Post-Election Détente

I want to start by making it clear that I am a liberal.  I’m really liberal. Here is proof: I believe the United States should have universal healthcare, free for all Americans, financed by the government. I believe this very strongly and I talk about it a lot, so-much-so that a friend from church once said – with genuine concern – that she thought I might actually be a “flaming” liberal. But my position on healthcare is only the beginning of how liberal I am. I think America needs stricter guns laws; I think that Climate Change is real and humans are causing it; the financial sector needs strong regulation; there should be heavier taxes on the rich; there should be more and better services and support for the poor; slavery reparations is a moral imperative and not that difficult to finance; the Me Too movement is a blessing for all of us; college should be more affordable; and all children should attend good schools with well trained, properly paid teachers. I could go on…but I’ll just say flaming liberal is okay for me.  

Actually…I will go on, just a little more.  I’m not a U.S. citizen, so I can’t vote, but for the sake of this great country and for the world and for broader notions of decency and integrity I hope that Biden and Harris absolutely crush Trump and Pence. And when I say crush I mean that this time the Democrats win Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, and they get Arizona, North Carolina, and Florida to boot! By-the-way, it is beyond stupid that the Presidential race for this whole huge country is determined by only four or five swing states, and worse that it depends on a handful of counties in each of those states. The Electoral College system undermines democracy and freedom in the United States.

The group of people who write these blog posts is called the Gathering. The Gathering is a discussion group, which, under normal circumstances, meets twice every month in-person…but now, because of you-know-what, we meet by Zoom. I love the Gathering; I love the people, the thoughtful dialogue, and the focus on social justice, particularly as it relates to our bifurcated city, Baltimore. I love that we drink wine together and I love that we freely express our personal faith experiences and explore how our faith stories shape our perspective of the world, our role in it, and what is right and what is wrong. Almost all of us have roots in Evangelical Christianity.

...true détente in America will only emerge if America really wants it.”

So, I am a flaming liberal and I’m in a group of people, the Gathering, which meets to talk about the key issues of the day. However, over the years as our discussions have unfolded, I have consistently found myself in the conservative wing of the Gathering.  But conservative for the Gathering means flaming liberal in the real world of America. The Gathering, as a whole, is very left of center. It is a happy little liberal bubble with a churchy vibe…actually I should say we are happy that we are together, happy to be together…but since 2016 we have been seething. When Trump won in 2016, we met the next day; we were all very quiet. We contemplated switching out the wine for hard liquor.  These last four years we have watched, stupefied, as the carnival barker in the Oval Office spews and flails, rolling-out a vision for America that is absolutely antithetical to what we believe. We see Trump’s administration as indecent, unjust, cruel, corrupt…dangerous.

I know people who are real conservatives – neighbors, friends and family. I’ve never heard even one of them say so, but I believe that most voted for Trump in 2016. I don’t really understand why. It can’t be because they are stupid or deplorable. The people that I am thinking of (at least most of them) are neither stupid nor deplorable. But, obviously, they have a very different perspective of America than what we in the Gathering have; and they seek to have the U.S. government address a completely different set of problems, like putting more limits on immigration, being tougher on crime, strengthening the U.S. military, easing the tax burden on higher income people and corporations, protecting the right of Americans to bear arms, putting greater limits on abortion, promoting traditional notions of marriage, protecting the fossil fuel industry, limiting government transfers to the poor, etc…

Even though I know real conservatives I don’t talk to them about their political perspectives very much. Things become too heated too fast; the differences just seem too stark. For example, just a few days ago I was talking to my neighbor, Oscar. I know Oscar as good person—reliable, honest, capable and interesting (he has a hobby forge!). We were talking about the pandemic and he said something like – if the Democrats get their way we will be confined to our homes and then socialism wins “just like what happened in Nazi Germany”. I said that the Nazis were fascists not socialists.  He retorted, “Nazi stands for National Socialism.” And then we were off…we got so mad at each other. The conversation quickly spilled to Hillary’s emails, Stormy Daniels, Bengazi, Russia, Hunter Biden, Antifa, Mussolini… Oscar and I are friends and we want to remain friends; we both realized that we were going down a bad road and we just stopped our discussion and politely went on our respective ways.

