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If You’re Closed-Minded, Don’t Read This (first in a series challenging conservative enmity toward liberals)

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This is the first of a three-part series, that will be appearing beginning this weekend, in several newspapers in my very Republican congressional District (VA-06).

I have written here before, and I will be writing again, about the importance of Liberal America making an effort to reach the Republican base to bring them back a) from the false picture of the world they have been sold and to a better contact with reality and b) from the dark passions that right-wing propagandists have worked to inflame in them over the past generation and to the better angels of their nature.

This is not instead of beating them at the ballot box. That must be done. We cannot have the crazy governing our destiny. Rather, it is in addition to the ongoing effort of liberals/Democrats to regain the levers of power in America

This series represents my belief that a good place to start may well be by addressing the relationship between liberals and conservatives. More specifically, the ENMITY toward liberals that has been cultivated in conservatives over the years, with truly disastrous consequences for American democracy (consequences that will be discussed in the third installment of the series.

It is far from clear what will work to move that “conservative” word– so impermeable has it proved to be in recent years. But it is clear that too much of America’s destiny depends on that for it to be acceptable to give up on that possibility without even trying.

I make no pretense to know that this approach will have positive effects. All I can say is that it is what I have felt called upon to send their way.

The title — “If You’re Closed-Minded, Don’t Read This” — is my own best effort to get conservatives to actually read the piece, rather than just skipping it because they have pegged me as a “librel” and therefore not anyone who could possibly have anything worthwhile to say.

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  1. Sticking It to the Liberals

It breaks my heart to see what is happening in the American political world these days. And it breaks my heart to see what our sick politics is doing to the country I love.

I’d like to ask you conservatives: Does reading, above, that I – liberal commentator (and thus the “enemy”?) – am brokenhearted give you a pleasurable feeling?

That question arises because there have been credible reports indicating that at least a substantial part of the Republican base takes some delight in the suffering of liberals —finding it rewarding it enough to govern some of their political choices. My own observation suggests there’s some truth in this, the taking of actual pleasure in “sticking it to the liberals.”

What seems to be still more widespread in conservative America today is a deep animosity toward liberals and Democrats. I’ve watched as, over the past generation, we liberals have increasingly come to be seen by people on the conservative side as “the enemy,” people so bad that any means of defeating us is justified.

I have a question for those who feel that way: How do you justify such an attitude?

Over the past generation, as you on the right became progressively more hostile, you’ve rebuffed efforts to make the core of our national politics a more cooperative relationship, choosing rather to make our politics into a kind of war.

Is that choice consistent with your values?

What Would Jesus Have You Do?

Many of those same conservatives who regard liberals as the enemy, also regard themselves as Christian. So how are Christians supposed to treat their enemies?

Not by “sticking it” to them. “Love thine enemies” calls for an altogether different spirit from dwelling in enmity. And engaging in ceaseless conflict hardly comports with Jesus’ declaration, “Blessed are the peacemakers.”

Even if it were true, as many conservative Christians seem to think, that liberals (and Democrats) are terrible people, would Jesus condone the choice to treat them with hostility and contempt?

The way the Republican politicians the Christian conservatives support have been treating the politicians that the other half of their fellow Americans supports hardly reflects Jesus’s teaching of  “Do unto others…” It’s hard to find a single instance over the past 15 years where the Republicans have treated the Democrats in a way that they themselves would want to be treated if their positions were reversed.

When Jesus identifies “Love thy neighbor as thyself,” he provides a clear path to how a caring, constructive, whole community can be developed.

It is when asked “who is my neighbor that I’m supposed to love?” that Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan. To Jesus’s audience, the Samaritans were at least as contemptible as liberals are to conservatives in America today. So the point of that parable seems to include that it is not necessarily those in one’s own group who most deserve to be called “neighbor.” Rather, as with the Samaritan in this parable, Jesus chooses a member of a group his audience detests to exemplify whom one is commanded to treat with love.

What About Liberals’ Evil Positions on Abortion and Such?

It seems that a lot of the conservative enmity toward liberals is fueled by an intense disapproval of liberal positions on a handful of issues, the most salient of which is probably abortion. “How can we not treat liberals as the enemy when they are so wrong about such vital moral issues?”

Even if we were to grant, for the sake of argument, that everything the conservatives say about the abortion issue (or any of the other hot-button issues) is right, and that the liberals’ positions are as appalling as conservatives say, would it be politically justified to deal with liberals (and with the Democrats they elect) as conservatives have been doing in our time?

The Nazis were defeated in World War II because the great leaders of the two democratic Western powers – President Roosevelt in the U.S. and Prime Minister Churchill in the U.K.—made common cause with the tyrant who cruelly ruled Soviet Russia (Josef Stalin) in order to achieve their common purpose. History applauds their making that alliance.

If it was right to work even with such a monstrous tyrant to achieve their shared purpose, can it really be right for Republicans to reject developing a cooperative relationship with Democrats to advance our nation on those issues where agreement can be found?

Abortion and those other hot-button issues of intense disagreement are but a few of the literally hundreds of issues that the nation faces. What sense does it make to allow disagreement on those few issues to generate such hostility that so many conservatives don’t want their Republican leaders to cooperate with Democrats in addressing the many other issues we face.

That rejection of cooperation is so strong that Republicans in Congress understand that their voters will likely punish them if they work with Democrats. They have reason to expect they’ll be “primaried from the right,” i.e. fired by their voters in favor of another politician who more fully shares their unbridled enmity toward Democrats.

Can anyone argue that our founders had it in mind that people would allow their disagreements on some issues to generate such hostility as to foreclose the possibility of using our constitutional system to make America better?

This enmity appears, therefore, as not just un-Christian but un-patriotic.

(to be continued)

  • BarryG

    You make a couple of mistakes. Many conservatives are not religious, many are motivated by tribalism (white guys supposedly held down by some Mexican immigrant etc … really a way of deflecting from their own failure … but that brings rage). And second, the evangelicals have long since turned to things like the “prosperity gospel” that worships wealth (hence, Trump is considered a saint because “wealth is good”). These people wear the name “Christian” but they are are the opposite … one might call them the anti-Christ … but all the while thinking they fallow him as they wallow in tribalistic hatreds.

    • Andy Schmookler

      I agree about both points, but disagree that they point out “mistakes” I made. You make a distinction between the “religious” and the “tribal.” I see the religious dimension — the evangelical Christian — as one important component of the tribalism. I say above that SOME conservatives are Christian, and they are. Moreover, from my 25 years of having conversations with conservatives in the Shenandoah Valley — including as a candidate campaigning in the whole of the 6th District — I know that the Christian component is a big part of the conservatism I am addressing in these newspapers.

      And I agree also that there’s been a whole lot of twisting of Christian belief to rationalize following a spirit that is entirely different — and in many ways profoundly antagonistic toward — the teachings that Jesus imparted. I emphasize the actual teachings of Jesus here not because I don’t know that their Christian-political leaders have perverted the implications of the faith, but because it might be a useful reminder about what their main authority — the word of the Lord — had to say about how a good Christian will deal with other, with neighbors and even with enemies.