}

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Is the end justified by the meanness?

The current occupant of the White House is dividing American families and friends in unprecedented ways, splintering and dividing the country to an extent it has never been before, with the possible exception of the US Civil War. Seventeen months after the current regime took power, and with no certain end to the growing bitter divisions since then, is it now time for people to dump family members and friends who support the current regime?

A few days ago, Salon politics staff writer Chauncey DeVega published a blistering piece, “Cut Trump supporters off: The horror of migrant kids taken from parents demands personal action”. His argument is that anyone who supports the regime, for whatever reason, is complicit in the current regime’s forcibly removing children from their undocumented immigrant parents to put the children into prison camps. He writes:
Who we choose to include among our friends and associates — and yes, even kin — is a political statement because it reflects our values and beliefs. The personal is political in ways both obvious and subtle. This includes the quotidian as well as grand gestures and acts.

And so, a proposal.

If you have friends or relatives who support Donald Trump you should confront them. Explain to them that they are complicit with Trump's cruelty and sadism. Then communicate that you will no longer speak with them, nor will you offer them emotional, financial or other types of support until they denounce Donald Trump and what he represents — and make amends through speech and action.
DeVega goes on to counter several imagined arguments against his proposal, and also some whataboutisms, including:
How about the argument that by cutting Trump's supporters out of your life that you will actually make them support him even more? Thus removing any hope that they can be freed from his thrall? Because Trump's supporters retreat into shadows like political Nosferatus when exposed to the light is no reason for decent and good people to keep such people in their lives.
One can agree with him and his proposal or not, but it was this particular argument that I thought was flat out wrong. If some people are “lost causes”, then society can never grow and change, and we know that’s not true. As imperfect as the USA, and, indeed, most of the Western World is, it’s nevertheless true that our societies do grow and evolve, and that’s because of the people within them. If we “write off” people for whatever reason, we also dump any chance we might have of providing them with an example of how to grow and evolve.

There absolutely can be reasons, issues, that go too far. During the time of Bush the Second, progressives sometimes made much the same argument, like about the Iraq invasion, for example. Others made that argument about people who supported California’s anti-gay Proposition 8. Conservatives made the same argument about many different issues for the entire 8 years of the Obama Administration. In other words, it happens all the time, and whether any one issue is “too far” for someone is not for us to decide on their behalf.

So, apparently the imprisonment of children ripped from their parents is too far for DeVega. Theoretically, there are issues that could push me too far, too. I won’t comment on what they could be because they’re theoretical, and it’s not like I have a rule book that people must accept to be in my life. Similarly, I wouldn’t dream of telling DeVega what to think or do. I can only talk for myself.

I’ve never cut a family member or friend out of my life because of politics, but some have at least muffled me because of politics. That’s their right. I’m great at compartmentalising things, ignoring unfortunate things people say, and ignoring things I can’t change, but others need distance to keep their mental peace. To each their own.

But cutting people out of our lives completely because of political differences strikes me as surrender, that there can never be any meeting of the minds in the future, that whatever it was that bound us together in the first place is more insubstantial than we thought. Maybe it is. But what if we’re wrong? What if people change their minds later? What if we do?

I have no hard and fast answers here. Some may feel they have no choice but to cut friends and family members out of their lives because they support the current occupant of the White House—or, because they don’t. For me, it’s unlilkely that I’d even contemplate doing that. Sure, these days one can never say “never”, but it’s just not how I operate.

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