I was right; Oscar was wrong. The Nazis were not socialists. Oscar is smart but what he said was absurd. Since we had that conversation I did 15 minutes of research on the Internet and found sources within an insulated ecosystem of rightwing media where the notion that Nazism is a form of socialism seems to have formed.  To me it is abundantly clear that the sources are biased, even a cursory review shows how they routinely beat and bend facts to form conclusions that are consistent with conservative talking points and they don’t subject their assertions to any real academic review. I don’t know why Oscar wouldn’t have recognized that himself.

I believe that Trump will be pounded into political oblivion on Election Day; and I hope that after the election he will choose to flee to someplace where it is obvious that he is trying to avoid extradition. But the people that voted Trump into power in the first place will remain here in America. I expect that conservative media will not promote introspection with regard to the last four years, but will rather spin and churn and cast alternative narratives, showing Trump as a victim, how he was set-upon by the deep state, mainstream media, Anthony Fauci, Hollywood, China, Obama, Antifa, SNL and AOC…and Trump’s base will seethe.

…it is a challenge to define the actual antagonists in this cold war.”

I wish I could say that that Trump’s base, those who are strongly supportive of him, is a small minority of America, like a radical fringe. But it is not…it is millions and millions of people. It is hard to put numbers to it but depending on who is doing the math it could be as much as 33% of America, “Trump’s Third”.

Rational voices have to pierce the conservative media bubble that protects and isolates Tump’s Third. There must be better communication of unspun truth to them. This needs to happen for the sake of enabling sustainable social progress and justice in the U.S. and for protecting the broader human race from global threats. As we witnessed in 2016, under the right conditions the fears and rage of Trump’s Third can become the governing principles of the highest offices of the nation and, as we have seen over the last four years, this can do astonishing damage. It is also true that the Electoral College increases the political power of the Third and dramatically increases the probability that some new, perhaps more dangerous, version of Trump will worm into the Oval Office again, like a resurrected Lord Voldemort.

The word détente is most associated with the Cold War, a time period marked by distrust and antagonism between two countries—the United States and the Soviet Union. I think that the word is French, but I’m not 100% sure. I know that it means relaxation of tensions and if the last four years has proven one thing it is that America has its own cold war, an internal cold war, and the best thing for America and the world, after the election, is for America’s opposing camps to relax, even just for a bit. However, it is a challenge to define the actual antagonists in this cold war. I would like to propose that the division is not conservatives versus liberals, certainly not socialists versus capitalists. I think it is right to define one side as Trump’s base—what I’ve been calling Trump’s Third—and the other as Mainstream Society. To me this dichotomy is consistent with the media division in America, Fox News, and its “friends” on one side and “mainstream media” like CNN, NBC, and the New York Times on the other.

After Biden and Harris win the election, America has to figure out a way to diffuse tensions between the camps, to bring détente. I believe that this will need to happen on many different levels, starting from the most basic conversations with friends and family and going all the way to how Biden and Harris will communicate to America and how mainstream media personalities comport themselves. (I think it is obvious, and we have to acknowledge, that mainstream media has a liberal bias).

Given my Evangelical background and, unlike most of the rest of the Gathering, that I don’t have a Ph.D., I’m inclined to present complex ideas via the “five elements model”, an approach that was robustly and immutably demonstrated by Pastor Rick Warren in his worldwide best seller, The Purpose Driven Life. I would like to suggest five rules for shaping personal and public discourse with the Trump Third after the election. At this point, I should emphasize that I have absolutely no qualifications for setting such rules, other than that I like talking to people, even people with whom I vehemently disagree; and generally I can keep my composure. Since I’ve already pushed beyond the word limit for this post I will not get into the Five Rules themselves; I’ll save that for another post, which will also create a cliffhanger effect that will have you all anxiously awaiting that next pontification.

Finally, I would just like to say that, Five Rules or not, true détente in America will only emerge if America really wants it and, to me, it isn’t clear that America wants it – hostility, distrust, belittlement have more entertainment value and immediate gratification. However, for the sake of America and the world I hope that America will see that détente is an absolute necessity. I hope that Mainstream America ultimately wants détente with the Third, and I hope that the Third wants détente with Mainstream America.