Friday, May 11, 2012
Had coffee again with This Guy I Know, a conservative, a Christian in the best sense of the word, and, as usual, it was enjoyable and enriching. This juxtaposes with A Guy I Used To Know; also conservative and, although he doesn't live it the way TGIK does, also a Christian. Of the selective variety.
I've not communicated with AGIUTK for a long time, but the differences between the two were on my mind at coffee: on the one hand is a man who provides reason for believing that people who disagree can still find common ground for the common good; a man who wrestles hard with the realities of life, who seeks always to increase his understanding of himself. On the other hand is a person who embodies nearly everything that portends disaster for our country. I'd love to consider TGIK the rule and AGIUTK the exception. Outside the world of coffee shops and collegiality, I'm not optimisitic.
The exact opposite of TGIK, as the world becomes more complex and in need of reason AGIUTK (and so many others on the right) has descended into reflexive and paranoid hatred and revisionism, sealing off his mind like a fallout shelter. To understand why it matters to me, a little background:
I'd exchanged emails AGIUTK for maybe a year before we met, by which time our political and religious differences were mutually well-known, but had been a source of honest and challenging conversation. Because we realized we had humanity in common, and to some extent, a shared history, we got along well. Eventually he and his wife (a beautiful human being, in the mold of TGIK) visited me and my wife, affection all around, on two different occasions. Later, AGIUTK and I spent a week together in a log cabin by a lake, during which time we talked about pretty much everything. I liked it. Unlike teabaggers, I want to have friends with whom I disagree, interaction with whom widens horizons.
He enjoyed it, too, inviting me back the next year, and to go fishing in Alaska. But several months ago, for reasons unknown to me, the tone changed, and pretty suddenly. His emails became hateful, deeply and personally insulting, to me and to my family; he tried to leave nasty comments (long-since blocked) on this blog, directed not just at me but at anyone who reads it. Spouting increasingly crazy conspiracies about President Obama, he began to castigate me as no better than a traitor and a Jew-collaborator for not seeing it, too. (Yep. His words.)
I can handle it. What's bothersome, though, is his explanation: had he known how liberal I was, he said, he'd never have been a friend. (Which is wrong on at least two levels...) He had no idea what I believed, he claimed, until we spent that week together. And yet, not only had we discussed it all well before that, after that he invited me back!! So it's not the personal attacks or the loss of someone I'd mistaken for a friend: it's his lying to himself about what went on. His rewriting of our history to conform to his prejudices and needs. It's as if he's Mitt Romney. But I'd come to expect it from Rominee.
It's those lies to himself that I find so depressing, so emblematic of where we are as a country, and it's the reason I'm thinking about it, with caffeine: is TGIK the future of conservatism, or is AGIUTK? As I've written often, I have respect for conservatism and religion as they used to be known in our public lives. It's the degeneration of the Republican party -- no longer a party of conservatism by any definition, but one of cynical distortions and closed minds -- and its increasing injection of the least admirable aspects of religion into politics that I find so worrisome. And much as I believe TGIK is the real representative of what could be, what everyone should hope will be, there's no denying that AGIUTK is the representative of what is.
If AGIUTK is the avatar of his side, the future of America is very much in doubt. AGIUTK, with his viciousness toward those with whom he disagrees, his fears of otherness, his impenetrable need to believe things that are demonstrably false, his ability to rewrite his own history, much less that of this country, is sadly mainstream with the party of his choice. It can't turn out well for anyone.
How nice it is to know TGIK. How sad that there seems to be so many more AGIUTKs... The former, while gratifying for me, is hardly enough to negate the latter, which is so bad for the country.
On the other hand, if every conservative were like TGIK, I'd have nothing to write about...