Perhaps one of the most formative moments in my political thinking came when I got some spam mail at my parent’s house. I was back home for the weekend, and I went to check the mail. Most of my mail is spam, credit card ads and low interest student loans.
That day was not any different – the usual group of nonsense mail was there. I took a closer look at the sheaf of papers and noticed a particularly large white envelope, with big red letters telling me how “URGENT” it was for me to read this letter. I gave into my curiosity and opened the letter. I was greeted with a long discourse about the wickedness and corruption that currently infected Washington and the terrible fate that awaits Americans who don’t take action “NOW.”
For context, I should mention that I am a conservative, and so is my immediate family. While I am not a huge fan of the Republican Party right now, I consider myself to fall slightly right of center for most of my political thinking. My family has voted Republican as long as we have been able to vote, and so as I read this letter of doom and gloom, I assumed that it was coming from a conservative Republican source.
It had a lot of the hallmarks of what many (including me) would consider typical conservative “propaganda:” calls to action against an opposition that outnumbered us, that wanted nothing more than to strip us of our fundamental rights and freedoms as Americans.
The enemy was portrayed as overwhelming and inexorable, that the Other Side is coming for you! They want to take away what you hold dear, and they want to impose their narrow-minded and Morally Corrupt world-view on you, the helpless American voter. (Of course, the only way to prevent this is for you send back a check in the included envelope – they even pay for postage!)
I was not fazed by what I read. It’s the same message most conservative groups and talking heads seem to say these days. “They’re coming for your guns!” “They’re gonna burn down your churches!” I felt the usual sense of embarrassment at being associated, even somewhat distantly, to people that would stoop to these lengths to get some cash. After a moment, I realized that I didn’t even read who it was from. I glanced at the header: “American Civil Liberties Union.”
While the ACLU is technically non-partisan, few to none of the conservative folks I know (including myself) would consider them a conservative group. I was astounded, not because I particularly dislike the ACLU, but because their rhetoric seemed to match so closely with that of conservative groups and thought leaders I would heard before.
It is fascinating to me how much of each side’s narrative is shared by the other. And at the root of the narrative seems to be this concept: “You are an American, and you’re free to live your life a certain way and to be left alone by the government and others to live your life that way. The Other Side wants to take that away from you.”
No matter who you vote for or support, remember that at the end of the day, we should exist to take care of each other and to elevate each other. We should let that mindset inform how we evaluate what we hear from each side. Do not make your decision based on what the fundraising letters or talking heads say. Look deeper. If more of us decide to, we may be able to find a way forward after all.