Folks I’m going to do my best not to avoid any topic because we know that hiding from things doesn’t help us. So, Politics…
The election of the last three presidential candidates has seen me in environments that generally are staunchly against the ideological positions of the incoming President and the Party they represent:
- President George W. Bush was elected in 2000 during my Freshman Year in college at The University of Houston (Texas). He had been the Governor of Texas for the previous 5 years. At the time, most of my friends had grown up in Texas and knew President Bush as a Governor. Most of my friends at the time identified as Democrats. There was absolute vitriol. Some of my friends were losing it. They thought the country was going to be reversed into the Jim Crow Era.
- President Barack Obama was elected in 2008 during the second year of my enlistment in the Military. I probably don’t need to tell you that my fellow soldiers had a mostly Republican leaning. Again, vitriol. Oh, The Birth Certificate Thing?! I had buddies who latched on to that like a Pit Bull with Lock Jaw. It was the truth in their minds.
- President Donald Trump was elected in 2016. Many of you reading this are residents of the Pacific Northwest (PNW) along with myself. The PNW and particularly the Puget Sound Region is a very Liberal part of the country. Need I say more.
Me personally, I probably lean Democrat but let’s break that down real quick: I am an African American male who grew up in the South. My parents were both born in 1950 and grew up in the South. They have a Democratic leaning. That’s the political ideology that I grew up with. It’s what I was handed as a lense through which to view the world. I didn’t construct it myself. I adopted it because it was a prevailing theme in the environment of my upbringing. My parents have their own reasons for their political inclinations and they have every right to be where they are and so do all of you. My responsibility as an adult is to deconstruct the reasons why I have a Democratic leaning and evaluate those reasons for validity. This is similar to the deconstruction process that I’m going through with my religious beliefs as I alluded to in my last post.
I’m often surprised by the certainty with which people speak about politics. It’s as if they are at the White House everyday receiving the security brief with the President. As someone who has been misunderstood and prematurely judged quite a bit in life, I am hesitant to fully engage conversations that sound like they are vilifying an individual. It takes a lot to try to deconstruct someone’s Ideological Bunker (I’m stealing that phrase from Brene Brown).
I usually just nod until it’s over. To be honest, that’s me being lazy. You know how it’s easier to nod and agree with someone so you can just get the conversation over with? I find myself doing that in political conversations. I get heated because of the certainty with which people attack politicians. Internally, it makes me want to argue as opposed to exercising the self control to engage the conversation calmly, and ask more questions than assume I have answers. That takes effort. It takes self restraint and critical thinking. It also takes a willingness to be vulnerable to attack. When my friend whose dug in on their politics gets the sense that I don’t fully agree with them, they might lash out at me. That’ll take even more self restraint from my end. We don’t like to have the fundamental assumptions upon which we base our lives to be challenged. It can be massively disorienting when you held something as an absolute and then something comes along to challenge that. However, like I said, as adults we have the responsibility to evaluate our axioms for validity. We have to be able to discern what’s still useful and what needs to be left behind. This is a difficult thing but it has to be done. Political discussion is a place where I’ve realized that I don’t exercise my own 300% Rule. I’ve been coming up short on the effort piece.
I recently read a book by Brene Brown titled Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone. It’s a good, quick read. One of the principles she writes about in the book is, “Speak Truth to Bulls**t. Be civil.” This one hit me particularly hard. In reference to the ‘Be Civil’ admonition she writes:
“First, approach bulls**tting with generosity when possible. Don’t assume that people know better and they’re just being malicious or mean-spirited. In highly charged discussions, we can feel shame about not having an informed opinion and the feelings of “not enough” can lead us to bulls**tting our way through a conversation… Generosity, empathy, and curiosity (e.g., Where did you read this or hear this?) can go a long way in our efforts to question what we’re hearing and introduce fact.” (Chap. 5, pg. 95)
I’m totally guilty of acting like I understand what someone is talking about in a politics conversation. They’re so confident and I don’t want to seem irresponsible and uninformed. I nod and agree to get the conversation over with. That’s me bulls**tting. Nevermind if their logic is flawed. Nevermind if they’re asserting opinion as fact. I’m only thinking about protecting my ego so I let all that polarized political ideology fly unchallenged. I may not have the actual facts but to some extent, especially if I call myself someone’s friend, I bare a responsibility to challenge their thought process. Like I said before, this makes me vulnerable but it seems like the right thing to do. Especially considering how emotionally charged politics are right now. If I’ve got the time and space to engage, I should do so.
I’ve seen the same problems over the years in statements around the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Often these statements are from people who have never served in the military. First off, I refuse to be a veteran who tells you that you can’t comment on the Wars because you’ve never been there. In my opinion, if you live in America, you are connected to what America does around the world. You have a right and responsibility to engage the conversation. However, it does bother me that these statements are so certain. Why? This war story was on national news? You’ve been talking about Middle Eastern Conflict and researching it in a political science class? These things are good but we have to be careful about drawing absolute conclusions without having our eyes on the actual day to day reality. In my time in Afghanistan, I realized how grey war can be. It’s rarely as simple as, “These are the bad guys and these are the good guys.” People end up aligned with the Taliban because their families were being threatened with death or they were running out of food and the Taliban was providing food. People end up taking jobs with US Forces because these represent the only economic opportunities in the local area. Being an interpreter for US Soldiers, of course, will be seen as utter betrayal by Taliban Forces. Those US forces may be doing humanitarian work. Something to benefit Afghanistan. What happens to that interpreter’s safety when US Forces leave? It’s not good. This is a vastly complex situation that involves many untold facets. It’s dishonoring to oversimplify it into, “We need to crush any country the harbors terrorism!”, or, “The wars are purely about US Political interests!” These are over simplifications of an incredibly complex situation that is incredibly old. We can’t oversimplify things out of fear and frustration. We have to be willing to do the hard work to understand the situation and, at a minimum, speak with a level of grace towards all parties involved in these international issues. To be clear, it’s not about pardoning terrorism or injustice, but it is about making the effort to understand in deeper ways where these things originate and having the continual conversation it takes to understand how to handle such things. As someone who spent a year in Afghanistan, I can confidently say that it’s complicated and there is no perfect solution.
All that to say, whether you like the President or not, it’s a massively difficult job. The Leader of the Free World. It’s hard to get two people to agree on what they’re going to have for dinner, let alone getting the World’s Superpowers to agree on International Policy. With all the criticism of Presidents that I’ve heard over the last 18 years of my life the question that comes to my mind is, “Since you can do it so much better, why don’t you run for office?” I don’t say that, but I am going to stop being so lazy and egotistical and start engaging. I’m positive I have many more questions than answers and I think that’s a good place to be in on extremely complex issues.