George and Ira Gershwin, in 1937, wrote a song called “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off” about a couple with irreconcilable differences, driving them apart. Like so many marriages going off the rails or on the rocks, the differences seem minor, but no one is willing to give.
Fred Astair and Ginger Rogers sing, “You say potayto, I say potahto, you say tomayto, I say tomahto, potayto, potahto, tomayto, tomahto, let’s call the whole thing off they sing, and on to a raft of other different pronunciations and preferences but somewhere in the middle they realize that if they broke up, it would break their hearts. And, of course, they dance.
Oh if we could dance today, like Fred and Ginger, and have Republicans and Democrats call off the venom, vitriol, vilifying, snarking, snubbing, drubbing, damning, dripping disdain and realize that the people we are glaring at, willing to roast, barbeque and otherwise reduce to ash, are our fellow Americans. They belong here and aren’t going away. We can gang up, carve out neighborhoods, city blocks, parts of the forest like the Hatfields and McCoys – but we are stuck with one another.
The more we fight, the less any of us gets what we want.
“You’ve got to be taught to fear and hate,” the young lovers sing in South Pacific – modern day Romeo and Juliet not permitted by birth, family and race to love one another. We’re like that in this country, facing off in an election of a lifetime, tribal as they come. I’ve had people on the left and right insult me because of where I locate myself on the spectrum of issues. To be honest, I’ve done that too.
If you want to find creative insults, just post something liberal on a @realDonaldTrump fan’s page. Or have a DT fan as a Facebook fan who insult-bombs your posts with a sort of wicked bwaaahahahaaaa Vincent Price snigger, all different versions of “your mother wears combat boots.”
I’ve stopped making the mistake of going on such pages with my recitation of DT’s lies per the latest NYTimes article. I just get more Bwaahahahaaaaa, and I can now see how obnoxious my form of intellectual slicing and dicing is.
Trumpsters gloat. Liberals scold.
George Soros funds Black Lives Matter. Nya nya nya nya nya. The Koch Brothers fund amoral Libertarians and the Tea Party. Nya nya nya etc.
My QAnon friends have taught me a lot, and not about the baby-brain eating cabal of Democrats. They’ve shown me that the two teams are mirror images of one another. Everything I am outraged about in Trump supporters they think about me, with Nancy Pelosi substituting for DT. Precisely.
You’ve got your head so far up you’re a** if you opened your mouth you could see out it.
It’s like the playground: I’m rubber, you’re glue, everything you say bounces off me and sticks to you.
Trumpsters crow over #walkaway stories of Democrats who’ve crossed over. Libarals soberly read the conversion stories of #RVAT (Republican Voters Against Trump). The right thinks it owns the Constitution and the flag. The left says “Wait a minute, what about the rest of the Bill of Rights and Amendments…” and points to the Statue of Liberty.
There are legitimate differences between left and right and they aren’t like High School football teams, they are theories of the role of government, of the purpose of the economy, of who deserves a piece of the pie and a seat at the table and a more level playing field. There are real issues to resolve: migrants, asylum seekers, immigration reform, public education, infrastructure, economic justice balanced against market freedoms. This is what makes the America great – that we have built in the ability to improve, to learn, to adapt, to become.
Our lines in the sand
We have all drawn lines in the sand, and think our lines are inviolable. For me it’s reversing – urgently – the destruction of the earth’s living systems; to prevent many more species dying – and possibly millions and millions of people, no matter what slogans they have on their T-shirts. I’m serious, that’s my line. Every time DT scraps another protection, every time he denies that climate change is real, I feel it in my gut. I cry. And I steel myself for further struggle.
My other line is economic justice; it’s literally nauseating to watch the stock market soar while jobs disappear and people suffer. I will fight til I die to stop and reverse such economic cruelty and disdain. And I know people on “the other side” feel just the same about their lines in the sand. And I’m not giving up. And neither are they. But I say we battle it out on the ground of good governance, fair elections, ballot initiatives, movement building, and liberty and justice for all – not on the battle field of what seems to be a growing threat of civil war.
The point is: at the far extremes of each team we sound the same. In the more reasoned differences, we search for truth together even as we disagree on what makes government, society and the economy work.
But all of us are Americans and somehow, after all the vitriol – whether it turns mortally violent or just brutally disagreeable – we’re all still here. If only because the Covid infestation means Canada and many other countries won’t take us anymore.
As I have come to this conclusion about the irrationality and mirroring of the extremes, and my own tribalism, I’ve seen that it’s radical to listen and learn, to quiet reactivity and ask, “is there some truth here that can help me form a more perfect union of ideas in my mind?” I’m done with the bashing and yelling and indignation and gossiping.
If I can’t give 40% of Americans the benefit of the doubt – and if they can’t return the favor – I do believe we may end up calling the whole thing off.
Thinking about this, I wrote the following Letter to the Editor of my local paper in a nicely split red/blue rural county.
I’m worried. Our passions are rising about the election. Most of us have picked sides. Social media is pushing us further apart.
So I just want to check – are we still planning to be good neighbors? Mr. Rogers would approve.
Can I bring you some chocolate chip cookies and chat about the little things we love?
I have a cat named Bella, and she’s been my best pandemic pal. Do you have pets you love? Or horses or llamas?
I love hiking the Whidbey trails, and those crisp days when “the mountains are out.” You?
I’ve missed going to my church on Sundays, haven’t you?
I’m so glad the Drive-In is open because I’ve missed movies on the big screen. I miss going to parties and every festival this summer that didn’t happen. You?
Do you have a garden? I do. What’s been your best crop? Mine has been green beans. And kale, kale everywhere.
Did you over-buy toilet paper? Me too.
I know half of you hate masks and won’t wear them, and the other half (mine) hates masks but wears them – but at least we agree on hating masks.
My QAnon and libertarian friends look at me like I look at them – “I can’t believe you believe that!!!!” – but we remain friends, listen to the other’s views, and actually do our research. Can we still be decent neighbors even if we politically live on different planets?
Aren’t we all afraid for the future of our country and suspect there’s some people way up the wealth and power chain who are playing us? Isn’t it curious that we agree that if the other Party wins, the country will slide into chaos – we just don’t agree (passionately) on which leader will lead us to ruin.
See, we aren’t so different after all. Can we remember this, no matter who wins the election? Can we remember that whatever happens in Olympia or DC, we are on a rock in the sea together and that more unites us than divides us?
Your opinion? Is the United States of America a lost cause? Shall we call it off? And if we are all going to look for America, where do we look?