Not since the Civil War have Americans felt more divided than we do now. The partisan antipathy runs so deep that we can’t imagine where this chasm bottoms out. Drop in a pebble, and you won’t ever hear it hit the ground. We scream and rant about the people on the other end of the political spectrum. Conservatives calling liberals snowflakes, elitists, and libtards (a term that I find highly offensive — but that’s the point, isn’t it?). Liberals accusing conservatives of being wingnuts, zealots, and Rethuglicans (a mashup of Republican and thug).
A seemingly never-ending stream of memes fills our Facebook and Twitter feeds, deriding one side as the Evil Empire while likening the other to the Resistance. And before you think I’m getting on my high horse by proclaiming myself above the fray – as neutral as Switzerland – let me just say that I’m guilty of it too. As a passionate progressive and a huge geek, I happen to love the Princess Leia Resistance memes and have circulated my fair share of them.
The Two Americas
The political right and left have always engaged in heated debate – it’s part of our legacy as a nation. And, in the past, these debates have certainly caused rifts in relationships. We all have some version of that wacky [insert political affiliation here] uncle, who always seems to have one too many beers at family gatherings only to get on his political soapbox and launch into full-blown preacher-mode. (Full disclosure, I have been this person in the past.) But there’s something different about America’s current polarization. We all feel it. After the election last year, corporate news outlets even went so far as to proclaim “There are Two Americas Now!” and proffered advice on how to make it through Thanksgiving dinner without having a major falling-out with our relatives. And maybe they’re right. Maybe there are two Americas.
But as a pale blue dot floating among what sometimes feels like a universe of red, my personal experience as the progressive wife of an active duty Marine has been quite different.
Currently, we’re stationed in the reddest section of one of the reddest states in America. With the exception of active duty military members, the majority of my neighbors are white and over 65. The city is one of the poorest in the state and has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country. During the election season, there weren’t many yard signs in my neighborhood, but the ones I saw were exclusively for Trump/Pence.
The Marine Corps, as most readers will know, has the reputation for being the most conservative branch of the military. And in my experience, this reputation is well-earned. Fox News fills nearly every television screen in our gyms, in the waiting rooms to update our IDs, and in our medical clinics. Most of my friends are deeply religious and tend to vote Republican. As an Independent, an agnostic, and an acolyte of the Sanders movement, I shouldn’t fit in with this crowd. I shouldn’t fit in in this city.
But that hasn’t been my experience at all.
Don’t Pretend to Be Something You Are Not
Let me preface this by sharing that I have never pretended to be anything other than the progressive I am. I may not have been quite so loud about it in the past, but I never hid my political leanings nor the fact that I’m an agnostic. My military friends all know this about me. But the simple fact is: They don’t care.
In fact, many of my military friends even followed my Women’s March escapade on Facebook, and encouraged me to speak my mind.
If those things seem irreconcilable – my conservative, religious, Republican friends cheering on my participation in the Women’s March on Washington – let me explain why they’re not.
Marine families know each other. And by that, I mean we really know each other. We follow each other around the country and the world, and provide each other with a built-in support structure. We share tips and life-hacks on just about everything – from the best schools for our children, to where to find a job on the economy, to what we should buy our spouse for their birthday. We share gowns so we don’t have to buy new ones for the Birthday Ball every November. We bring each other dinner when someone’s had a bad week. We babysit each other’s children when one of us has an emergency, or when we just want a date night because we haven’t had more than thirty minutes alone with our spouse in the last month. We barbecue, we watch each other’s dogs when we’re on vacation, and we laugh. Sometimes we drink too much, playing video games until 3AM. We pick up the pieces for each other when one of our servicemembers dies.
Breaking Down Barriers
My point is that this intimacy breaks down barriers. If I’d never fallen in love with a Marine, I probably would have gone to grad school at UC Berkeley and lived in a cozy little progressive cocoon in the Bay Area for the rest of my life. If you’d told me when I was 21 that my closest adult friends would be conservative Christians from the South and the Midwest (with one big shout-out to Philly!), I’d have told you that you were crazy. But they are. Our politics don’t matter when we’re collectively freaking out about an upcoming deployment. Our politics don’t matter when someone’s child is in the hospital. Our politics don’t matter when someone’s fur-baby crosses the Rainbow Bridge. Our politics don’t matter when there’s a mishap.
This isn’t to say that I wouldn’t appreciate more friends with similar political views; I volunteer with Homefront Progressives for a reason. And you might think that my newfound public platform, which is designed specifically to disrupt the narrative that all military families skew to the right, would be off-putting for many of my conservative friends. After all, I have railed publicly about war profiteers, the corporate media, and a culture of misogyny in the military. But overall, the vast majority of my Marine Corps family have been nothing but proud of me. They may not agree with all of my opinions, but they’re happy that I’ve found a group of like-minded individuals and that I’m telling my story.
Homefront Progressives Can Provide the Example
Americans should learn something from this. At the end of the day, our fundamental wants and needs are the same: Safety, good jobs, clean air and water, and the chance for our children to do a little better than we have. Getting out of our bubbles and recognizing that there are more important things than which cable news channel we watch, is paradigm-shifting. And I know this with certainty because I’ve lived it. But it takes really knowing someone for this shift to happen. The relationship can’t be superficial.
Homefront Progressives, it’s time to invest in meaningful relationships with your neighbors. Particularly the ones you suspect are on the opposite end of the political spectrum.