I read a lot. I joke that I watch films and read books of certain genres of fiction to prepare for any eventuality. Zombie apocalypse. Check. Supernatural beings taking over the world. Check. Fairy tales told as truth. Check. Urban dystopian survival of the fittest, where staple supplies are scarce. Check, and eerily prescient.
But these days, it’s like a parallel universe, also a theme I’ve encountered in my reading and watching. Over the past months, I’ve followed stories of the protests in Portland, Oregon. No amount of finger pointing negates the fact that it is happening. And yet both sides are dug in. Each believes they hold the high moral ground. The “other” doesn’t, they say.
I was struck by the whole thing, while reading a Nov. 2 article from ProPublica, an investigative journalism non-profit. “When the political divide turned deadly in Portland,” is the story of two men, both raised in rural Pacific Northwest, but on complete opposite sides of the ideological spectrum. One, Aaron “Jay” Danielson, a far right activist, was killed by the other, Michael Reinoehl, a member of antifa, a political protest movement opposed to the far right. Reinoehl was later killed by police. This excerpt from the article has stayed with me:
Finding common ground seems impossible right now: At a memorial in a suburban Portland bar, Danielson’s friends cursed antifa. Danielson’s former girlfriend, Christine Banks, remembered one man growing especially heated. As friends consoled him, another man spoke up.
“I’m antifa,” he said, and explained that he was there to pay respects to Danielson because, politics aside, they were drinking buddies. He was asked to leave — politely, Banks said — and did.
I don’t really fit any political mold. I was raised by former hippies on a small farm in Maryland, where my mother made her own mayonnaise and canned everything. My dad worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. I remember my parents working a 1-acre garden or raising our livestock. We later moved to Ohio, and my mother took the small hobby flock we had in Maryland and made it into a profitable commercial enterprise.
Growing up, it was not uncommon to get dualing political fliers in the mail at the same time, a product of my parents’ divergent political philosophies. Over the years, I’ve voted for one guy or gal, and sometimes, I voted for the other guy or gal. I’ve made it a point to listen to both National Public Radio and national talk radio. I attended all manner of churches, in the U.S. and abroad.
As I’ve shared before, I haven’t been in the U.S. for the past two presidential elections prior to this one. So, maybe I missed something. But it seems there are two completely different narratives going on right now — and it’s at the expense of one of the most unique political processes in the world.
The Washington Post reported on a pro-Trump rally in Washington, D.C., Nov. 14. Remember, I pay attention to a lot of different voices. I’ve heard what folks who went to the rally said. That does not make the observations recorded here any less factual.
At midday, along the east end of Freedom Plaza, a lone counterprotester stood on the sidewalk holding a sign that read “Trump is the fraud.” He wore a gray cloth mask.
A succession of Trump supporters approached the curb, unmasked, to offer their opinions of his solitary demonstration. “Why didn’t your mother abort you?” one screamed. “You’re mentally disturbed, and you’re a coward, and you’re a f—–. I hope you get AIDS.”
“I just feel strongly about the disinformation that’s being peddled on the Internet about fraud in this election,” said the counterprotester, a 40-year-old D.C. man who declined to give his name because he is a federal employee and feared repercussions at work. As a thin film of sweat formed on his face, an elderly woman in red MAGA gear paused and stared at him sadly. “We feel bad for you that you can’t see the truth,” she said.
“I feel the same way about you,” he replied.
Again and again, I’m seeing this all over the country. Beliefs are clashing, at the expense of seeing people for who they are. Understanding where they come from. We prefer to relegate them to the “other.” Maybe it’s more comfortable that way?
If living and working all over the country and in different parts of the world have taught me anything, it’s that I don’t know very much. I’ve had to become comfortable with doubt. That’s not a bad thing. I’m not sure what it is about the current climate here that doesn’t allow room for doubt and dissonance.
I’ve written before that I had a front row seat to Kenyan politics. In a country that’s considered one of the most politically stable in East Africa, there was plenty to raise one’s eyebrows. Wherever you are at right now, take a moment to appreciate the beauty of the American system. This is not the first time ideologies and beliefs have clashed. Not even about wearing masks. And, yet, the U.S. keeps plugging on.
John Newton, most known for his hymn, “Amazing Grace,” was also a prolific writer. Those writings have had a profound impact on me. Although he was raised in a Christian home, Newton worked on slave ships for years, even after he converted. Later, he became disgusted with the slave trade, left and was ordained in the Anglican church. Here was a man who converted and still worked in the slave trade. While he said he wanted to reach people there, it’s a jarring thing to consider.
Perhaps that’s why profound humanity comes through in his writings. For good reason. I’m not sure anyone could have written a song about grace, if one had not experienced it personally. Would that we all could take a moment to extend a bit of grace to those around us as well.
“I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I want to be, I am not what I hope to be in another world; but still I am not what I once used to be, and by the grace of God I am what I am.” – John Newton
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