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  • Jan Flynn

Hello, Person To My Right

There’s been some confusion. Can we talk?

Photo by Richard Lee on Unsplash

Wow, it’s noisy out there

There’s so much shouting and posturing as the days tick by toward November 3 that we can hardly hear ourselves think, am I right? New day, new spectacle, from mask-whipping balcony scenes at the White House to protesters returning to Pioneer Courthouse Square in Portland, Oregon now that the wildfires consuming entire towns in that state have abated.

And of course, there’s the coronavirus. Whether you blame China, Trump, or 5G, it’s not making life easy for any of us. Is it okay to visit Grandma or not? How’s Halloween supposed to work this year? Are your friends and neighbors going to give you the side-eye for wearing a mask, or for not wearing a mask?

As for the election that we all hope will result in some kind of certainty — seriously, I have to assume you’re as sick of the wrangling and suspense as I am —votes are already being cast. Close to 650,000 absentee ballots in Wisconsin alone have already been received as of this writing (in comparison, about 146,000 Wisconsinites voted absentee in 2016).

The next presidential debate is . . . on! No, it’s canceled. No, it’s on! No, it’s canceled, and now Biden is holding a town hall meeting on ABC instead. So Trump is holding a town hall meeting on NBC. Maybe on the same night. Or maybe not at all. Who can keep up?

Sigh. Can we have a sidebar?

You and I are on opposite sides of the current and growing great American divide. I get that. But let’s assume for the moment that neither of us occupies the most extreme end of our side of the spectrum: you are not a QAnon devotee who’s convinced that The Donald is fighting a secret war against a deep state of satanic child molesters, and I am not an Antifa militant.

Given the current political climate (and I realize “climate” is a touchy subject, but have you noticed how it’s impossible to avoid charged words these days?), I am not here to try to sway you to my position. Nor am I going to waste your time by pointing out what I see as the flaws in yours.

But the rhetoric that I hear from the right is laden with assumptions about what my “agenda” consists of — assumptions that are off-base at best and either wildly illogical or demonizing at worst. I don’t know how much those characterizations hold sway with you, but speaking from my stance over here to your left, I’d like to politely set the record straight.

Contrary to what you may have been lead to believe . . .

I do not cheer on crime or violence in any form. I care about safety and security — mine, yours, our homes, our communities, our cities, our nation. I don’t consider looting, property destruction, or violence of any kind excusable, and I believe the rule of law applies to everyone — everyone.

I understand when collective rage erupts over repeated, overt abuses of police powers against people of color, so drastically out of proportion to police treatment of whites ( reports that from 2015 through 2020, the rate of fatal police shootings of blacks is far higher than for other groups: 32 per million of population, while for whites the rate is 13 per million). I am sickened by the killing of George Floyd, among many others.

But that doesn’t mean I condone violence in response. I join in peaceful protests and lawful assembly as is my right, just as it is yours. I do not dress in black and board airplanes to foment anarchy in distant cities, or even want to, I promise.

I do not hate America. This is my home; it always has been, and barring the unthinkable, it always will be. I hold dear, as I assume you do, the ideals of freedom, democracy, and equality under the law that our nation was formed to embody. There are episodes in our history of which I am deeply proud: as a young teen I thrilled at watching Neil Armstrong step out of the Eagle and take mankind’s first footsteps on the moon, and I have been moved to tears as I paid homage at the American Cemetery above Omaha Beach in France.

But there are dark passages in our history as well, the greatest of which still lie at the root of our ruptures today. Much of the land we love was commandeered in genocidal campaigns against indigenous peoples; much of our country and its original wealth was built by people who were brutally enslaved. Until we can acknowledge and come to terms with the sins of our past, we’re doomed to a self-destructive denial of reality, an endless and internal civil war.

We have a problem with racism. We have a problem with income disparity. We have a problem with unbridled, predatory capitalism. We have a problem with equitable access to basic healthcare. You and I no doubt differ as to how to address those problems, but let’s at least agree that they exist.

Calling ourselves to account is not an act of self-hatred, but an act of reconciliation and growth. It’s what we expect of mature individuals, and what allows them to move past their errors and fulfill their potential. The same is true of nations. Therein lies our best hope for achieving our highest good, and true American greatness. I know we’ve got it in us.

I don’t like paying taxes any more than you do. I’m a middle-class homeowner, and I’ve been a business owner, and just like you I’ve worked damn hard for everything I’ve earned. Also like you, I don’t find it a treat to fork over the sweat of my brow to Uncle Sam. And it really chaps my hide when my tax dollars are wasted or used to fund stupid things (you and I probably differ on our lists of stupid things; mine includes a patchy, partially-built, utterly ineffectual wall that Mexico most certainly has not paid for).

So when I get lumped in with what talk radio barkers call tax-and-spend liberals (or, more noxiously, “libtards”) I’m one snowflake that gets all steamed up. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in 2017 might have thrown me a bone worth $80 or $90, but it hugely benefited the wealthy, and especially corporations, at my expense. I would far rather see us all paying an equitable share so we could finally see those improvements to infrastructure we keep hearing about, among other things (like education, like health care, like truly enabling small businesses to thrive and create good jobs).

I bet you and I agree that the tax code is a mess. I doubt we agree on how to fix it. But if we — and “we” includes corporations either based in or doing business in the US —all paid our proportional and fair share, then we could have what people in other developed nations have and are aghast when they discover we go without. Healthcare that doesn’t bankrupt us. Affordable, accessible higher education. Paid leave that allows us to truly care for our families.

And no, I’m not a communist. I trust that you’re too smart to fall for it when the screechier members of your cohort try to toss that label at me and make it stick, any more than I buy it when someone from the fringes of my side calls you a fascist. You and I may not agree on a lot, but I bet we can agree that descending to the level of name-calling doesn’t help anything.

So, there you go

What I want is to live in a just and equitable country where the rules are fair and apply to everyone. Where all kids get a decent shot at a good education regardless of their family’s circumstances, and where we all have access to quality health care. Where people feel safe to be who they are and grant the same privilege to everyone else, and where we work hard but don’t work ourselves to death. Where we take responsibility for ourselves but have a net to catch us and help us get back on our feet if misfortune strikes. Where we’ve all got a reasonable chance at a dignified old age. Where we might disagree on a lot of things, but where we extend basic decency to everyone.

Is that so different from what you want?

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