It’s not our disagreements that are tearing us apart. It’s the death of discourse: our inability to talk with each other about them without somebody getting mad, taking their toys and going home.
But first, the back story.
In early May I wrote my congresswoman, Jaime Herrera Beutler. Almost four months later, I received a form-letter response answering none of my questions. I posted a link to our correspondence on a private Clark County Conservative Leadership Facebook page somebody had added me to.
My post quickly garnered several positive comments, including one from the husband of the page administrator.
Then it disappeared.
I asked why. The administrator said “somebody close to Jaime” had complained. And she said that the purpose of the page was to “bring harmony” to people with opposing views of “our R candidates.”
I explained that I’d thought from the name that it was a conservative, not merely a Republican, group. And that it seemed to me that a group that accepted Republican politicians uncritically was actually more of a followship group.
But it was her page, after all, and she was entitled to set the tone and purpose.
Then she posted this:
Anyone willing to meet with [Washington AG candidate] Reagan Dunn can do so this Sunday at 1:00p.m. He will be at 1112 NE 117th Street this Sunday, the 9th, at 1:00p.m. He will be speaking at a PCO picnic but can huddle with us afterwards. Let me know if you intend to be there. If not, I plan to ask all the hard questions and report back. Feel free to email him and ask questions too.
(I have the screen shots of this conversation, but haven’t used them to preserve the moderator’s privacy.)
The part about asking hard questions puzzled me.
So I commented:
Okay, I’ll bite, [name omitted]. Why is it okay to ask Reagan Dunn the hard questions, but not Jaime Herrera Beutler?
Here’s the rest of our conversation:
Administrator: Please ask Jaime the hard questions too!
Me: I did that, and you removed my post.
Administrator:Call her and ask her, or meet with her, just like you would with Dunn.
Me: So I can ask her, but I can’t tell the Clark County Conservative Leadership forum her answers?
Administrator:She’s not in this forum and neither is he. I’ve already explained myself via email to you Carolyn.
Me: Right, but you’re going to ask *him* the hard questions and report back. When I did that with *her*, you deleted my post. You didn’t explain that in your email, and it doesn’t make sense to me. That’s why I’m asking for clarification.
Administrator: I am going to report back the REASON WHY we would vote for him…
Administrator: not the negatives, Carolyn. As I explained, this forum is to bring unity and not negatives ..
Administrator: You are welcome to rant on SW WA, where most folks in here are part of, if you like.
Me: I wasn’t ranting, [name omitted]. That’s an unfair characterization. Me: It was a courteous, factual, understated presentation of the questions I asked Jaime and the “answer” I got.
Administrator: Carolyn, I am an ordinary citizen who started this FB page for the reason of bringing UNITY, not arguments or negatives, into the critical races. I could find a LOT of things wrong with every single candidate running for office. There are other forums to share the negative responses, etc. This is not it. I appreciate your willingness to understand where I’m coming from.
Me: I *am* trying, [name omitted], and you’re welcome. I just don’t see any point in “asking the hard questions” and then papering over the answers.
Administrator: Could you share some positive things about Jaime in here? Or tell us why we should vote against her opponent?
Me: If you’ll let me put up the post you deleted, sure. I’m about the truth wherever it leads, not propaganda.
Administrator: Good. So am I!
Me: So we have a deal then? I post reasons to vote against Haugen; I repost my original post which you deleted; you leave it up this time?
The administrator promptly deleted the whole thread. And reposted her original post, complete with promise to “ask [Dunn] all the hard questions and report back.”
Dunn supports both abortion and same-sex marriage, so there would be several questions she could ask. But after asking them all, the administrator wasn’t planning on reporting back to her conservative leadership forum with the answers. Just with “the REASON WHY we would vote for him.”
A “conservative” group that deletes conservative blog posts, and a “leadership” group that resolutely follows the leadership of people who oppose its core principles is positively Orwellian.
There’s disharmony within the Republican Party because there’s disagreement over the most fundamental principles. (To pick one: Some Republicans think dismembering babies is a monstrous evil. Others–Dunn, for example–think it’s a civil right.) To imagine that we can paper over differences of that magnitude with a smiling plastic “UNITY” which brooks no dissent–and which characterizes courteous and reasoned discussion as “negative”–is bizarre, and ultimately destructive.
After deleting my post and our conversation, the administrator deleted me from the group.
Her group, her prerogative. I’m okay with that.
Later, after informing mutual friends that I would not vote for Dunn under any circumstances–an untruth as well as a subject we’d never discussed–and characterizing my input as “negative,” she deleted the entire “Conservative Leadership” page.
I think both Dunn and Herrera Beutler are the better candidates in this election, and I intend to vote for both. Why can’t I also disagree with them? And look for better candidates next time around?
If you’ve followed my blog, I trust you’ll believe me when I say that my correspondence wasn’t angry. That it didn’t involve name-calling. That it was reasonable, principled and courteous.
What my colleague was reacting to so viscerally was simply a different perspective than hers.
But it’s nothing unique to her. It’s the political air we breathe now.
Much has been said about the inability of liberals and conservatives to have a civil, reasoned conversation. But when even colleagues and allies can’t talk about our disagreements, we’ve reached a new low.