Political Civility

§  This essay was originally printed in July, 2019.  I’m now (in September, 2020), pre-posting it once more so that it will appear on the day following the Federal elections.  As I do this, I feel almost sick with fright; terror  of what we may see happening in our country on that morning–our country that has not been so divided since the Civil War…  §

In May of 2019 I was dealing with the potentially fatal illness of my favorite pet, holding my head up as I prepared for the possibility of releasing her to her final journey, when a series of hate-filled e-mails sent me into an emotional tailspin. The e-mails had nothing whatever to do with pets or illness or any other life-altering, sad situations.  They were political.

And while facing the possible loss of my favorite cat hadn’t forced tears from my eyes, the e-mails made me weep.

The first contained a graphic that proclaimed:

“We hated Obama like you hate Trump.  Except we hated Obama because he hated America.  You hate Trump because YOU hate America”.

Dismayed and affronted, I nevertheless replied to the e-mail mildly, saying just that I found this very offensive, and asking not be sent anything like it again.

Yet only a short 24 hours later, I received another e-mail, this time referencing those whose political views were similar to mine, alluding to us by name-calling and bullying.  We were, it seems, “Libtards”.  We were “Wingnuts”.

Previous to this, I’d already dealt with and dismissed being derided as a “Snowflake”. Despite knowing that it was not meant as a compliment, I accepted the appellation proudly.  Snowflakes are incredible: intricate, astoundingly beautiful and infinitely individual—created of water, without which life itself cannot exist.  Joined together, snowflakes are capable of creating massive, unstoppable forces for change, such as blizzards and avalanches.

But, hitting me at an already-low point in my life, the abusive invective of these latest e-mails was not something I could shrug off.  Instead, they wounded me at the very wellspring of my heart.

I do not, under any circumstances, ridicule or deride a person by bullying and invective for their political choices.   I firmly insist on being respectful toward the person, even when I just as firmly disagree with their beliefs.  Politically, I consider myself to be an Independent middle-of-the-roader, slightly left-leaning, but always open to civil discourse and the possibility of changing my mind.

I voted for President Barack Obama, and, while I certainly did not approve of everything he did, I thought him to be far from the worst President we had ever seen to that time (after all, I lived through Nixon).

And I did not vote for President Trump.  Like our late, greatly lamented former First Lady, Barbara Bush, I’d been reading about Trump the greedy and unethical businessman, Trump the immoral adulterer, since the early 1980s.  I’d made up my mind about him at that time, and nothing I heard him say, nothing I saw him do, during his campaign, gave me cause to alter my opinion.  Had I been persuaded in that direction, reading the 2016 article, “I Sold Trump $100,000 Worth of Pianos.  Then He Stiffed Me”1  would have sealed my opinion of the man forever.

But nothing, NOTHING, in my judgements about either Trump or Obama signal that I do not love my country.  In fact, my opinions represent exactly what is best about the United States of America: the right to personal convictions.  Liberty.  Freedom of expression.  The right to choose one’s leaders, and to criticize those leaders without fear of retribution or reprisal.  The right to see matters from differing perspectives.  The right—the requirement—to stand up for one’s beliefs.  The requirement to be respectful toward those who believe differently.

But now derision and ridicule, vicious mockery, name-calling, bullying, harassment of and persecuting others for their beliefs have become the standard; have taken the place of civil debate.

And I find that horrifically, painfully sad.  That is not what I have always understood America, or Americans—the concept, nor the reality—to be.

And so, receiving such harassment by e-mail, and already in a saddened state of mind, I wept.

I will never claim that those who have stood with President Trump are in some way un-American.  I will call not call them wingtards or nutjobs or  deplorables, or even, as their own President called them (exulting that  Covid-19 put an end to handshakes), “disgusting people”.  They are merely individuals who hold a different viewpoint, one which I barely understand and with which I very firmly disagree.  But that I do not agree with their choice of leader makes me in no way unAmerican or vile or deplorable, either.  On the contrary, it makes me a true American: one who is unafraid to speak up for her convictions; who accesses her right to freedom of expression, to liberty.

I, an American woman, do not deserve to be made to weep, to be derided and insulted, for my political opinions, least of all through the faceless, cowardly medium of an internet communication.

My right to view and work for and love this wonderful country of ours in the way that I see best is my personal pursuit of happiness.  And I would not have it shadowed by those who demean America by deriding the liberties bestowed by the Constitution upon its citizens.

