Alison Berkley Margo: The Princess’s Palate
October 24, 2012
So for the last few days my cousin Josh and I have been having a heated debate over the election.
Josh is a twenty-something young Republican tea party member, and somehow, I’m related to him.
I can’t recall a time when politics were so divisive or so emotionally charged. It feels volatile and combative, with no willingness on either side to listen. Everyone is yelling over each other like two kids on the playground throwing stones and having a my-dad-is-bigger-than-your-dad type argument.
This vast disparity between right and left feels like some deep, dark, abyss, too large for any bridge, and too deep for any chance of survival if one should fall into the wrong hole. I have no idea how we got to a place where a kid who grew up with the same values instilled in him that I did is referring to abortion as “infanticide” on his Facebook page.
For a while there, it felt like we were having a civilized discussion, explaining our position and the context for our beliefs. A native New Yorker, he became patriotic and pro-military in the wake of 9-11, and I totally get that. He said he respected where I’m coming from in terms of feminism, environmentalism, and social consciousness in general.
I explained to him that caring about other people, all people, is a value that was instilled in me by my grandfather whose generation witnessed the Holocaust. Whatever faith he had left after that was instilled in the secular world: in family, in marriage, and in hard work. There was always this underlying message of “don’t let it happen again,” as in, don’t let society turn its back on people who are suffering.
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But I gotta be honest, I’m starting to see that ugly side of human nature, that “us vs. them” mentality, the kind of blind anger that pits people against each other like boxers in a ring with no room for discussion or negotiation or compromise.
I’m kinda feeling that way myself.
Like, every time I see a Romney sign on the side of the road I have this urge to shoot it full of bullet holes or burn it or yank it out of the ground and throw it in the street and watch trucks drive over it. When I see friends on Facebook “like” Mitt Romney, it makes me want to de-friend them, or at least hide them from my newsfeed so I don’t have to look at them or listen to what they have to say. Why should I be surprised that my boarding school roommate, who grew up in small-town Massachusetts in a big Christian family is a Republican? And why should that change my feelings about her? How is that American?
And why do I dislike Romney so much? Am I prejudice against Mormons?
At one point, Josh’s mom sent me a message: “Are you and Josh OK?” she wrote. “Politics are crazy!!!!”
I reassured her that yes, we are fine, and that I was enjoying our conversation. He is so intelligent and well informed, I told her. I said I appreciated learning more and understanding where he’s coming from and vice-versa.
Josh recently graduated from Duke University and applied to a graduate program at Columbia where he can pursue law and his MBA at the same time. Josh is interested in finance. He’s interested in money. One day, he might even be interested in politics, and power.
My dialogue with Josh took an irreversible turn when he referred to abortion as “infanticide.” I was incensed. I began to react, writing a flurry of heated emails to him and his mother. It felt dangerous. I was not going to let our difference in beliefs destroy us. We are family, after all.
Still, hitting that wall with Josh brought the whole thing into perspective. The political climate of now is just too far gone, like a cancer that has already metastasized. If my young male cousin wants to take away a woman’s right to choose, a liberty I’ve known my entire life, where does that leave us? If he’s for a candidate who doesn’t believe in separation of church and state, is that not the future of America going backwards? If he’s for big oil and coal and gas, who is going to lead us into a future where renewable energy solves so many of our problems at one fell swoop?
When I was his age, I was too busy partying and chasing boys and working for a snowboarding magazine in Southern California to worry about overturning decisions the Supreme Court made long before I was born. You would think at his age, he’d be at the peak of discovering his liberties, not trying to take them away. Like, shouldn’t he be out trying to get laid? Instead, the only people he’s trying to screw are the women who have already been screwed. If he gets his way, they’ll be totally f-ked.
“I hope you don’t take it personally. I am just passionate about my beliefs,” Josh wrote toward the end of our correspondence. “I have a Tea Party flag in my bedroom.”
All I could think of was a Confederate flag. I imagined our family, divided by the Mason Dixon line with him on one side and me on the other, both of us dressed in fabulous clothes from that period, wondering if he would pull the trigger.
Am I alone in feeling like this is a volatile time, a pivotal point in history? Have we reached a boiling point?
So rather than add fuel to the fire, I told my cousin that I loved him and hoped he comes out and visits sometime soon.
There’s no point in arguing. The only thing left to do is vote.
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