Break free from personality politics

When I made the first trips south to visit family and friends after moving to Iowa, diminishment of my homespun accent drew the most curiosity and confusion.

“What did you say?” one of my sisters, a Texas resident, asked, repeating the word “garden” with an exaggerated and distinctly East Coast soft “A” (gah-din) to mimic what she heard.

“Y’all sound like damn Yankees.”

Demonstrators are seen in silhouette, marching through Times Square in New York November 25, 2014. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)
Demonstrators are seen in silhouette, marching through Times Square in New York November 25, 2014. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

Although said in jest, the assessment was not a compliment. It was the first acknowledgment that I was changing, becoming more “other” than “same,” and a precursor to subsequent political discussions.

One brother, in particular, is especially vocal about his right-leaning political view. After returning home from church one Sunday during the 2000 election cycle, he phoned. Upon my “hello,” he immediately asked if I was going to vote for Hillary Clinton. When I explained I lived in Iowa and not New York, where Clinton was running for U.S. Senate, he said, “If you lived there, you’d support her.” Then he hung up.

A few years later, during the 2008 election, I was able to get every Democratic presidential candidate to sign a group photo I had taken of them at Tom Harkin’s Steak Fry. Once framed, I gifted it to my brother. Its whereabouts is now unknown.

Marriage, feminism, taxes, immigration, abortion, Citizens United — the family has discussed all of these and more, usually with civility, even if that meant someone walked away. This election cycle poses additional challenges.

We’ve gotten by previously by remembering that we are all cut from the same cloth and all of our viewpoints have value. We acknowledge our right-leaning relatives’ emphasis on laws, institutions, religion, tradition and customs has purpose. They see democracy as an achievement that requires regular maintenance and believe the imposition of constraints on people are necessary to that end.

In turn, those relatives acknowledge that left-leaning members of the family emphasize fairness and hold a vested interest in ensuring rights for vulnerable segments of the population. Supporting diverse ideas and ways of life fosters innovation, which strengthens democracy.

In short, our starting block is none of us are immoral or evil and, despite our different approaches, we all emphasize worldviews based on moral principles. We also steer conversations away from specific political candidates and toward issues and policies.

This is where my family and, based on my social media feeds, many other groups are currently finding difficulty.

Ideas haven’t been a hallmark of this election cycle. They’ve been stuffed in a corner, held there by shouts of “lock her up” and a barrage of concerning email leaks. We’re supposed to base decisions on personality instead of policy, to view each other as targeted demographic groups instead of family or neighbors in the same boat.

“Earlier this evening the question was posed as to whether or not I’d accept the results of the election if Donald J. Trump would happen to fall short,” a local Iowan, previous candidate for federal office, posted on Facebook. “My answer: No, and Hell No! There is no way in God’s green earth I will ever accept a corrupt criminal liberal Democrat like Hillary Clinton as my President. And, that it would be my district hope, for the sake of America and the American people, that she fail at every turn in the road.”

Last I checked, 83 people had liked this sentiment.

There is equal vehemence on the left, with a different Iowan posting, “If Trump is elected, we can kiss the country goodbye. I don’t know what he is, but I’m sure he isn’t American. Americans don’t degrade the disabled or disparage those who have fought for our country.” This post had 57 likes.

Nationally, the rhetoric is uglier. Just this week former Illinois Congressman Joe Walsh tweeted: “On November 8th, I’m voting for Trump. On November 9th, if Trump loses, I’m grabbing my musket. You in?”

When asked to clarify, Walsh said, “It means protesting. Participating in acts of civil disobedience. Doing what it takes to get our country back.”

These sentiments disrupt relationships because there is no rational response. If Trump is elected, he will serve as the entire country’s President. Likewise with Clinton. After the election, we don’t get to pick and choose. Demonstrations won’t change the outcome of the election — which, despite what you might hear to the contrary, is legitimate.

I remain confused by those who call for us to “take our country back.” From whom? The majority of American voters?

I won’t turn on my siblings, refuse to discuss policy with the very people that have helped construct who I am, out of fear of what one politician may or may not do. Our family and, yes, our country is stronger and “bigger” than that.

No matter that Trump and Clinton soundbites assault me at every turn or that I’m tasked with following along, my conscience continues to speak in my siblings’ and parents’ rich, Southern-twang voices.

This column by Lynda Waddington originally published in The Gazette on October 30, 2016. Photo credit: Shannon Stapleton/Reuters