views challenged. I carried a couple pings of regret, as I had spouted some hasty, unfounded comments in response to a heated moment and a defensive reaction to get some shots in. But mostly it had gone well. We left as friends. I had some things to mull over, but I felt…peaceful, actually.
I’ve been trying to figure out which ingredients lead to such an exchange and outcome. He was well researched. That helped. He had facts, not just passion. I had mostly just passion and personal perspective, not ideal. But also I had respect, openness, and a pinch of humility. And what happened, in combining those elements, is that some illusions baked off.
Forever I’ve been asked to pick a side. Even knowing that both are flawed, and nothing absolute is ever honest, I made a choice and towed a line, and chose to believe one narrative over the other. When both are so loud and extreme, for one to be right, the other must be all wrong. But lately, my affiliation has felt more and more uneasy, and left me mostly just confused and avoidant.
Our conversation was like breaking a spell, like delicious heresy against polarization. Like, for that hour, I was allowed to be a free thinker, to see bullshit where bullshit lies. To choose my own policy agenda, based on what is important to me, even if it strays from the “team” I’ve submitted to stand behind. I left determined to look up the interviews, the whole speeches, not just the excerpts chosen by my trusted news source. I left feeling that I’m not obligated to adhere completely to one side or the other.
Complete acquiescence, he explained, is the beginning of totalitarianism, be it conservative or liberal, utopian or apocalyptic.
“The radical center!” he proclaimed. Even as he leaned heavily out towards the right. And I leaned precipitously left. But there, each with one toe in the middle, we were able to connect.