Us and Them, We and You: The Heart of the Problem
By Jean Hastings Ardell
Given that we columnists write to be read, it seems fair and democratic to respond to those readers who strongly disagree with what we say.
Such is the case this week. In my column of Nov. 27, “Political Obsessions,” I addressed Michael Ray’s grievances in his column of Nov. 20, “A Few Election Observations.” Ray criticized Democrats for being “[p]olitically correct, ‘woke,’ college-educated elitists.” Because Ray’s congratulations on Joe Biden’s election referred to Democrats as “you” rather than “us,” and went on to label the Democratic party with the above-mentioned terms, I took that to mean he was not a Democrat. Not true, he says.
Ray informed me that he is a long-time Democrat, and that I should have known that. He’s right; I should have. Given what Michael Ray has written about the Democratic Party, I’d find it interesting to learn more about his politics. Is he a DINO? (A Democrat In Name Only) Did he vote for Biden? Why didn’t he identify himself as a Democrat in his column? I’d like to know if he’s willing to listen to others in the party who may differ with his positions. (I have a similar problem given my support of nonprofit charter schools, which makes me unpopular with some of my Democratic colleagues.)
To achieve this, Ray might dispense with hyperbole. Example: “The Democrats also endlessly apologize for micro-transgressions of all kinds.”
I don’t know any of my Democratic colleagues who “endlessly apologize.” Making blanket assumptions like that is inaccurate. As Ray should know, the Democratic Party is home to a variety of causes and beliefs. We can learn from those who differ from us politically, even—perhaps especially—within the same party.
I would ask the same of another unhappy reader whose comments appeared in the Dec. 4 Letters to the Editor section. Leonard Olds chastised my “obsession with thinking [I am] right.” What I did was refer readers to the dictionary definitions of terms like “woke,” “politically correct,” and “college-educated elitist.”
So get mad at the publishers of the Oxford English Dictionary, etc., if you don’t like what these terms mean. Olds also suggested that I look at “Democratically-controlled cities and their continued failure.” I grew up in New York City and am familiar with the problems inherent in urban life. We could talk about that and how we might do better. Are you willing to look at Republican-controlled states like Mississippi and their failure to protect and educate their Black citizens?
Olds also writes, “Perhaps you could tell us why illegal immigrants are all right with you, as is rioting and looting.” Huh? Where did you get the idea I support the idea of rioting and looting and illegal immigration?
If you want to understand my position on these issues, let’s talk; but please don’t assume you know just because I’m left of center.
One of the terms that agitate some on the right is “college-educated elitists.” This epithet runs alongside the argument that our colleges and universities are liberal brain-washing enclaves that belittle conservative values. It’s an issue worth examining. Because I’ve not spent time on a college campus lately, I turned to a colleague, Willie Steele, a professor of English at Lipscomb University, a private Christian liberal arts institution in Nashville, Tenn. In a phone interview, Steele had this to say:
There is a lot to be said for civility where we can disagree on policy without making it personal. I really do think my biggest frustration is when people take a dissenting viewpoint as a personal attack. This past semester I was called both a “flaming-ass liberal” and a “right-wing nut job,” so maybe I’m doing something right. I just miss the days when you could disagree with someone politically or religiously and then go out for a beer.
Steele added that when he was a college student, there was a more conservative bias in his classes; today that has shifted to being more liberal. Thinking back on my own undergraduate experience at UC Irvine, I remember feeling challenged by some of the ideas I encountered: liberation theology, for one. But it was freeing to take up new ideas and try them out. Some of what I heard in class helped my opinions to evolve; some did not. But I did not take the discussions as a “we” versus “them” dichotomy. There were nuances to be considered. To me, that’s what college is all about. But whether you’re in a college classroom or involved in local politics, it’s hard right now to hash these things out with those who believe differently. In the time of COVID-19, we dare not go out for a beer and conversation. And that’s too bad.
Jean is a Laguna Beach resident and member of the Third Street Writers.View Our User Comment Policy