And This Feeling Is, Sadly, One All Groups Have
If I had to choose to betray my country or my friend, I should hope I would have the guts to betray my country.
Attributed to both E.M. Forster and Francois Truffaut
I met the man who would become my best friend when I was eleven. For more than thirty years, the two of us have supported each other through good times and bad times. I met the woman who eventually became his wife and was at his wedding. He didn’t ask me to be his best man because by that point he knew me well enough to know I couldn’t handle it. The man he asked was by then one of his closest friends and mine as well as was his sister, and eventually that man’s wife. For the better part of a decade, my visits with the group have been one of the few things in my life I can rely on for stability; the conversations we have had among my great joys.
Now I have to tell you that I do not share the exact same political views with any of them. My mother, as much a bleeding heart liberal as you can find, understands my friendship with them but does not like them much. My father who shares more of my mother’s political views than my friends, is more understanding of my loyalty and devotion to them.
I should also mention that on almost all things — not merely political, but also cultural, historical, and philosophical — I agree with them only thirty to forty percent of the time at most. That’s not a big deal with me; I think I have common ground with almost any of my friends fifty percent agreement. What I care about far more is the fact that while I know my friends can be rigid in many respects, they will always be willing to hear me out when I disagree with them and I will do the same when they disagree with me. I have mentioned more than once that I agree with Voltaire’s statement (which I’ve quoted often enough that I won’t do so here) in that everyone is essentially entitled to their opinion, whether I personally agree with it or not. The problem with so much of today’s discourse is that almost no one seems to share that opinion.
My politics have never more or less aligned to one particular political party or view, particularly because I am for many things and against very few. What am I against, do you ask? I am adamantly opposed to bigotry, hypocrisy, and stupidity. And in the last several years, it has become crystal clear to me that all of these things are so common that they not only cross party lines, but also racial, economic, gender, and sexual ones. I’ve dealt with some of my issues in some of my columns before and will do so again, but in this one, I want to look at how some reason partisan comments have clearly shown just how ingrained the latter has ruined any political discourse.
I believe at my core the two-party system is wrecking the country — emphasis on two. George Carlin has come back into vogue in the last few years and one of his key bits is the fact that in a country with so many varieties of consumer goods, when it comes to the most basic fact of our democracy, we get two choices and we’re told to be happy with it. In an earlier blog, I argued that almost every major societal change in our political system more or less came because of a third party and that the other two parties either spent a lot of time either destroying the interlopers or reluctantly accepting the ideas so that they became irrelevant. None of this has done anything to fundamentally frustrate the average voter’s problem where choices were so limited. (I believe my next historical column will deal with the last major political figure who represented for many Americans a fundamental change in politics as usual — and how that terrified both parties for four consecutive election cycles.)
With the heightening of partisanship this century, both parties have essentially come down to the same argument: voting for a third party is letting the ‘other side’ win and that will make things worse for America. That has essentially killed on the vine any chance for political growth in the 21st century as well as fundamentally solidified the argument both parties have been making for nearly half a century. Neither side argues so much for that they will make your lives better, they always the other guy will make them worse. Whatever policies they might have are irrelevant because the system is arranged so that legislation can’t get passed in either case. All that matters is the threat that the other side will it make it worse for you no matter how much your life stinks at the moment.
In this sense, I do comprehend the frustration of so many leftists on this site who are frustrated with the Democrats only being slightly less bad than the Republicans. However, many of them have made it clear multiple times that they don’t even want to bother to vote, much less try to mobilize their forces to create another political party that might make things better for them. So as Bill Murray said in another context, when it comes to doomcryers: “Who cares?” Let’s concentrate on two people on completely different sides of the political spectrum who in the last month essentially said the same thing.
Last month, Marjorie Taylor Greene tweeted that there should be a ‘national divorce…red states should secede from blue states.” Many on the left and on this blog mocked her for this statement demonstrating their own hypocrisy.
You see, as someone who has spent far too much time among the leftists and progressives, they are at the end of the day, as bigoted and separatist as they accuse the right of being. They mocked the ideas of a ‘national divorce’ while just this past month I read one columnist who was posting the idea of America splitting into no less than eight separate countries. This did not fundamentally surprise me because I have noticed that for all the talk of inclusion the left has, that will never apply to anyone who is conservative, Republican or even disagrees with them once.
