Politics aside, we are brothers and sisters

The election looms and in my mind, I’m back in 1984, the first time I was eligible to cast a vote for the presidency. Ronald Reagan was running for re-election against Walter Mondale. The Gipper had managed one of the most memorable (and laughable) moments in presidential-debate history when asked if he was a bit too old, at age 73, to continue in office.

“I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience,” Reagan quipped, garnering a laugh from Americans across the political spectrum, including Mondale.

Oh for the 1980s. Now, some 30 years later, we’ve definitely lost something in our country. Civil debate seems to have been eclipsed by anger and violence and insults. We’ve come to see our opponents, for the most part, as bad people, even mortal enemies. It’s personal and emotional and visceral.

This must change, for we are brothers and sisters.

I first started thinking about this shift in the way we deal with our political foes a few years ago when I began writing for a local newspaper. My first assignment was to interview a former congressman, a man who though Catholic, had a 100 percent favorable voting record from Planned Parenthood and the National Abortion Rights Action League. It used to really frost me that I’d see bumper stickers supporting this politician on cars parked outside of a Catholic church in town.

“Who are these people?” I’d fume. “Don’t they know abortion kills innocent babies? Don’t they know what the Church teaches?”

Then came the interview. We sat in a small café, sipping coffee (Diet Dr Pepper, in my case) and chatting. I soon discovered this man was actually a friendly, likeable fellow in spite of his voting record. Though I abhor his views on abortion and could never, ever support him politically, I learned a few things about him that day. He visited his ailing wife daily in a care center and took her to get her hair done every week at her favorite salon. His views on child-rearing were conservative. “I never let my kids sleep past 9 a.m.,” he told me. “They had places to go and things to do. Responsibilities.”

It got me thinking.

Little by little, I learned that my co-workers at the newspaper were all on the opposite side of the political spectrum from me. We’ve had some lively discussions through the years—no surprise there. At times, I’ve been able to share my faith in Christ with them and it has been met with quiet respect.

We have dialogued. We have disagreed. And we still smile at each other every day. There’s the occasional eye-roll, but really, we’re OK.

I propose we need more of this in America. More listening. Less shouting.

 I grew up in a home like this, where one parent was a Democrat and the other a Republican. We subscribed to two newspapers, multiple magazines and talked politics at dinner almost every night. It got a little loud sometimes but it was never disrespectful or personal. No lasting wounds were inflicted.

Flash forward to 2020: Politics has become blood sport and one’s political enemies are evil and must be utterly destroyed. It doesn’t bode well for the country.

So what do you do when friends and relatives try to draw you into a debate over politics in this tumultuous time? What should be your reaction when they vehemently disagree with you and pepper you with texts, emails and messages disparaging your views and decrying your candidate? You could try defending your beliefs, but what if they’re so angry a calm discussion is an impossibility?

For those who are passionate about their politics, the best option may be polite silence. Don’t respond to the text or email—you’ll only be drawn into the drama. Once people have solidified their beliefs and grown passionate about them, they almost NEVER change their minds.  

If the interaction is in person, you could try something simple like, “Let’s not talk politics. I really value our relationship and I wouldn’t want politics to ever come between us.”

What I’ve learned to do is to remember all the person’s good qualities and the things that brought us together. I pray for my friend and remember how much there is to love about him.

I caught up with a friend from the ‘80s this summer. He told me that his son’s godparents have cut ties with him and his wife because of their bumper sticker. They disagree with him about who the next president should be and no longer want anything to do with him. This is tragic, and it’s but a microcosm of what’s going on all over our country.

There’s a lesson there, America. We are brothers and sisters after all. Like any siblings, sometimes we fight. My prayer is that rather than becoming Cain and Abel, we can learn to live by the command given to us by Christ the Lord: “Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you.”

The alternative is civil war and I fear that if we do not alter the course, we are bound for it.