I know it may come as a surprise to some of the commenters on this site that I have friends, let alone liberal ones, but it’s true. A liberal friend with whom I enjoy mutual respect, Marjorie Hall Snook*, has agreed to engage in a social effort in which we try to create a forum to figure out how the “left” and the “right” can talk to each other, discuss issues, and stop the insanity that seems to have taken hold of this country. We don’t know if it will succeed, but as decent humans, we have both agreed to try. What follows is a back-and-forth between me and Marjorie tentatively dubbed the “Bipartisan Civility Commission.” Civil comments contributing to this effort are welcome, but others not so much, and will be deleted.
Hassinger: In the greatest country on earth, the most advanced civilization in history, today, RIGHT NOW, I’m watching society tear itself apart over issues that were settled but do not seem have gone away. I don’t claim to have an answer to the question of how we got to this point, but let me ask my liberal friend to concede a small rhetorical point. We conservatives are not Nazis. Republicans are not fascists. The “right wing” is not about white supremacy, nor nationalism, nor racism, nor anti-semitism, nor subjugation of women, nor homophobia, nor anything other than the advocation of a more efficient government that taxes less and delivers necessary services more efficiently. The scum in Charlottesville are not “alt-right,” not some super-duper version of radical conservatism, not some “far-right” wing of the Republican party -they are psychotic filth that deserve no more attention than a crazy person standing on a street corner shouting warnings about the end of the world. They may have called themselves together under a mission to “Unite the Right,” but there is nothing “Right” about them. We disavow them as belonging to our party, our movement, and our philosophy. We are horrified by those people and their views and their actions, and we will stand with you in fighting them, because we are Americans -just like y’all. Would you ask your side, Marjorie, to please stop calling us Nazis? Can we agree on that?
Snook: It is much easier to reduce our opponents to a caricature, and then attack the strawman we have just constructed, than it is to honestly engage with their ideas. I cannot count the number of times that I have put forth a thoughtful analysis of a certain policy only to be attacked as a ‘libtard’, accused of never working in the private sector, living off of welfare and murdering babies. This is not productive engagement. And it isn’t productive when liberals respond to our conservative friends’ proposed tax policies by calling them brownshirts.
Snook: I abhor racism. It is my abhorrence of racism in all of its overt, covert and unconscious forms that has fueled most of my own political advocacy. The failures of this White House to respond appropriately on this issue is appalling. But there is a silver lining. We are at a moment in this country, just two generations removed from the Civil Rights movement, where a large number of leaders from all sides are coming out and strongly condemning bigotry and racism, some even having the courage to attack by name the leader of their own party. It is not perfect. We have a long way to go. But instead of being angry at Republican leaders for not going as far as we want in attacking Trump, which for some people on my side would requirement impeachment, can we be thankful for the agreement that we have and work from there?
Hassinger: Yes, we can. We’ve found a tiny bit of common ground -you’re not a libtard, and I’m not a brownshirt. I’m even willing to tell my side that y’all love this country as much as we do. Where we differ is the point at which my side is lumped with the white supremacists by semantics and virtue-signaling, as is the case with the current discussion over removing Confederate monuments. So here’s an immodest and genuine proposal: Tear them down. Tear them all down. Rename every street, topple every statue, sandblast the carving off Stone Mountain, let the Washington Monument crumble to rubble and vent your spleen at history until you are satisfied. I will help you, on one condition. When we’re done, and we’ve hung our collective heads in shame at our nation’s ugly, painful legacy of slavery, I never want to hear another word about racism again. You won’t be allowed to speak about the underrepresentation of African Americans in the Forbes 400 list, nor about “white privilege,” nor police shootings, nor any other injustice caused by actual racism. Ever. If you’ll agree to that single condition, I’ll fetch my crowbar and start whacking the nearest Confederate gravestone. Deal?
Snook: No deal. Racism is an issue that we are going to have to grapple with for many years to come, whether these monuments stand or not. But we have to have these difficult discussions as fellow Americans, not as enemies. The reason that Confederate memorials bother me, as an umpteenth-generation Georgian and as a proud Southerner, is that I DO love this country. This country almost got torn apart, and the attempt to tear it apart was a horrible thing and would have been a tragedy for mankind had it succeeded. But we do not properly bury the legacy of the Confederacy by starting a new civil war.
Hassinger: Well, then, what would you have us do?
Snook: We need to be able to listen to each other, truly listen, without making assumptions about who or what a person is. We have to take the time and energy to engage with people who disagree with us and will challenge our preconceived notions. We have to understand that reasonable people of good will can look at the same facts and come to different conclusions, and their disagreement with us does not make them stupid or evil. We can all be better Americans.
*Marjorie Hall Snook is a DeKalb County native, PTA mom, failed journalist, Democratic activist, and environmental consultant.