This fall, with remote learning giving us the freedom to travel, we decided to visit my family in Dallas — a chance to reconnect and talk politics.
Isn’t talking politics around the dinner table taboo? ’Tis true. But the 2020 summer of protest taught me that listening to others is a step towards helping us overcome our collective rage.
Having ensconced myself for twelve years in San Francisco — whose politics are left and further left — I sought to listen to conservatives. While I know Texans’ views are not monolithic, several conservative family and friends do live in the state. The visit offered an opportunity to listen to their views on current politics.
My sample of three conservatives all over age 35 is laughable. As is including in my summary the dozens of opinions I read that graced the Dallas Morning News opinion page. Nevertheless, over three weeks in September, here’s what I heard.
Family and friends fear what may come next. If the President wins, Vice President Biden supporters, like me, will brandish our steel to violently invade homes, take down neighborhoods and destroy cities. Will that compel a national police force, a Gestapo, a Chinese police state? Whatever form it takes, the fear is real.
Guns mitigate these fears. The Constitution grants us the right to protect ourselves from others, especially from private property trespassers. Therefore, limiting gun rights is off the table to said family and friends.
Likewise, asking police to focus on criminal activity instead of non-criminal mental health, substance abuse and homelessness activity threatens their livelihoods. Current mental health institutions ineffectively treat mental illness. These institutions release ill patients back into society. Dispatching medics or crisis workers to deescalate non-criminal mental health activity merely delays the dangers faced. Police shootings eliminate the problem and keep us safe.
Government does not work.
Ineffective mental health institutions cycle patients. Veterans wait for days on end for Veterans Health Administration appointments. Government coffers gush our tax dollars towards unaccountable programs. Consequently, my family and friends don’t understand why anyone would suggest more government as an answer.
“Is the government really proposing to take and redistribute what I’ve earned to everyone else? Why, so we can support people that don’t work?” America is the land of opportunity, not a socialist state. Over-taxing what successful individuals have worked hard to earn is belligerent, as if distributing a few extra dollars to millions of Americans who don’t make an effort would make a difference.
While the President embarrasses, his policies embolden.
When the President is on the air, family and friends scurry their children out the room. Losing our civility angers them. Yet, embarrassment and anger subside when they consider the President embodies individual liberty.
“If San Francisco homeless have a right to shoot up and defecate all over the place, then I have the right to walk around maskless.”
They respect the President’s right to bully, to bend, to hurt, and to offend. Surprisingly, it’s not a Machiavellian belief that the ends justify the means, but rather his bold and competent approach to putting America first. Immigration is down, the US is not supporting the 3 billion of us living off $2 a day, regulations have eased, China is on alert. It perplexes them that some people hate him; that the media bashes him.
Bold leaders are often disliked. Besides, the White House houses a long history of Presidential intransigence. And, the alternative is senile and crooked.
Race does not matter.
Race conversations were the hardest. As a Puerto Rican, discussing racial matters with them tore at my heart, quivered my voice, drained my energy. First, friends and family believed everyone deserves respect. Treating everyone nicely would inoculate us from our racial inequality pandemic.
And second, data show racial disparities are no longer relevant. Non-white Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders’ incomes fare well above the median household income. Fatal police shootings are majority white. The Department of Justice alleges Yale, my alma mater, discriminates against Asian and white applicants and the statement, delivered with a wink, taints my acceptance.
The American people elected a Black president.
The data suggests to them race no longer matters. Company dictates to hire more Black and Brown employees perversely balloon costs and kink expediencies. The disproportionate COVID-19 deaths amongst Black and Brown people more accurately reflect these groups just don’t take care of themselves. Riots no longer represent the voice of the unheard, but rather opportunists out to get what they don’t deserve.
Their personal experiences with Black and Brown people trumped anything I said. Personal experiences supersede centuries of US racist policies that drive long-standing Black and Brown people’s wealth, income, unemployment, education, and health disparities. Their race blind approach blinds them to the chronic poverty, residential segregation, the caging and beating of Black and Brown people, the emergencies of inequality.
The value of listening.
While difficult, listening to their rightful perspectives helped. The conversations explained why so many think the President is so great. Listening illuminated a path towards healing.
I don’t agree with much of what they said, but that is due to my own personal experiences. Life has taught me that I am on this earth to love and to serve. Experiences have blessed me to live with hope, not fear. Experiences have demonstrated that the selfish pursuit of individual liberty and personal achievement they espouse have largely rendered the inefficient government they denounce.
Just as I listened to them, my hope is that they listened to me say that the systems in 2020 remain broken for the Black and the Brown. And as my close family and friends, they should turn to leaders that respect basic human dignities instead of denigrating them.