Meredith C. Carroll: What’s wrong with me? Don’t ask, but I’m trying to listen
Mesa County Republican Party board Chairman Kevin McCarney would like you to know that I am what is wrong with America.
I called him after the group posted a cartoon on its Facebook page over the weekend showing the Nike swoosh and “Just do it” slogan underneath pen-and-ink drawings of United States congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.; Ilhan Omar, D-Minn.; Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass.; and Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., and the text: “If you hate America, leave. The border is open. Don’t forget your Nikes.”
If I’ve seen one xenophobic, misogynistic meme, I’ve seen them all. In fact, it’s possible I saw them all on the Mesa County Republican Party page. It may no longer be noteworthy when the president of the United States lets his white hood peek out from under his suit jacket (or Twitter feed). But it’s been a long — and unproductive — few years projecting rancor on everyone not named Donald Trump who happens to be affiliated with the Republican Party. So instead of assuming the worst, I asked McCarney about the purpose of the page.
“To elect Republicans into office. That’s my entire job,” he said. “There’s not an election going on right now, but we feel it necessary to keep people up on what’s happening across the country.”
If he ever decides to switch careers, McCarney might consider hosting a morning zoo radio program. He maintains the volume and pitch in his voice so expertly, and pours so much emotion into each sentence that he could easily move from the Republican Party to a color-commentator position for cable-TV broadcasts of Division III football games. Yet he’s singularly dedicated to the cause.
He accused me of deliberately ignoring the malicious posts by the Mesa County Democrats on their Facebook page. (Aside from a video clip of a meet-and-greet at a bagel shop, a Town Hall event invitation, and a heart emoji with a link to a story about how Michelle Obama has surpassed Angelina Jolie as the world’s most admired woman, there wasn’t much else there. To be fair, I also didn’t find any offensive memes — or any memes at all — on the other Colorado county Republican party Facebook pages I searched, or any of the Democrat pages, either.)
“That’s your opinion,” he told me in his deep baritone of the meme-less Mesa Democrats’ page. “The cartoon on our page is humorous. If you can’t find the humor in that, I’m sorry. The point is to awaken our constituents to what’s going on in this country. Just go ahead and print whatever you want.”
McCarney’s hostility shouldn’t have surprised me. After living in Aspen long enough, you grow accustomed to the eye rolls, the extraordinary — and imaginary — wealth cast on you by others, and automatically getting painted in the radical-left corner of each room you enter.
I don’t suppose my phone call threw him for a loop, either. When Donald Trump Jr. spoke in Denver earlier this month at the Western Conservative Summit, he urged Republicans to keep fighting against media bias, which is a topic of obvious distress to McCarney. If he’d let me get in a word after the first question, he would have heard I also share some of those concerns. But an Aspen writer asking a Grand Junction Republican about a racist trope probably seemed like a trick question.
Except it really wasn’t. I don’t live in Mesa County, where my politics are in the minority (64% of voters supported Trump in 2016, compared with 24% here). But unlike when the name-calling comes directly from the Beltway (or Oval Office), Mesa County isn’t far enough away for the stings to feel abstract.
It’s far too easy to hurl insults electronically; even President Trump won’t call you a name to your face (contrary to popular lore, he also doesn’t fire anyone in person — he has others do it for him). I wasn’t waiting for an invite from McCarney to hold his hand and sip tea, although I also didn’t expect to be hung for the crimes of everyone who has ever written for a newspaper, especially since he never even tried (or read) me.
Anna Zane, chairwoman of the Pitkin County Republican Party, also dislikes extreme rhetoric and unkindness — on either side.
“It doesn’t help with public discourse. It only deepens the divide,” she said. “If we work together on a micro level, we can accomplish things. It’s so much more productive for communities to have conversations than arguments.”
Being a better listener and trying to broaden my perspective past my own background and experiences isn’t a farce or an experiment. I’m sure McCarney is correct and that a lot is wrong with me, but if picking up the phone to seek a deeper understanding is among my problems, then I’m fresh out of solutions.
Follow Meredith Carroll on Twitter @MCCarroll. More at MeredithCarroll.com.