The US needs people who can forgive and work with those they find repugnant. I’m not one of them.

July 17, 2019

The US needs people who can forgive and work with those they find repugnant. I’m not one of them.

Someone who is more knowledgeable than me when it comes to being fed up with the system for good reason had what I considered to be a surprising take on working with those you don’t agree with to enact positive change. In this case, he was referring to the unlikeliest of people, US President Lyndon B. Johnson, getting the Civil Rights Act passed. In order to do that, he had to negotiate and badger all manner of politicians in a climate that’s difficult – for some of us – to even imagine: in 1964, when the majority of the country and even the world didn’t bother to conceal their racism and bigotry because it was widely accepted, even appreciated by others.

It was a different political climate and a different cultural climate in nearly aspect of society: there was more bipartisanship in legislation, the democrats were in control of all three branches of government, segregation was widespread, sexism was in its heyday, and the country was beginning to see the actions of their government as something against the interests of the American people due to the lies and lives lost (granted, this didn’t really pick up until the mid-60s).

The point is, while LBJ wasn’t quite the despised figure he became at the end of his term, it’s fair to say trying to level the playing field for African Americans – whatever his motivations – didn’t win him any support from racist and bigoted members of congress he needed to pass the CRA. He made concessions. They made demands. In the end, however, a progressive piece of legislation passed both the House and Senate and received his signature to become law.

You can look at any figure in this story as an example of compromise and working with someone even when their core beliefs are challenged. Politicians have done this for millennia, of course. Private citizens have too, whether it’s forcing yourself to ignore certain comments at work for the sake of a company project, breaking bread with racist relatives during the holidays, or quite literally turning the other cheek when someone slaps you in the face simply to maintain decorum, i.e. “we live in a society.”

Fast forward to today in the United States. The president delivered a racist diatribe over social media calling for women of color to “go back where they came from”, followed by a new age KKK rally in which his brainless followers shouted “SEND HER BACK”. The current congress has had less bipartisan legislation than at any other time in American history, and even average citizens see the other side as part of a different nation.

The right falsely accuses the left of being communist, anti-capitalist, triggered crybabies. The left correctly labels the right as racist, anti-American, bigoted, hateful, violent obstructionists.

Intellectually, I know the calls for civility and discourse are the right ones to make. There can be no progress unless both sides suck up their pride, put their differences aside, and try to find common ground for the sake of the country. Emotionally, spiritually, morally, and pretty much all other –“ly”s out there, I know I’m someone who can never do that.

This attitude isn’t due to the Trump administration or even the political climate that started with the rise of Newt Gingrich; I’ve always had trouble with forgiveness. Jennifer Li still owes me an apology for calling me stupid in 2nd grade. A bully has probably blocked out just how much he tried to annoy me in middle school, but I will never forget. Rather than working out these feelings and moving relationships forward, I chose to simply cut people out of my life, labeling them as lost causes.

In the Trump era, this is becoming second nature to most Americans. Dating apps are filled with “no Trump supporters” comments on women’s profiles, and more than a fair number of friends have called it quits over the other’s support of an obviously evil man. These arguments extend to our democratically elected officials, who seem incapable of putting their personal feelings – however legitimate they are – aside to run the nation.

I know how that sounds. It’s one thing to force yourself to smile and have dinner with your aunt reminiscing about lynchings for the sake of the rest of the family, but quite another for a Democrat to try and find common ground with someone who supports a fascist actively enacting fascist policies, or at least doesn’t have the courage to speak out against him, for the sake of the nation. I know this is the only way any progress will be made to get us past this point in American history. I also know it’s becoming increasingly unlikely it will happen.

How can you compromise with someone who is not just diametrically opposed from you in terms of policy, but questions your humanity, challenges your character, and encourages others to hurt or kill you?

I can’t. I am truly unable to put my personal feelings aside for the greater good, even hoping my actions might ultimately result in positive change. That’s why I’m not a politician. In my opinion, the power of elected officials should not lie in their ability to represent their constituents well (though that’s certainly important), but rather in their willingness to work with someone who disgusts them on every level.

Right now, I don’t see a single person among the 435 members of the US House of Representatives or the 100 in the US Senate who meet this standard. Rather, they are just reflections of all of the American people right now: angry and distrustful. I am not telling the public to ignore the president’s abhorrent and criminal behavior, but I am telling our elected officials to do just that when it comes to fellow members of congress – not the president himself.

We’ve reached such a point in which any action – whether it’s an official statement, a rumor, a scandal, a proposed bill, and yes, even a mere Tweet – from the other party has the power to send the other into a rage and stymie any hope of progress. Like me you’ve certainly considered the “both sides” argument to be complete BS; it is, but again, only we, the people can afford to think that way, not the ones who govern us.

They should be better. So we can be too.

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