If I can say anything at this bleak hour, with the world splitting at its seams, it’s this: conservatives, I understand you. It may not be something you expect to hear from a liberal, but I do. I understand you.
You’re human. You want a warm bed, a hot meal, someone to love. You want a job you love and a purpose that’s clear to you. You’d like a vacation. A happy retirement. You want a voice. And you want status—personally, professionally, and within a larger community. You want things to make sense. When it comes to politics and issues of the day, you want others to see what you see: that there are rules and decorum and tradition. There’s a rightful order to things. Either God made it so, or because it’s just the way things are and have always been. That questioning these things or wholesale throwing them out will only cause an unsettling discomfort, or maybe even worse. The rules are there, like silent soldiers. You know this. And there’s no going back once rules are broken. Everyone knows that.
I understand you, conservative women. You see Them smirking at us. You’d rather They smirk with you. You want to be in on the joke. You want what They offer and cannot be without. So you laugh with Them. Ha ha. Now look at you. You’re one of Them. They’re strong, and you like strong. So strong, They need your help to defend them, stand in front of Them. Shield Them. So you do. It’s not his fault for taking it a step too far! What was she doing taking any step in the first place? You say these things loud and clear so They’ll hear you. Always, you want to make sure They hear you. You’re the very best megaphone. They don’t like victims, and neither do you. You don’t want to play a victim. Not like other women. #NotAllMen but #YesAllWomen are suspect. After all, the handle of the axe is made out of wood. Other women, they can make you angry. They hack away at the order of things, and you don’t know what to do with this. If they undo everything, what will be left for you? It’s off script. Off the map. Just off. Those women make noise, make demands, take up space. Think they can do whatever they want. They ask for half, more than half. It’s too much. Who do they think they are? They’re too much. You? You ask for nothing on your way to becoming something. So They smile at you, approving. And you’ve made it. A seat at the Table of Their Respect. Now you’re protected. From what? Why from Them, of course. From Their ire, Their disdain, Their worst impulses. They won’t shit where They eat. Not with you, Their cool girl. You can sigh, even if you can’t quite relax. No, you’ll never be able to relax again. But the proximity to Them, it fills you with reassurance.
I understand you, conservative heterosexual men. Your head is on fire all day, every day. You never got what was promised to you. The girl, the dream, the summit. Your kind has owned the entirety of history. You can’t be blamed if you thought you’d own the future too. The top is supposed to be within easy reach for you. Everyone knows that. Well, everyone knew it at one time. Now only a small slice of people will acknowledge it. It infuriates you. You want love and adoration. Instead, she said no. Or she laughed at you. Or she simply ignored you. That’s not how it’s supposed to work. That’s not the social contract you were promised. Your head is full of pain and you want retribution. And the computer is the white, hot glow of understanding right there in front of you. Calling out to you. If you spew the poison, maybe it’ll stop the softness inside of you from turning to rot. Maybe someone will listen and simply nod: Yes. You’ve been wronged. You did not receive the thing that was never yours. And women! Women complain that it is they that have been wronged, but you know better than they do. You always do. Those that sit at the top have the longest way to fall. And isn’t that you? It’s not them. They cannot win at these suffering Olympics. You’ve won, which makes you the loser. That’s it. Yes, you’re a loser. It makes you angry. You didn’t even ask to run this race, but here you are, winded and bruised and falling behind. And truthfully, you’re a little worried. Worried about what happens if you never get what you’re due. Worried about what that means for the future you had in your head. Worried about what will happen if you let your guard down and the others see—the others, the ones just like you. The angry ones. What if they saw right through to the real you? You, the vulnerable, sad teardrop running down the face of manhood? What would they do to you if they ever knew?
