I used to be very outspoken about politics. I have dialed that back a lot this year. For one thing, civil discourse, if we ever really had that, is becoming a thing of the past. People don’t listen to respond, they listen to react. The politics of the keyboard warrior whose goal is to deplatform and threaten those that don’t agree strictly with the warrior’s ideology has fast lost its appeal.
This is not a phenomenon that is strictly right or left, either. I’m not afraid of getting canceled and I’m not silencing myself, but I don’t have the mental energy to get yelled at, criticized, or unfollowed for speaking my mind, even though a few appreciate my viewpoints.
For another thing, I don’t know where I fit in anymore. Oh, I’m definitely a progressive. I’m a registered Democrat if only to influence primaries. I haven’t gotten more conservative as I’ve gotten older. The American Republican party, and indeed conservatives globally, have married themselves to populism, Trumpism, racism, xenophobia, transphobia, homophobia, and fill-in-the-blank-phobia in the pursuit of power over policy or even ideology. The modern-day Republican is basically a violent thug who believes in conspiracy theories, fascism and election fraud, a victim enraged by a system in which the white man is fast becoming a minority. (Ironically, Republicans also see the radical left Antifa near-mythical Democrat as a violent thug.) You can try to talk to me about policies, but that’s become their dominant narrative and any Republican who deviates from this narrative is canceled from the ranks – or they just stay silent about it. (Both the left and the right engage in cancel culture, no matter how much one side protests about freedom of speech.) That is not me, and this paradigm is not even remotely appealing.
However, I’m not remotely conservative on the policy side, either. I believe women and those assigned female at birth (and I don’t mind using that phrase!) should have the freedom and indeed the right to make their own reproductive choices. I believe climate change is a legitimate threat and we should do all we can to be carbon neutral as quickly as possible. I drive a Prius. I don’t eat beef or pork. I’m against racism and homophobia. I want equal rights and civil rights for marginalized people. I support sensible immigration reform that beefs up immigration courts and our capacity to process cases, as well as a legal path to citizenship and asylum seeking. I am not for open borders, but I don’t think a border wall is remotely effective. Hmmm. I could go on.
Some of my beliefs do differ from the progressive Democratic platform. I’m not a supporter of socialism, although I’d like to see subsidies for fossil fuel producing industry ended, tax loopholes and tax havens closed and a progressive tax code. I want to see single-payer health care. I want to see a universal basic income. I support child care tax credits. But I also want people to have access to markets, entrepreneurs to have support, and regulations to be ones that aren’t onerous for businesses to implement but actually enforce the law and create jobs. Yes, regulation can create jobs. I want sensible tax reform. I have mixed feelings about gun control. Just as banning abortions won’t end abortions, banning guns won’t end gun violence. I’m not pro-Israel or pro-Palestine. I could go on and on. Most of my beliefs are quite progressive, but on some, I do not toe the far left line, and my views are more gray area and complicated.
I’m not far left. I’m not centrist or moderate, either. I like a lot of what Biden brings to the table but he is also the status quo and the status quo has not worked for years; I agree with some of the things he’s been up to and I disagree vehemently with others. But I’m not a Libertarian; and I’m not Green Party, as I disliked how they handled Trump in 2016, among other things. I guess you could say I’m an outsider.
The progressive side of the liberal platform has fully embraced identity politics. The right side has fully embraced this element too; they just stick with the identity of the gun-toting, truck-driving, working-class redneck and this is the only identity that matters. But on the left side, their embrace of identity politics has not by and large been about true structural change; but a lot of performative activism; changing the names of schools and making pronouns in city charters gender-neutral, but not reforming police culture or making education more equitable. There is a segment of this caucus of the left that is consumed by white guilt and a sort of savior complex that is gradually becoming illiberal and more intolerant of different views. Any view that is different than the intersectionalist view is branded “the other side,” not anti-racist, obviously a Trumper. Everything is racist. Everything is politics. I agree with much of what they say, but I have stayed quiet because my views aren’t talking points, or easily summed up in a tweet.
When I talk about politics these days I stay off social media. I used to think, you build a platform on social media and then you can influence that platform with your politics. But if people don’t want to listen, they will leave. Which gets depressing, and ineffective. I have started to talk about politics one-on-one. Offline. With friends and people I have a relationship with. I’m tired of cutting people off and only talking to people in a certain bubble because they believe different things than I do or have a different background.
Sure, I will cut off prejudiced people; if you don’t think queer people should be outspoken about their identity because you don’t want to hear about their “bedroom preferences,” you can get off my lawn. Apart from that, if I find their political views abhorrent, we can talk about gardening, or soccer, or the weather. Small talk may seem shallow but it is a bonding technique, and essential for these divisive times. Remember when we avoided politics or religion in “polite company?” Remember those days? There was a reason for that etiquette rule. Every day we run into people in real life whom we can’t just block on Twitter; how do we deal with them? That’s coming up, too, at the Thanksgiving table. Small talk is a kind of a boundary. When even that doesn’t work, when the relationship is based on abuse, then absolutely, cut them off.
Instead of ranting on social media, like I did all last year (which only made me angrier and angrier) I’ve been focused on thinking about how we can heal our political divisions in this country; how we can support freedom of speech while also marginalizing hate and violent speech; how we can stop demonizing each other; how we can stop looking at the world as we wished it could be and instead respect facts again. When we can agree on a certain set of facts that make up the reality that we both experience, even though we have very different views and experiences and backgrounds, then I believe we can begin to heal. But as long as someone who is labeled “The Other” is put in a box and set aside, incapable of change, then we will continue to grow this divide in our country, the hate will continue to build, the divide will continue to deepen and become more violent. When facts are pushed aside in favor of conspiracy theories and judgment, these boxes become cages.
We are headed for a reckoning in this country, one in which the very future of democracy is at stake.
So that’s why now I stick with talking about swimming, cake and the weather, or only dialogue with people with whom I already have an investment in the relationship. It’s not shallow. It’s survival. And maybe one day, when the people I converse with see me as a human being that they trust and respect, we can get to the bigger issues. One by one we can create change.