I joined Newsday’s editorial board during the 2010 election cycle, and what strikes me most in recalling that time was the sense that the nation was as divided as it could get.
Oh, 2010 United States, your little dinner table disagreements seem so precious now. It’s like looking back at the bedtime tantrums of a toddler who, eight years later, burns down the house in a fit of rage.
The debate over the Affordable Care Act was spirited in 2010. But by the time we got to Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, with white nationalists marching and Heather Heyer killed after one allegedly ran her down and President Donald Trump’s “very fine people on both sides” remark, things got really hot.
If 2010 was the season when our broad political discontent with each other began to boil over, it was also the time when we began to discuss in earnest whether such disagreements were reason enough to separate ourselves from the people whose lips and keyboards we wanted to pour glue on.
Liberals were tired of being forced to listen to Uncle Roy’s rants that Barack Obama was a Kenyan-born Muslim hellbent on taking their guns, money and freedom. Conservatives were sick of hearing Aunt Diane tell them they held their religious convictions and devotion to individual liberties, limited government, the Second Amendment and the rights of the unborn out of small-minded ignorance, not thoughtful deliberation.
Separate Thanksgivings, anyone? Mostly not. Mostly we argued that these disagreements shouldn’t tear apart families and friendships. We’ve tried to love each other, and to stay away from the triggering topics. Discussions about the weather, football and that special something in Aunt Sally’s potato salad hit all-time highs.
And now we have Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and an argument about truth and youth and assault and privilege and treatment of women that’s fueling its own overdue inferno.
Many people who’ve counted on and loved each other their entire lives are furious with each other over Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who says he sexually assaulted her 36 years ago. They’re engaging and raging over what sexual assault is and how much it matters, about what justifies crippling a career and whether society’s default setting should be that accusers are believed.
And so we are again debating whether to stay close to those with whom we so vehemently disagree. Aren’t these issues important enough to decide whom to see and speak to, whom to love and support? What better reason to shut somebody out than politics, which is really philosophy, which is really morality, which is really what life is all about?
Anyone who supports (or opposes) abortion is no friend of mine, right? Anyone who can’t see Kavanaugh (or Ford) is lying needs to see his or her way out of my life!
That feels right. It’s not. Because we are in this together, and there is no getting out of it. With our families, we share bonds of love and sacrifice and history that provide the core meaning in our lives. We chose our friends and grew close to them because we saw value in them, in their conduct and outlook. That value was real.
Sexual assault of women is both far too common and far too often overlooked, and men who behave properly almost never need fear false accusations. But there are people who’ve helped me raise my daughter, who’ve loved and supported my wife and me for decades, who I’ve seen perform extraordinary acts of kindness, who see society’s response to sexual assault differently. And race, and criminal justice, and war. Just as my lefty loved ones disagree with me about property rights, the Second Amendment and free speech.
Even so, we will be in this together. And it will get better.
Lane Filler is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.