We took a break from watching the news coverage of the insurrection at the US Capitol, heading into the kitchen to make decisions about dinner. We were discussing the need for former presidents to speak out when our nine-year-old son asked “Who did President Bush vote for?”
(Lest you believe our third-grader is a brilliant presidential historian, we live in Texas. Every Texas child knows who the Bushes are. It goes with the territory.)
“We don’t know, he’s never made it public. But his parents were pretty clear that they didn’t vote for President Trump.”
“But isn’t he a Republican?”
My husband and I stopped, looked straight at our son, and responded, “He’s an American. He’s an American first. And that means doing what you believe is best for the country. Your party shouldn’t matter.”
While my husband and I are somewhat divided on the role of political parties (I think they are inevitable and he just wants to see them abolished), we have always driven home the point to our kids that party does not, and should not, matter in their electoral decisions. Even though they are nine and eleven, we’ve shown them our sample ballots, told them that we research them all, and pointed out the importance of knowing who you are voting for down the ballot. And while we haven’t been shy about our recent preference of Democratic candidates, we’ve also been open about the fact that we’ve both voted for third party candidates when we’ve felt they were the best option.
Because we stopped seeing red and blue a long time ago.
Every two years, millions tune in to watch the news networks fill in electoral maps with states turned red or blue, depending on which party wins the most races. We hear talk about red waves and blue waves and then wait to see what will happen once a certain party has “control” of the national branches of government.
But that narrow binary thinking disenfranchises voters in every single state.
When we look at the numbers, very few states have decidedly one-sided electorates. Yes, we know that California is going to go to a Democrat in the presidential election, but over 34% (more than six million people) voted for Donald Trump in 2020. Texas, my current home state, went for Donald Trump, but 46.5% of us (over five million people) voted for Joe Biden. Georgia, which just experienced a so-called “Blue Wave,” was split 49.5% to 49.3%.
I’ve seen voters in Kentucky lamenting the fact that they are being blamed for the re-election of Mitch McConnell when they were part of the 38.2% who voted for Amy McGrath, many of them tiny minorities in heavily “red” areas where speaking up against the current administration puts them in danger of serious persecution at the hands of friends, neighbors, and colleagues. I’ve driven through very red areas of Texas where I know I would struggle to find any kind of comfortable common ground with neighbors. In the six presidential elections that I have voted in, I have voted for that state’s winner twice. (This is while I have lived in Michigan, Indiana, and now Texas.)
Our current discourse has set us onto a path of dangerous binary thinking. But we are not binary people. When we are fully functioning and at our best we are unique and complex human beings freely moving between camps and clamoring for our spot at the table.
I know theologically conservative pastors who believe in the legalization of marijuana and private school teachers who oppose private school vouchers. I know gun enthusiasts who believe in stricter gun regulations and tech specialists who believe that Big Tech needs to be reigned in. I know politically conservative LGTBQ individuals and politically progressive homeschoolers. I know veterans who oppose endless wars and law enforcement who believe in serious reform. We are all more than one idea or belief. A single color doesn’t and shouldn’t define who we are as citizens or to each other.
We should want the table to be bigger and more diverse. We should want the table to be vibrant and full of boisterous debate. We shouldn’t just tolerate the introduction of diversity to our discussion of government, we should welcome and encourage it.
And yes, that is going to be uncomfortable for all. Yes, that is going to mean some arguing and hurt feelings. Yes, that is going to mean struggle. But the road to a better country has always meant struggle. That doesn’t mean tolerating abuse and oppression, but instead wrestling with the nuance and honesty necessary to draw the line between freedom and legitimate harm.
In nearly 240 years, we haven’t achieved the utopian ideal of a perfect union. We have been too proud, too selfish, too individualistic to look past our own concerns and see the interconnected nature of the hurts and concerns of our fellow citizens. We’ve demonstrated a shocking willingness to cut off our nose to spite our face. Too many of us are willing to sacrifice improvement of our own situation if it means more suffering for our “enemies.”
And we saw the dangerous results on January 6, 2021.
Far too many have excused the acts of domestic terrorism as the reasonably expected reaction of people who just wanted to see their voice heard. But their voice was heard. In November. When they voted in the election and their presidential candidate lost. That is the way elections work. Yes, historically people have complained when their candidates have lost. There have been protests. There have been challenges. There are changes needed and we’ve been having that national discussion for years. But never before had citizens attempted to physically stop the Constitutional duties of elected officials from all parties. They weren’t just voicing their discontent. They were saying that the voices of the majority, by nearly seven million citizens, didn’t matter.
In the many videos circulating from the invasion of the US Capitol, there are multiple chants of “Whose house? Our house.”
First, I have some questions about how these people treat their own homes.
Second, they are right. It is our house. All of our house.
The US Capitol belongs to every American. That is what we have lost. We’ve lost the common understanding that our nation and our government are bigger than a single individual or party, best summed up for me in the following Tweet.
Many who voted for Joe Biden did so knowing that a Biden win could very possibly mean the passage of laws and policies which they fundamentally oppose. They knew that it could mean moving the country into a direction which they are not prepared for and do not entirely agree with. But they did it anyway, because they are Americans first and protecting the republic took precedence over personal policy disagreement.
I don’t believe that voting for a particular party is ever going to save our country. I do believe in voting for the people who want to make the country better for all Americans.
Our country has survived post-revolutionary unrest, British invasion during the War of 1812, a civil war, the attacks on Pearl Harbor and the Twin Towers, and various movements that have pushed us towards change and bettering our nation. We have risen from the literal ashes and we will do so again.
But we need to start seeing more than red and blue. We need to see each other (and our leaders) as more than representatives of our political identity and ideology and demand that our leadership work for all of us. And we need to require that of each other.
This is not a call to forgive and forget. Reconciliation and healing requires repentance and forgiveness. We cannot allow those who have caused intentional suffering to go undisciplined for the role they have played in increasing the hurts and divides that plague us. But once the dust settles, this is a way forward. This is how we can mend the brokenness. This is a way to a more perfect union.