This piece was published in mid-March, 2019.
I learned the other day about some conservatives who hate me for what I write. My op/ed messages, I heard, so infuriated a few people that they canceled their subscription to a newspaper to protest my words being published there.
It upset me to hear that, but I hardly should have been surprised.
It upset me because I’ve long cared about my relationship with conservatives in the Shenandoah Valley—a caring that began with the positive connection I had with them back in the 1990s, when we made radio conversations together on matters of importance to us.
Back then, we discussed things having to do with our common humanity, like a show about stories that get handed down in families, or about our experiences of beauty, or about what we have learned about love.
And we discussed things that divided us, with our being on a different political sides, and having different ways of thinking about what’s best and how we know what’s true.
And what we built together in those conversations was really a good thing – for them and for me.
An important part of that positive thing was getting to experience the goodness of those conservative people when we convened on the radio to create a conversation that left our lives a bit richer.
So it hurt to think that some of those whom I’ve infuriated might be among those conservatives with whom I’d once had that positive connection that was so important to me.
But, though painful, it was not surprising, because I realize that my messages these days to the conservatives are challenging at such a fundamental level that it is only to be expected that many will object strenuously to what I’m saying.
So the question naturally arises: If I don’t want to arouse the hostility of these people I care about, why would I be sending them messages that quite predictably will anger a good many of them?
The answer is that I feel a moral and civic obligation to say what I’m saying. I wish quite fervently it weren’t the case. But history has dealt us an unfortunate situation in which I feel morally compelled — by virtue of my love of my country and its basic values — to speak to conservatives as I do.
Despite my knowing that some will be furious with me, I feel I must address the fact that most of the conservatives I knew and valued in the 1990s are playing a political role in America today that is endangering America’s future.
Of course, the conservatives I’ve angered will not be convinced by my being “certain” that what I’m saying is true. But at least it should be noted that certainty is not something I habitually claim. Back in the 90s, I was accused by some in my conservative audience of being “wishy-washy” because I offered more questions than answers. In that era, I framed our discussions by saying we should talk with each other “as if we might actually learn from one another.”
But in recent times, the nature of our political crisis has become so clear-cut that I feel an inescapable duty to summon conservatives back to “the better angels of their nature” in their politics.
If it were just a matter of people turning away from their fine qualities in their personal lives, I would be sad to see it, but I wouldn’t confront them. I believe strongly in the basic American value of letting people choose their own paths, even when we disagree with their choices.
But when it involves the spirit that guides people in the political realm, that’s everybody’s business. In a democracy like ours, everybody has to live with the consequences of our political system going off the rails.
Which is why my op/ed pieces are expressed in terms of those moral touchstones that characterized “the better angels of their nature” those conservatives showed me back in the 90s—fine qualities that seem in such stark contrast with the spirit that now runs the Trump Party.
- a respect for playing fairly by the rules of the game, thus respecting the Constitution;
- the basic moral teachings of Christianity (e.g. about “Love Thy Neighbor”);
- and valuing character, integrity, principle, good faith, honesty…
To the best of my knowledge, I am the only liberal who regularly writes to the conservatives on the Trump side of the line. It has seemed to me that, for the past quarter century, liberals in America have failed their conservative brethren: leaving them to the right-wing propagandists, I believe, has been a major mistake with historically disastrous consequences.
That’s not the choice I’ve made.
But infuriating people seems unlikely to help America. I can only hope that with others of my readers, my efforts yield more beneficial consequences.
As is generally the case with answering a “call,” it involves an act of faith.
And, though those who hate me will not believe it, also something of an act of love.