It’s been a while since I’ve written anything. It’s been a combination of a few things, including work-related travel, being busier at work, and being really disheartened by the state of the world. This blog has helped me handle that feeling in the past, but over the last couple of months, trying to put fingers to keyboard seemed to make it worse. The state of things is so upsetting to me that I’ve even moved away from my morning routine. This routine includes sticking my iPad into a resealable plastic bag and setting it on a ledge in the shower so I can get my morning dose of news, flipping between CNN, MSNBC, and FoxNews. I still have most of this morning routine, and still put my iPad in plastic and bring it into the shower with me, but instead of news, I turn on a West Wing rerun to start my day. The policies from the White House bother me, and the shootings hurt my heart, but I think more than any of it, the division is what pains me the most.
We are tribal. We are a tribal species. It’s clear to anybody who knows me online which tribe I call home, so I’m not innocent of any of what pains me. I write this blog, I post liberal stuff (and criticism of conservative stuff) on Facebook and Twitter regularly. I’m undoubtedly part of the problem, and I can’t deny that. But I’m not all bad, and I deserve credit for a couple things. I don’t wear clothing that identifies my tribe. I own some John Kerry for president apparel, I have a few Obama shirts, and a couple of Hillary for President things. I don’t wear them in public though, and I don’t like seeing others wear them either. It’s one thing to throw on a MAGA hat on your way to a campaign event, it’s another thing to throw on a MAGA hat on your way to the supermarket. Politics divide us these days. They always have, but it seems like the level of hostility has grown. I don’t put signs on my house or my car. I know the importance of these things in politics. I realize that lawn signs are a good way to show support for your candidate, but they are antagonizing to those who aren’t in your tribe.
When I think of lawn signs, two memories come to mind. I was on trick-or-treat duty during the 2012 election, and my neighborhood was pretty evenly mixed between Romney and Obama supporters. It felt like my kids were crossing into another tribe’s sacred land when they approached the door of a house with Romney lawn signs. That may say a whole lot more about me than it says about them, but I wished for a (completely unconstitutional) ban on free expression for a nanosecond that day. The second thing that comes to mind was the day I decided to (finally) leave my dentist. I wasn’t happy with the care I was getting, but the Trump signs lining the walkway became the final straw. I tolerated their advertising on the conservative AM station, even their claim to be “conservative dentistry” (used to highlight that they like to do everything they can to minimize treatment), but after the surprising loss to Trump, and the images of white nationalist nazi salutes at rallies, it was too much. I found a new dentist (which was the right decision for many other reasons).
I guess politics just seems like a bad thing to divide us. We do this kind of thing in other ways all the time. We wear hats with sports teams’ logos that we like and others might dislike. We wear shirts from music concerts that show the world the kind of music we like, and that can highlight our differences (and our similarities), but it all seems so much more innocuous than political tribes. Again, this may say more about me than others, but if a student comes into my office with a New England Patriots hat, I might, as a Buffalo Bills fan, make some crack about it (especially given that we’re in Buffalo), but it doesn’t feel like it reveals a fundamental difference in our views of the world. If the student comes into my office with a MAGA hat, or even with a Sanders or Clinton or Obama hat, it feels different.
Perhaps it’s because I care so much about politics, perhaps if I were a “real” Bills fan I’d be even more upset by the Patriots hat…