I understand you, fiscal conservatives. Money is time. Money is power. Money is everything. Money is the value we place on things and then somehow forget that we are the ones who made it so. We the People, the highest value of all. But that’s Just The Way Things Are. And we all need money, don’t we? Some more than others. Those at the top should have as much as possible. That’s the natural order. Those below them, the workers, the unions…. Well. Money’s not for everyone, no. Capitalism works until everyone wants in. Capitalism works until it doesn’t. Let them eat cake, whoever gets here first. That’s what she would have said if she’d had time to say it before the mob assailed her for being too fabulous. Anyway, it’s about earning power. There’s a price on all our heads, like there is on, say, a hamburger. Which, by the way, will go up in price if we raise wages. You know this as well as I. And the CEO who talks about the hamburgers deserves more—much, much, much more—than the people who make them. Earning Power™. Because if he can grab all that cash, then so can you! It fills you with hope, watching other people make money. Never has something filled you with such moral righteousness as defending the accumulation of wealth. Because by God, that could be you. And with enough hard work and desire, it will be. It’s not a secret; just don’t be lazy. Why is everyone so poor and lazy? For that matter, you can’t believe that the hamburger CEO has to pay more in taxes just because he’s earned all that hamburger money. That’s not fair! Because the more hamburger money he earns, the more jobs he creates. The more he shares. If you tax him too much, he’ll stop sharing. And we can’t threaten him that way. Didn’t you ever have to pay the bully in elementary school to keep yourself safe from said bully? That hamburger money, it’ll trickle down like urine on a Russian prostitute. We don’t need to pay the guy at the bottom very much because the guy at the top will share once he’s taken what’s his, which is sometimes everything. And you’re going to be just like him. How do you know? Because you want it more. That’s how it works. That’s the beauty of the free market, dummy. Free, with an asterisk. *A free market is not free but simply refers to having no restrictions which makes it vulnerable to manipulation and side effects may include lost retirement accounts a ravaged planet abysmal work conditions slave labor and the possible destruction of the middle class to make way for an oligarchy. Capitalism is moral is American. You’re sure of this. There is no better system than one based on supply and demand of goods, rather than the humans behind it. Yes. Your only worry when it comes to money is how much of it you can keep. Preferably, you’d keep all of it, thereby choking the very system you support. But no matter. There’s no end in sight to what you can accumulate. How exciting when there is no limit, like that tower in the Bible. You’ll defend this until the day you die, when they can then pry the money from your cold clutches. Yes. Because in both life and death, money is even more important than you.
I understand you, conservative white people. You see the world changing around you, darkening and speaking in tongues, and you wonder what will be left for you and yours. You? You’re not racist. You don’t even believe that racism exists anymore. That ended with the great Martin Luther King, who only ever protested peacefully—unlike some football players you know. But you know for sure that if white people become a minority, the world will treat white people like a minority. That doesn’t feel right. In fact, that feels downright scary. But look, you’re not racist. You have friends who are people of color. You don’t even see them that way, anyway. You’re color blind. You just don’t want to find out what happens if people of color become as blind as you. It’s not like you have a great deal in common with other white people, anyway. You don’t even particularly like some of them. But if there’s one thing white people do share, it’s the bond of the majority. You are the many. And the many have always known what was best for the few. Just look at history and you’ll see. Speaking of history, white people were here first. Or, not first. But second, third, fourth, and fifth, and that counts for something. You have the DNA test to prove it. The DNA that proves you are from everywhere but here. But no matter, because you’re legal. Your people came here on the Mayflower, in fact, before legality was even a thing. You predate the standard you hold others to. And isn’t that your right? You’re as authentically American as they come, as authentic as the country itself, which rose out of the ground as it were in 1776. And anyway, if only those other illegal immigrants would just earn their way in like you did. Or rather, like your people did when they came and stayed like a houseguest who wouldn’t leave. You are a Great American and have earned your place at the top. It’s not racist to say this. It’s just not polite. So you don’t say this to your friends of color or your friends whose immigrant parents had to hold down three jobs to feed their families. They wouldn’t understand. They wouldn’t understand how hard it is to be you, and what a tragedy it would be if you lost your place. That might just make them feel worse about their own place. But this doesn’t mean you’re racist. You’re just uncomfortable.
I understand you, conservative morality voters. What is even happening right now? Boys are girls are boys are people trying to use the restroom next to you. This is a fact: you’re born with the private parts you get, and you can’t change them or stick them where they don’t belong. Private parts are private until it becomes necessary to discuss them in public! God said nothing about these gay trans queer drag bi non-binary homo sapiens, but that doesn’t mean you don’t know what He would say about the whole sordid thing. Love the sinner, hate the sin, right? You’re not exactly sure how to carry that one out in practice, but it sounds reasonable enough. A piece of candy with a soft, juicy poison center. Anyway, God doesn’t make mistakes, even if you have to pray to tell Him otherwise. Sheesh. What is this world coming to? Morals are gone. Morals like they used to have, back when men were men and women were in the kitchen. What happened? I mean, maybe you’d be ok with all of it if it wasn’t right in your face. If they didn’t put it out there in places where people exist. If they didn’t come to places where people exist. If they didn’t exist. They shouldn’t exist. They’re mistakes. They must be. But wait, no. God doesn’t make mistakes… Oh dear. You don’t know what’s happening anymore, and you don’t like it. It makes you feel dizzy. Out of control. Alone in a world you no longer recognize. And they demand attention while your thoughts have to stay inside, in the dark. It doesn’t seem right for you to have to stay quiet. You feel oppressed by their liberation. Your opinions, held in check, while their existence just exists. What are you supposed to do, keep your mouth shut? And what about all these baby killers! What a travesty. Somehow, that makes you feel the most out of control of all—women making these kinds of radical decisions for themselves. Mother knows best until she decides she doesn’t want to be one. That little cluster of cells fills you with such indignation, knowing that it represents something even more intangible than morality: potential. And potential is worth protecting at all costs. Not potential for the woman, no. What you mean to protect is the potential housed inside the womb. But after that, whatever potential exists, it’s on its own. You can’t be expected to take care of it. That’s not fair, this idea that you live in a wider world. No. It’s called personal responsibility. You wish others would learn it. It’s right there in the name—personal. Personal responsibility does not include any responsibility you may have toward others. Why should it? Every man for himself in these here States that are United. Yeah, you may be on Medicare, but they’re on welfare. You may get money back on your mortgage interest, but they live in subsidized housing. BIG difference. You’re not like them. Your morality is a door, and it’s closed. You live on one side, and they live on the other. You’ll sit here, thank you, in this precious room with the door closed, minding to the morality of the world as it goes on without you.
