About 25 years ago (as best I recall), I was walking obliviously through Piedmont Park during Pride when I heard my name called. I looked around and didn’t see anyone familiar. The shouting resumed. I looked again and realized the voices were coming from the Log Cabin Republicans’ booth. Because of my writing, I was often (perhaps truthfully) characterized as a radical-left pig and embarrassment to gay men, so I assumed I was being summoned for smearing.
But no. Shockingly, the booth was being manned by two unrelated clients I’d seen for over a year. My sudden loss of speech caused the two of them to laugh hysterically. How could it be that two Republicans familiar with my writing had sought me out for counseling? Why didn’t they hate me?
The unpopular message here is that it actually is possible for people of opposing politics to sustain positive relationships. I say this while admitting that if a gay Facebook friend starts spouting Trumpism, my fingers still get angry and fly to my keyboard to retaliate. Most of the time, I catch myself and delete my angry response.
In my experience, gay Trump supporters acknowledge the stupidity of Trump’s tweets and his rollback of protections for LGBTQ people. But they cloyingly, inevitably say that they are more than their sexual or gender identity and that, everything else aside, Trump strongly supports capitalism, individualism, and patriotism.
In other words, as they see it, your freedom to be who you are and love whom you choose is less important than your freedom to make as much money as white straight men. If you make this admittedly provocative statement, the Trumper will simply deny it like she denies a pandemic or loss of an election and brand you a Bernie Snowflake Commie.
So, I go back to that day in the park 25 years ago and ask myself how I managed to sustain relationships with my two clients and a friend who also turned up in the booth. I think three things helped and still help if I’m mindful enough to know when I’m sliding into intolerant anger.
First is having a sense of humor. In this culture, we tend to look at everything through the tragic lens that Freud provided us. A better lens is tragicomedy or satire, by which we really can see the world in more complicated ways than pure polarization allows.
Second is the realization that none of us has a clue about the truth. I’m not playing the “fake news” game, but it is true that our brains are programmed by corporate media whose purpose is making money by attracting as many readers and viewers as possible. The way to do that is by turning news into loud, disproportionately dramatic episodes. I promise you that you really don’t know what you’re talking about half the time.
A third consideration — a necessary strategy — is the most difficult. You cannot resolve an argument without taking 50 percent responsibility for it, even though you might be convinced you are totally innocent. Nothing will change if you don’t do that. And if we don’t change, we likely will turn into disenfranchised members of an autocracy in which we have become complicit after the next election.