They have argued about the right ‘not bothering with dog whistles’, which is pure envy that their brand has been co-opted. I’ve read and seen far too much to know that the left has never bothered with them; they wear their hatred for the right (and the center, and comedians they don’t like, and whoever else isn’t in lockstep with them) on their sleeve. They believed in a free press during the Trump era, but their definition of a free press is one that never says anything remotely bad about any Democrat. They hate Fox News with a passion, but don’t think Republicans should appear on any other news channel, write for any other publications, or really have an opinion at all. They argue in the strongest possible sense that all lives are equal and deserve to be mourned, and at least one ‘progressive’ site spent much of the pandemic posted the social media posts of people who thought Covid was a myth, ending with their deaths. They said they mourned their deaths, but the underlying message was: “They had it coming.” They argue that the electoral college is broken and that Republicans are cheating to win. Then they do everything in their power to recruit more Democrats to vote and argue that all Republicans are evil and that if Biden dares to negotiate with Republicans — or you know, even talk to them — then how dare he talk to ‘those people’. They argue the Republicans want a dictatorship and fascist state. The underlying message of so many of these sites is that the Democrats essentially want the same thing but you know, ‘for the greater good’.
And that argument was made crystal clear in a column due to appear in next week’s Atlantic. For all intents and purposes, The Atlantic is essentially “doomcryers lite” and I wasn’t surprised when another progressive website quoted one written as being from a ‘conservative columnist.’ For the record this man (who will I not dare mention his name) was a regular on MSNBC for the past decade. The only way you could consider him conservative is that he probably didn’t endorse Bernie in either of the last two primaries.
For years the Atlantic has raged against Trump, the right and conservative media. This column basically said that it was time to stop letting the Trump voter — and by extension all Republican voters — off the hook. It more or less called them traitors, that reasoning with them was pointless and that they were essentially enemies to the state even if they were your friends and family. It didn’t go quite so far as to say that they should be forced to wear badges with a small elephant on them, but that was the implication.
That The Atlantic decided this article should be published is a travesty because it more or less gives cover to so many progressive websites to essentially say what they’ve wanted to all along: Republicans are evil, there’s no point in trying to hope they’ll improve and really we should stop even trying to talk with them. They have spent years accusing the right of having neither empathy nor compassion. Articles like this essentially say out loud that they don’t have any either, at least you know, to those people.
And neither comment was written in a vacuum. At the end of the day, both sides are certain of one thing: they hate and cannot stand the other. This level of division has permeated on every level of our society and far too often has gotten to the point that you must be one the right side of every issue one hundred percent of the time. That this is not a tenable way of life, that our points of view on certain views have been changing for decades and now seem to change every minute, is irrelevant. And it has led to a society where you are always wrong about something and if your right about something, you don’t mean it.
So what approach should we take? Well, I think the best way to express is to deal with two very comedians, one I wrote about recently and who is now under a cloud and one who I usually disagree with vehemently but who last week demonstrated a larger point we should all follow.
I have always loved Chris Rock, and I still believe he is groundbreaking and revolutionary comedian. Of course, now that he is rich and successful, he’s a bitter black man and therefore must be ignored. Nevertheless, I still consider him a truth teller and his clearest remarks on this came in his 2004 special: ‘Never Scared.” In it he said: that all conservatives, liberals, Democrats and Republicans are idiots. Never stick to one think. Listen. Then make a choice. I got shit I’m conservative about and shit I’m liberal about.” (I can now see millions of people searching for this minute on YouTube and commenting “This proves he was never an ally!” and of course miss the point.)
Now anyone whose read my blog knows that I do not like Bill Maher. Hell, the Chris Rock column about him was written to compare him unfavorably to Maher as a comic. But the thing is, like everybody else on Earth, Maher is not wrong a hundred percent of time. And he proved it in spades in his final comments on this week’s Real Time.
Much of it dealt with Greene’s desire for a national divorce, which did call out for ridicule. Then he did something I really wish he’d do more often: he argued how absurd this idea for some kind of national divorce by using facts and figures to demonstrate there is no such thing as ideological purity.
He reminded up that Greene comes from Georgia which has two Democratic senators (the left pointed this out a lot mocking Greene) and a Republican governor (they conveniently forgot that). He reminded us that there is a significant percentage of Republicans who believe in gay marriage, hate the idea of a border wall and want to legalize pot. Then he pointed out there are a percentage of Democrats who are gun owners, that some are anti-abortion (Henry Cisneros of Texas had to survive a primary challenge because of this) and that for sixteen percent of Sanders voters, their second choice was Trump. “Seems we’re going to need more countries than just the two,” he said. “Or we could stick with the one we have.” His audience, his panel — and me at home — all applauded heartily at this sentiment.
I realize that quite a few people on either side will never accept this approach — like I said, stupidity is one of those things that crosses all divides — but it’s my particular stand. Which is why I led with that epigraph and told you the story at the opening. I will never agree with them a hundred percent of the time on politics. Sometimes I may even find their points of view repugnant. But that is not now, nor has it ever been, grounds for treason. So in case anyone ever asks me, if I have to choose between my country (these days both sides will use that as interchangeable with a political point of view) and my friends, I won’t blink once before choosing my friends. Anyone who has to think even for a second about that, well, I am sorry — that none of you have ever had friends like that.