I understand all of you.
I understand you because I used to be you. Long ago, in the era of Slick Willy and the dawn of explicit labels on music CDs, I was conservative too. I stood up for men first, considered money an unalienable right, questioned immigration, and thought abortion was the greatest moral crisis facing our lives. I wore this conservatism like a badge of honor. Others simply didn’t understand, even friends. I was one of only a very few soldiers left on a battlefield littered with the honorable dead. It was my duty to keep it going, no matter the cost. If there were stripes to earn, I’d done so many times over by proselytizing about the morality of the right wing. I hopped, skipped, and doubled over using mental gymnastics to make my arguments fit the philosophy I deemed correct, without regard for facts or feelings. My back was rigid, my jaw clenched, and my fist squeezed. I was always ready for a verbal fight.
I’m not proud that I was once young, sheltered, and fed on garbage. That’s not an excuse; it’s the reality of how some Americans live. And of course it was exposure and education that changed me—college, friends, moving to a few major cities. Nothing about my story will be a surprise to you. In fact, it’s probably what you’ve heard from other liberals. Maybe you’re even rolling your eyes right now. Liberal colleges and professors! Slutty college chicks! Bleeding hearts who are naïve about how the real world works! I can hear your voice in my head, still. Even now. But how I got here is not the point. The point is to tell you that I understand what makes you tick and what drives your impulses. I know because I once stood where you stand.
But more important than that, I want you to know that I know your secret. It was my secret, too. It’s a secret that you know about yourself, deep down. A dark one you don’t let your mind linger on.
It’s this: You’re conservative because you’re afraid.
I’m not talking about the average fears we all have, like making ends meet or dying alone. No. You’re afraid of something far more primal. You’re afraid of the very obliteration of your existence. Every position you take is in defense of a self that’s too weak to exist without this posturing. Women having as much power as you or the ability to make powerful decisions will diminish you. Money is power and without it, you’re nothing. Immigrants will take your spot, replace you. Anyone who is not like you is a threat to your own existence. When you open your mouth to justify the things you believe, you’re defending the scared child within you. I understand. If you’re reading this, and you’re conservative, you’re either in denial about this or angry with me for saying it. Fear and anger are cousins. But maybe, if you close your eyes, you’ll know it to be true. You’ll feel it. It’s there, the pebble in your belly that rattles whenever you talk about these things. You feel like you’re in the fight for your life.
But I’m here, on the other side, and I can tell you: You are not. You’ll be fine. In fact, the things you believe, the things you say, and the things you support – those things threaten actual lives. Your ego can withstand a knock. A refugee child in a cage cannot.
If you don’t believe me, try this exercise. The next time your impulse is to fight about immigration, abortion, feminism, or something else, try simply saying, Ok. Two letters to give you pause. Ok. This is not a threat to me. A person wanting to live in this country takes nothing from me. A woman making a medical decision is not my business. A factory worker fighting for a higher wage is fine by me. See how you feel. Maybe, at first, you’ll be uncomfortable. Let it sit. It’s a dark cloud; watch it float on by. And then let it go. See what happens when you say ok instead of fight. See what happens to your philosophy when it takes a hit. If it’s strong, it should be able to. It shouldn’t need a wall to keep it safe. See what happens when you shake it. When you turn over that pebble.
Are you still standing? I think you are.
See those people you admire, follow, retweet? They’re afraid, too. Afraid of losing, just like you. So afraid, they’ve built an entire system around their fears, with the goal of making you more afraid than they are. The bigger the shadow they cast, the greater the cloak to hide in. They know fear is a powerful tool. They know you feel it. They want you to feel it. They want it to fester, make you angry, turn to hatred. If you’re looking the other way with daggers in your eyes, you can’t see the ones targeted at your own back.
Fear tips the scales of equity, sends brown people to jail, and divides the earth into maps. Fear unifies us in its division.
I understand you, conservatives. I too once let my belief system rise up out of my fears.
What will you do with yours?
Photo by Devin Edwards on Unsplash