Andy Schmookler: Reaching out to conservatives
I want to share here my piece that has been posted on several liberal websites.
I have been regularly sharing here the columns that I write for the newspapers in my conservative area of Virginia. As you have likely noticed, I use my opportunities there to pose constructive challenges to the newspapers’ conservative readers. My hope is to show them that they are supporting something unworthy of them and antagonistic to the values they say they believe in.
Two things about that effort: first, as far as I know I am the only liberal political commentator who focuses on reaching out to conservative readers. Second, I am aware that a lot of liberals have written off their fellow Americans who have supported the Republican Party even as that party has grown ever darker and more destructive.
I cannot write them off – for reasons both personal and patriotic.
Personally, my situation differs from those of liberals who live in overwhelmingly Democratic areas (like in Northern Virginia). Many of those liberals know their counterparts on the right only through the right-wing trolls they encounter on the web and through the public statements of Republican politicians and their media allies.
On that basis, they conclude such things as “these people have no principles,” “they are not good people,” etc.
While I, too, have been exposed to that right-wing ugliness, I’ve had other important experiences with conservatives since moving out to the Shenandoah Valley more than 20 years ago.
Perhaps most important among these experiences were the hundreds of hours I spent – starting in 1992 – conducting talk radio conversations. I framed half of the conversations between callers and me — as a regular guest on one program, and as host of my own show – to explore issues of controversy between liberals and conservatives (political, moral, etc.). The other half dealt with matters of general human interest. In other words, both the things that divide us and the things that bring us together.
I appreciated the considerable goodness I found in my conservative interlocutors, and the enduring values by which many of them lived. I saw their virtues, and I loved them. In my daily life, I see that goodness still. (Other liberals — who live as a minority in this conservative area — see it too.)
The truth is, I came to love these people. I didn’t ever say the word on the air, but I often shared with my wife how much I cherished my relationship with them.
That’s the personal reason I can’t give up on them – even though I also see how they are not manifesting that goodness in the political realm. Not in this era, anyway, when their political party and its leaders have led them into a world in which, among other things, a man like Donald Trump can be considered an acceptable option for the presidency.
It is an American tragedy that many of them live by fine values that, meanwhile, the political force they support tramples upon.
And that leads to the second reason why these good people must not be written off. Our nation can never be healthy until more of the good conservative people align themselves in the political realm with a political force that serves the good of the nation.
This shows how the balance of power between good and evil in a nation can shift adversely.
The figure of Satan has long also been called The Deceiver. And deception is indeed a major threat to the cause of good in the world: manipulative lies can (mis)lead good people to give their support, in the realm of power, to a force that brings out their worst, and that opposes the values that, in other realms, they hold dear.
How can a society be good if many of its good people get pulled over to the side of such a force?
So out of both love of these people, and love of my country, I write my pieces to the conservatives.
Is there evidence that my efforts have their intended impact? Not really. Likely, I’m more resented than heeded. But I know from my experience as a teacher that sometimes it takes time, after ideas get planted, for them to bear fruit.
And while my efforts may be futile, I will keep trying. And I encourage my fellow liberals, too, not to write off these otherwise decent people. To give up on them may well mean giving up also on America.
Andy Schmookler – who was the Democratic nominee for Congress in Virginia’s 6th District in 2012 – is the author most recently of “What we’re Up Against: The Destructive Force at Work in Our World – and How We Can Defeat It.”