1https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2016/09/28/i-sold-trump-100000-worth-of-pianos-then-he-stiffed-me/?utm_term=.6ab2e9c42d4d

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like “29 Things”,
which can be found in the Archives from November 6, 2019.

Repainting the Nativity

Following the most recent holiday season, I’ve spent weeks working to refurbish my small nativity scene.  This grouping—just the three main figures—is nearly 25 years old. I purchased the expensive set from a charity-oriented catalog, spending money that I didn’t really have, because I was taken with the unusual grouping. Unlike traditional displays, the child in my tiny nativity scene is cradled in his mother’s arms, while she sits encircled within the loving touch of her husband.

Despite their cost, the statues I received were formed of cheap plastic, their clothing created by cloth that was probably dipped into some mild hardener, such as white glue, and then draped. The faces were surprisingly detailed and well-sculpted, but because they were created in an Asian country, the skin tones and eyes were representative more of their origins than those of a family from the Mideast. But I appreciated my little set especially for that very reason; it seemed to me to be more universally  inclusive. The muted, uneven colors of the cloth, and its rough texture, correctly represented a family in exodus, travelling in poverty.

One of my own family members, though, found my nativity set comical. A sad person who usually tried to build herself up by cutting others down, her preferred method of criticism was mockery. And so it happened during one holiday season several years ago that she sat at my Christmas dinner table, laughingly examining the figurines where they perched, surrounded in holly garland, on the pass-through to the kitchen (to keep them safe from my cats, who regarded the Baby as a hockey puck). My relative made scathing remarks about St. Joseph’s “sick-looking” face, and the fading colors and battered cloth covering the statues. Where on earth, she demanded, had I found such a pathetic  little display?

Respecting both the day and her status as a family member, I forbore to answer in kind, replying only that my  nativity set had been created in an impoverished country. I neglected to mention how much I had actually paid for it, but explained that the proceeds from sales went largely to people who desperately needed the money. I let the matter rest there.

But I felt stung. I loved my little nativity scene, but I had to admit that it was true: the statues were beginning to show their age. So that January I set about repainting the figurines. I carefully changed their facial tones to accurately represent desert dwellers, and altered their clothing to colors that, while slightly more traditional, were still faithful to the era represented. The smooth acrylic paint restored the cloth to stiffness and luster. I was pleased with the results.

Years again passed, and during this most recent holiday season, I re-examined my nativity set. The colors painted a decade ago had not faded (as had the sting of those long ago critical comments); instead, they had darkened.  holy family loves cats Joseph’s shepherd’s crook had been stolen and used for another hockey game by my ever-marauding cats. The tiny statues no longer quite pleased me, I realized. I made up my mind to refurbish the set once more.

But this time, as I brought out paints and brushes in January, I approached my nativity scene with a different idea in mind. I would not be adding tints to represent a family of immigrants in poverty. Instead, I would be painting them as the sacred souls that they were, not just in Christian legend, but in countless myths and legends of a Sacred Birth from all the eras and all the countries of the world.

Finally finished (I’m not a particularly good artist, and painting comes hard to me), the seated figure of the Divine Mother wears a scarf of silver, touched with opalescent paint. The guardian figure of her husband, standing near her and encircling her and the Child, is partially cloaked in gold—gold, for the nobility of a man who gave up everything: home and family and livelihood, to fly into hiding in Egypt—and all for a child that was not even his. And the Divine Child is swaddled in a shining blanket bespattered with  minute stars.  img_20190115_110047196 (2)

Refurbishing my aging nativity scene has been a careful, thoughtful effort. I seriously debated before finally adding haloes to the figurines, created of gold and stars. It was the finishing touch.

img_20190115_110150240But an acquaintance dropped by one recent afternoon as I was fitting the small, painted twig, shaped like a Scottish thumb stick (a type of walking stick), into Joseph’s tiny hand.

She examined my work with raised eyebrows. It was obvious she thought little of my small, shining saints.  “That doesn’t look anything like a shepherd’s crook,” she at last complained.

I took a deep breath. It wasn’t Christmas day, and she wasn’t a relative! Shooting her as withering a look as my face was capable of producing, I retorted decisively, He wasn’t a shepherd. He was a carpenter.”

No one was ever going to criticize my noble St. Joseph, not ever again.