I have known this woman since childhood, when she worked with, loved and, later, was psychologically pummeled by, my father, who sometimes couldn’t help delivering an onslaught of blows to someone who loved him. Back then she was a member of MENSA, a folk-singer who hated war and intolerance, and an outspoken leftist who worked hard at a difficult and idealistic job in the newly integrated NYC high schools. When she moved out of NY, some time after the disillusioning ugliness with my father, I lost track of her. Fond memories led me to look her up on the internet some time before my father passed away. As I recall they had an amiable chat about old times a few months before his sudden death.
It is a few years before he died, the wreck of the smoldering World Trade Center is still emitting its foul, toxic smell. I get an email from her describing the recent political revelation she’s had. The world is dangerous, we are surrounded by deadly Islamic enemies intent on slitting our throats, and destroying Israel. She has moved from her former political stance and embraced the politics of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. They are friends of Israel and not afraid to do what is necessary to combat enemies from hell.
Though she considers herself politically independent, most of her views align with the right wing in American politics. She supported the invasion of Iraq, supports torture, would defend Sarah Palin’s unfairily maligned statements, is critical of the Liberal Media and disgusted by liberal guilt. She asks, since all of her former liberal friends have cut her off, if we can have a reasoned discussion of politics. She tells me she’d greatly appreciate it.
It turned out we could not have a reasoned discussion of politics. The aggravation of trying to have one led me to cut off communications with her finally. Years later we resumed emailing and agreed to leave politics out of our correspondence. It has been a 99% excellent correspondence since.
In the name of seeking common ground, she once in a while sends me a political piece she thinks I might agree with. Most of these pieces originate from passionate people who do not attempt to give a nuanced view of what they are describing. Although I delete many, I find myself beginning to reply to some of the more incendiary ones. The substance of most of my critiques is about the emotional nature of the emails, the citing of convenient facts and the omission of any that might weaken the emotional punch. I write and don’t send these, there are a few in my drafts folder.
It’s pointless to send them, since it has been her practice to respond not to the substance of my reply, but to the righteousness or veiled anger in it and it’s pointless, and poisonous, to get back into the emotional cul de sac of partisan back and forth. I do not believe a police choke hold that results in the death of an unarmed citizen is ever an appropriate action to take in response to a non-violent crime. Though she would probably agree with that statement, she would probably also see some nuance there.
She sent one recently with a photo captioned “this is what a broken orbital bone looks like” and it was horrendous. The side of the guy’s face was bashed in and all around his smashed eye socket it was a hideous purple, the color of a flayed cow’s torso. The photo illustrated an email slamming the notorious Liberal Media for repressing this photo of the officer who shot the threatening black thug in Ferguson, MO. in self-defense warding off a vicious and deadly attack. I wrote back pointing out that the caption of the photo hadn’t claimed it was a picture of the officer who shot the kid, and that it was surprising the right wing media wasn’t showing this photo everywhere. I suggested it might be a hoax and, after a few moments on google, sent her a post identifying the subject of the photo as a race car driver after a 2006 accident. She wrote back aghast, but still didn’t appear totally convinced, that photo or not, the kid hadn’t bashed in the cop’s face or done something else violent that justified the officer shooting him to death.
Since I greatly value this woman’s insights in all other regards, but can’t stand any more right wing emails, I asked her again, with a long explanation, not to send me any more political email. I wrote the following to her. She wrote back that she promised not send any more and underlined everything in my email that she agreed with, just to show how much we can still actually agree about even contentious things. Naturally, I found the things she didn’t underline very interesting.
I want to err on the side of not having to engage any of this ‘political’ stuff. I’d rather not have to parse or vet any of it because so much of it just upsets me. I have enough in my life at the moment to vex me without fear of opening an email from you containing something upsetting.
The deeper horror, to me, someone gravely injured by a childhood lack of response and honest engagement, is that most of this stuff is just a way people express their anger and doesn’t lend itself to productive conversation of any kind. Any comments I make are met with complete silence most of the time, like in the recent case with the hoax article.
It surprises me every time I get something from you, an otherwise thoughtful, sensitive and insightful person, that is clearly a reflexive jerk of the right wing knee– like the recent one claiming the black kid who was killed by the cop in Ferguson, MO. bashed the cop’s head in and deserved to die, in spite of the easily discoverable truth or falsity of the incendiary– and false– assertion.
We live in a violent, polarized society that is going the way of all empires, it seems, one ready example: militarized police forces in riot gear and tanks use tear gas against American protesters that would be a war crime if used on a battle field in war. Our country is as divided, hypocritical and poised to kill each other as at any time since the Civil War (what was so civil about it, I wonder).
In the midst of our fear, rage and powerless we focus on what we believe to be the source of our problems. To the right it is the entitled “takers” those race baiters who wear their victimhood aggressively and demand “reparations” who pay nothing and demand everything. To the left it is the moral descendants of the slave holders, extremely rich and powerful people manipulating everybody else to increase their already extreme advantage: no teacher contracts beyond one year, “right to work” no unions, fight “minimum wage” increases, no abortions for any reason, cut food stamps and other safety net programs that keep millions of children and seniors from hunger and starvation, stop funding the EPA, unlimited guns for the free and privatized prisons for the bad guys, alcohol yes, marijuana no, stop hating our freedom and engaging in class warfare, your envy is sickening.
There is truth in both of these views, though you and I weigh the relative truth on very different scales. No more, OK?
Make love, not war, as you Californians say. Do you understand what I’m saying?