Meeting Ourselves Halfway: Making Frienemies in Real America

Either you repeat the same conventional doctrines everybody is saying, or else you say something true, and it will sound like it’s from Neptune.” –Noam Chomsky



Real America. It’s where the real Americans live. You know, the magical land of freedom, conservative Christian brotherhood, and dinosaur riding ancestors. What a wonderful place that must be for those pretending that it exists. I, apparently, am not a resident of this imaginary land. I am not privileged enough to be invited to be a part of that light fantastic. In fact, anyone who isn’t deemed sufficiently socially conservative is painted as the outsider. Lady Liberty has been taken hostage by a band of “freedom fighters” who don’t have any plans on giving her back. It reminds me of a line from the movie Children of the Corn, “Outlander! We have your woman!” Bizarre. The voice of the ill informed few wails like a dying animal in the wilderness and drowns out the steady voice of reason. Talking out against the Palin-ites gets you shouted down with cries labeling you “Un-American,” “Traitor,” and “Terrorist Sympathizer,” terms that serve as newly converted proper nouns to add to the titles held on your citizen’s resume.

The defenders of this new America don’t recognize the prescription of conservative Christian conformity inherent to this ideology is the polar opposite of freedom and the core of true American value, nor do they recognize their desire for theocracy as an identical twin to the Islamic countries they would prefer bombed into the bronze age. The condition is articulated well by Crowley’s paraphrasing of Connolly in her work Toward A Civil Discourse: Rhetoric and Fundamentalism: “[D]efenders of fundamentalisms do not evaluate the ideals that drive them; were they to do so, they would risk discovering incoherence and other flaws. Rather, they invest their energy in protecting those ideals from assault by unbelievers (Crowley14).” The huge disconnect in dialogue with these persons comes from the resistance to qualifying any information they would use to support their claims. While liberals tend to rely too heavily on MSNBC, Jon Stewart, and Huffington Post for their talking points, the Real Americans rely on singular sources like FOX, Rush Limbaugh, and other specifically conservative media. They both have skewed viewpoints that are not well rounded enough. However, the information sources FOX, Limbaugh, and company supply (as qualified by third party research), consistently are found to be reporting information that is NOT factual. And their viewers, when polled, are consistently found to be uninformed or incorrectly informed about current issues, policies, and the like. How can you fight with that? If someone believes they are Batman can you prove them wrong without becoming a villain? In short, the religious right is wrong. The left doesn’t care to argue on their terms. And the rest of us are just tired of the school yard games.

It is hard to find a civil discourse when it requires two civil parties to participate. Ideologies that rely on emotional appeal, the surrender of personal reasoning, unquestioned obedience, and the repetition of mantras that reaffirm the narrative of “assimilate or perish” (a classier way of saying “America, love it or get the hell out.”), don’t offer much room for rational debate. A worldview like the previously mentioned serves to convert and identify the “other” while disallowing the pursuit of intellectual debate. The only qualifying they care about lies in a set of extreme binaries: Christian/Heretic, American/Un-American, Democracy/Anti-Freedom, Heterosexual/Sexual Immorality, Capitalism/Socialism.

Now, real policy conservatives are focused on actual issues; you know, things that really matter and are a part of governance. I can have discussions with someone who feels that spending should be curbed, strong military supports a strong state, free markets should be less regulated, and welfare systems ought to be reformed. Those are actual, tangible ways of going about finding solutions and processes that help a nation thrive and function. A person with those beliefs can engage you in a factual, empirical, evidence based discussion with both sides able to move one way or the other after the engagement. We can shift and fine tune our beliefs or share a common ground that makes part of both assertions possible. But that conversation can’t happen with a Real America ideologue. The disconnect happens in the rejection of terms. You can’t play the game unless you play on their field by their rules. And, of course, doing that would mean you abandon the usual mutuality of discourse and rely only on their facts, figures, and “truths” for argument. Which, in short, means you can only be wrong, because you can’t argue with the people who invented those “truths.”

Perhaps the only way to reach someone like that is to throw a wrench in their machine. Use experiences and emotions to give specific instance to the evidence for your claim. Make them see firsthand the impact of their rhetoric and efforts so that they can’t deny that something in the system is askew. Bring a friendly, loving, intelligent, and well mannered homosexual to their party or put them on a television show they enjoy. Share the stories of women who have suffered indignity and emotional trauma from the policies that Real Americans campaigned and voted for en masse. Let them see the results of the pollution caused by factory farms, oil spills, and unfiltered refineries. Then, hand them the profit report of BP and Monsanto stapled to the bank statement of a local farmer or the medical bills and debt statements of the parents who are losing their house because their child has cancer from living near an oil field. That might shed some light on why regulations are important and why subsidies for large corporations are bankrupting us far quicker than spending on education or better healthcare for the 99%.

If they want to get angry about what is happening to “their America,” those are some great reasons. I am reasonably sure that gay marriage is an inconsequential threat to families when laid against poverty, unaffordable healthcare, and CEO salaries increasing 127 times faster than the average worker pay over the last 30 years. Instead of worrying whether or not someone else is being a good, Christian, American, maybe they should worry more about whether or not they are living up to that name with their behavior first. Listening to others, having open dialogue and caring relationships with “sinners” and outcasts, speaking out against the persecution of those deemed sexually other or immoral, supporting the poor and ill at no cost to them, giving back what you don’t need, and regulating the ways and places you are allowed to turn a buck may sound like hedonistic socialism to Real Americans. To me, it sounds a lot like a guy named Yeshua from Nazareth that I once read about. I wonder if Real Americans have ever heard of him.

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