The Dismay of Convention Season—2016

Perhaps because I am part of a fairly well-known (locally) dual political party couple, I occasionally receive the odd, whispered confession. Usually it is from a woman, who wants (or needs?) to share with someone that she’s not a Republican, as her husband, but a Democrat. The confession usually involves the further revelation that she’s not sure that her husband is aware that she does not share his political views.

Although I don’t receive a lot of these confessions, I hear them from time to time. This year, I’ve heard several—and they feel different. In the past, the “confession” is usually offered in an off-hand sort of way, in a way that almost feels that the gap between the pair is not very distant, or serious.

This year, though, the feeling is much more grave, full of deeper concern and anxiety.

The political landscape is different. It’s not just that the two main parties are lining up their candidates, talking about, and championing, their differences. It’s one thing to disagree with the other side, to believe that one party’s solutions are better than the other’s. It’s quite another to feel that one is expected to loathe the other side. For dual political party couples—even when one is relatively silent—this new dynamic feels especially problematic.

In the past, it’s been relatively easy to consider the opposing political views of one’s partner as based on upbringing or different priorities or just simply misguided. The cancelling of each other’s votes at the voting booth seemed not so big of a deal, rarely forming any sort of marital rift. Basically, the differences were things that couples could live with—not all that far from the other imperfections of one’s partner.

This year, it all seems changed, more charged. Each political camp—and both do this (although one is doing it a little more flagrantly at the moment)—assesses the opposing camp not simply as stupid, wrong, or misguided. Instead, the language is of hatred, implying that those aligned with the opposing political party hate the United States, or hate certain people who live in the United States, or hate the Constitution, etc.

For dual political party couples, the landscape is fraught with tension and disquiet. How does one listen to the language of national politicians and then look upon—and go on living in the same household with— one’s spouse?

And, this is where the confession comes in. The spouse who speaks to me is worried, anxious. It’s not that she (mostly, it’s a she) thinks that her spouse will suddenly hate her because of her political views. Instead, there’s the feeling of betrayal, well beyond marriage. It’s as if these marriages reflect a national betrayal. These couples have lived together for years, just as the people of the United States have managed to live together with their differing political views. Somehow, we’ve known, deep down, that hammering out compromises is how things are done. We’ve done so in our marriages. So, too, as a country.

No more, though. The language of compromise is now the language of weakness, shallowness of character. Instead, our politicians—and upheld by their base of staunch followers—insist on maintaining the purity of the single-minded, in order to show strength. And, part of that is to cast the “other” as evil, loathsome, repugnant.

For dual political party couples, it’s an awfully strange and sad predicament. The ways of our households are no longer the ways of our country. And, more than that, the ways of our country now seem alien, uncomfortable, and distressing. Just as we cannot hate our spouses, we wonder about the language of hatred on the national level.

We dual political party couples, though often quiet and perhaps even unsuspecting (especially when one does not share one’s views fully with one’s spouse), are no longer part of the national fabric of our democracy. Instead, we are a weird liability. It’s dismaying, to be sure, and certainly a very sad commentary. We seem “united” only by the smallness of our thinking, and our desire to hate the other into submission or oblivion.

We can’t do that at home. We’ll surely discover that can’t live that way as a country either.

About smaxreisert

I'm a United Church of Christ pastor serving the small, faithful Old South Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, in Hallowell, Maine. I was ordained in Massachusetts in 1995, moved to Maine in 1997 and have served the Hallowell church since 2005.
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