As a Democrat and a feminist, it felt incredible to celebrate the victory of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris the weekend after the election. My husband and I volunteered for the campaign, and Kamala had been our first choice in the early primary season, so the victory felt personal.
But the election-related event that has given me the greatest sense of hope for America’s political future was far more personal. I helped persuade a high school acquaintance, who’d become a conservative Christian Republican and anti-abortion voter in adulthood, to mark his ballot for Joe Biden.
The story began when Tom – whom I’d reconnected with online after our 50th reunion committee built a Facebook page – started commenting on posts on my personal Facebook page. There, among photos of my two absolutely perfect grandsons and images of sunsets from our cliff, are links to my blog posts. I’m political. I write about politics. It’s who I am.
At some point, Tom asked to connect by email, and we started having more in-depth conversations.
He shared his conviction that life begins at conception and abortion is wrong. I shared my experiences and those of friends and relatives who’d had to make perhaps the most painful decision, to explain my belief that choice is a necessary personal and medical option.
He told me about the discomfort he was feeling about reelecting Donald Trump and his hesitation to vote for Joe Biden, about whom he had a number of concerns. I told him why I preferred Biden and the Democrats.
Then he asked a favor: could he pose questions on the issues that would drive his voting decision and would I tell him what I knew about Biden’s position? He’d concluded that he couldn’t vote for Trump, but he didn’t just want to vote “against” him. He needed concrete reasons to vote for Joe Biden.
So Tom sent me a list of issue questions — whether the attack on Biden’s mental acuity was valid, how a Biden administration might affect the U.S. economy especially small businesses, how Biden’s approach to China would differ from Trump’s, and several other subjects. The list ended, unsurprisingly, with a question about how Biden could be a good Catholic and moral individual given his political support for a woman’s right to choose.
I dug into the first topic as any good journalist would: pulling data from government sources, reputable research institutes and responsible media outlets, before composing a response based on the most objective, nonpartisan, unbiased sources I could find. I wrote a long email, complete with links to each source, so Tom could “check my work.”
He replied, thanking me for the research and analysis, and said that the age issue seemed a wash. I kept going, researching and reporting in quick succession on two more questions. But he didn’t reply to either.
I was puzzled. Was Tom still reading my lengthy emails filled with data and links to multiple news reports? Had he come down with COVID-19? Had he changed his mind and decided to vote for Trump after all … and just didn’t have the heart to tell me?
But I figured he’d tell me eventually, one way or the other, so I finished the list of questions.
Into that silence, I kept communicating. I forwarded links to news coverage from the nation’s major outlets on the issues Tom had asked about and those I thought might resonate with him. Issues such as Trump’s failure to address the pandemic and the impact of his immigration policies on asylum seekers, including those hundreds of children whose parents now cannot be found. While it was tough finding pieces that didn’t make “Trump is bad” arguments, I shared every well-researched news item that offered a here’s-why-Biden-is-better perspective.
I figured Tom would tell me if he wanted me to stop. He didn’t.
Finally, a post from Tom’s Facebook page popped up in my feed. He’d begun a conversation with friends and family in his faith community, expressing the view that being pro-life had to be about more than being anti-abortion. He opined that Trump’s immigration policy and his failure to take COVID-19 seriously belied the candidate’s claim to be pro-life. He linked to commentary by respected Christian thought leaders who expressed that view and called for Biden’s election.
A few people treated Tom’s comments seriously and responded courteously. But for the most part, Tom was pummeled for even raising the issue. I jumped in to offer my support, as did another high school friend. And privately, I messaged Tom how sorry I was that he was being criticized by people he’d hoped to engage in productive discussion. He assured me he was okay and that some people were coming around to his point of view, adding, “I feel good for what I’ve done.”
In the end, Tom never actually posted the words, “I’m voting for Joe Biden.” I’m guessing he didn’t want to give friends and family any more reason to criticize him. But he repeatedly “liked” my pro-Biden posts and added supportive comments to the threads. He cheered the victory on my Facebook page when it finally was announced the Saturday after Election Day.
And he DMed me that night, “The bully is almost gone!”
I told him how glad I was that we’d had the chance to exchange views. It had been less important to me that he voted for Biden than that he’d initiated our discussion and given Biden a fair chance to win his vote. (I know that’s an easy thing to say here in California, where a pro-Trump vote wouldn’t have altered the outcome, but I meant it.)
Because things have to change.
When Tom and I were in high school, kids came from Democratic households and Republican households, and no one cared. When a presidential election ended, one candidate had won and the other hadn’t, and we all moved on with our lives, secure in the belief that the new president would work on behalf of all Americans.
We’ve lost that as a nation. Which is why it felt so doggone good to know that Tom had been willing to talk to me, willing to let me dump data and research studies and news reports for weeks on end into his email inbox, willing to hear me out, and willing to rethink his own assumptions. He’d come to see me as a good and decent and moral person, a loyal and patriotic American like him who, as a Democrat, just happens to hold different policy perspectives than he does as a Republican. I’m not a traitor or a hater or a communist or a fascist or a baby killer or stupid or corrupt. I’m not the enemy, as Joe Biden said in his acceptance speech: I’m just a member of the other party.
And that is what we must regain: the understanding that we can hold different, and even diametrically opposing, views and not be enemies.
How do we get there? By talking. Listening. Having conversations. One person at a time.
image credit: Image by John Hain from Pixabay-done
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