When Politics Intrude
“A very few, as heroes, patriots, martyrs, reformers in the great sense, and men, serve the State with their consciences also, and so necessarily resist it for the most part; and they are commonly treated by it as enemies.” – Henry David Thoreau
I wrote yesterday about the occasional intrusion of politics onto my blog. Some readers want to only see cute animals and look at the pictures, and have let me know that. A couple of have walked away.
Today, my inbox was full of lovely and appreciative messages about the blog, I forget sometimes that the nicest people don't generally speak out much or send many messages.
They rarely try to tell me what to write, and flow patiently along with my ups and downs and twists and turns.
One of the messages this morning was from Jen, it caught my eye, and reminded me that politics is often a small and intimate thing. Even though we tend to view it on a grand, portentous scale – Washington, the White House, the media, immigration – it is often very personal.
And solutions to problems often begin with the smallest things.
Jen's message about her struggles with her fiance over politics touched me and inspired me to think about the dangers of self-righteousness and the power of talking, listening and thinking, three traits that seemed to have vanished from our political system and much of social media.
"I want to thank you for your thoughts in this tumultuous time," she said. "I find myself in a very loving relationship with my fiance who was/is/not sure a supporter of Trump. I have struggled a great deal this year, knowing what a kind and generous person he is and trying to reconcile. For now, I just ask that politics stay out of our home so that we can each believe in what we think is best. So hard sometimes to keep it that way. But when I look at the generosity and kindness he has always shown, I hope we can get through these challenging times. And our beloved black Lab is such a solace to us both…"
Jen said she wasn't sure where she was going with her message, but she did want to thank me "for the many years of smiles and introspection you have brought me through your books and blogs." Jen is sticking around, and I thanked her.
Uncharacteristically, I thought of dispensing some love advice – I am not into giving or receiving advice from strangers much, I am not Dear Abby, but Jen awakened a Dear Abby gene in me, one I didn't know was even there.
I am rooting for this guy, and for this relationship. She seems to love him, and he seems awfully nice and is very much entitled to his own view of politics. He sounds like one of those men you can talk to. That is a rare species.
I wanted to write and say she seemed to have found a very good man, and if he was generous and kind he would help her find a way to get through this discomfort and to a better place.
To me, President Trump is not only a political challenge, but a spiritual one. How do I respond to such a vain, obnoxious, arrogant and often blatantly dishonest man, a person more than 60 million of my country men and women chose to entrust with the leadership of our country?
I am working on it, if I can figure this out, I will have taken a giant step in my long and circuitous spiritual journey. It's a tough thing, but he is nothing but a gift.
I do not accept the idea that people who support Donald Trump or who voted for him are bad people, I am not surprised they can be generous and kind, even when he is not. It is offensive to write them off as bigots or sexists or idiots, it is offensive for them to write me off as a knee-jerk liberal elitist who doesn't deserve a voice in my own country. My friends who voted for Mr. Trump have not done that to me.
They care as deeply about the country as I do, perhaps more, and they want to believe the system can be made to work for them again. The immigration system is much on their minds, a metaphor for a chaotic and dangerous world. They are fearful.
Jen got me to thinking about this week, and what a great emotional toll it took on so many people, including me. Immigration is an important issue for me, but my own family history with it has also blinded me a bit, I see. The modern world of immigration is not the same as the one that greeted my grandmother so many years ago.
When my grandmother came to America and saved our family, it was very much a different world. The bombing of churches and the slaughtering of young people dancing was either unknown or profoundly shocking. This has changed. Atrocities are served up as our daily media diet, they are so easy to exploit.
The chances of an American being killed by a refugee terrorist are one in 3.6 billion, according to the very conservative and widely-respected CATO Institute, a think tank in Washington, D.C. Fear unchecked is a dangerous thing.
I wanted to say to Jen (I didn't) that I think talking is important. Maria and I are both intense and strong-willed people, we can get on each others nerves in a hurry, and we often disagree. When we do, we immediately sit down and stop and talk about it until we work it out, and figure it out. How can you resolve something if you can't listen or talk?
If it were me, I would sit down with the fiance and say, "how can we love one another and still keep our own identities. How can we support one another and live together in a nourishing way?" If that doesn't work, they may, in fact, have a serious problem. If it does work, they may have a wonderful relationship, perhaps one like mine. We talk about everything, nothing is off-limits. I am not suggesting we are a perfect couple, but we do work things out and love one another deeply.
In my mind, that is precisely what we seemed to have forgotten how to do as a country, and as a people. It would be nice if our leaders set an example.
This immigration issue is very difficult, for me, for so many others.
I confess I am not emotionally prepared to slam the door on the needy and oppressed on the world, that is not my America. We are almost numb to the horrors we often see on the news, but some of them are very real.
I want to understand what I cannot comprehend.
Isn't this a conversation the country ought to be having, right out in the open, the left and the right, Democrats and Republicans, people who love Trump, people who don't, Jen and her fiance? If they won't do it, I will, and I am a pimple on the ass of life
I can see why Jen is struggling over whether to marry someone who might support that way of doing things. So many people are frightened, so many suffered.
I mention this as my own response to Jen's very thoughtful letter this is, in a way, what I am facing, what we are all facing, it is a complex psychological and spiritual challenge for many people, not just those on the left or the right.
So I'll put my Dear Abby hat on and think about myself. I think I need to do what I would tell Jen to do if she had asked me for advice which, I think, she was in her own way. Learn something from their Lab, a kind and generous breed. Their message is acceptance.
I will work to serve the state with my conscience. People who disagree with me are not my enemies. That is the dark path.
My response will be to continue to listen and learn, to speak my truth, to focus on the new refugee families, the helpless and the needy, the refugees who are here, my writing and my photography and my wife. I mean to do good in the small ways that are available to me.
(You can help the arriving refugees inexpensively and easily, right here. This morning, I sent a $20 Amazon gift card. It feels so much better than arguing or watching the news. The gift page was set up by the U.S. Committee On Refugees and Immigration, some refugees are here and in need of everything.)
I wish Jen the best, I am thinking of her fiance, I'd like to meet him. Such men are not commonplace, her fiance might like Donald Trump, but he is not like Donald Trump, and he is not Donald Trump. I don't see him as an enemy, I hope she doesn't either.
Maybe there is something to this Dear Abby stuff, she did (does) well, a new path for me and my publisher. I'll call my agent, he will probably blow his stack.