United, if (respectfully) divided

To cherish each other we must strive to understand each other.


An interesting statistic came to my attention yesterday courtesy of Shanto Iyengar, a political scientist at Stanford, eighty-five percent of marriages are partisan. That’s right, only fifteen percent of us are married to someone who is registered to vote for a different party. Nine percent of those marriages include an independent voter — that means only six percent of marriages consist of a Democrat and a Republican. And it shows no signs of changing. According to Iyengar, the biggest indicator of “match” on dating sites has become political affiliation (through coded language of course).

My marriage is in a tiny minority. I am a registered Democrat; my spouse is a registered Republican. Frankly, I was floored by the number. Have we really become so accustomed to hearing our own opinions echoed back at us that we can’t find a mate outside our own political beliefs?

Upon learning about my bipartisan marriage, a few people have said, “Surely, you don’t talk about politics.” But we do, fairly often.

“Oh, you must fight about it horribly.” We don’t.

While we disagree, frequently, we never fight about politics. I respect his point of view (though clearly, he’s wrong) and he respects mine (though clearly, I’m wrong.) This election cycle was no different, we adopted Michelle Obama’s mantra of “going high.”

Maybe it helped that neither of us loved Mrs. Clinton. Maybe it helped that both of us were ashamed that Mr. Trump was a candidate at all. But we were able to talk about the race. Even when it was things that hit horribly close to home — offenses on women, “Mexican rapist,” etc. — we dug into meaningful talk about it.

I assumed this conversation was happening elsewhere, outside our cramped little Palo Alto apartment. But apparently for 94% of America, it’s not.

This makes me more than a little worried about the polarization in American politics.

If we can’t respect a point of view different than our own, what hope is there that my toddler will grow up in a world where unity is more common than polarization? None.

I have read a lot of articles about the “coastal elites” needing to get more in touch with the “rural poor.” And not so many about the rural folks reaching out to the urban. But I think it’s time for all of us to start reaching beyond our comfort zones. Stop surrounding yourself with people who only think like you because that is why there’s resounding shock over the outcome of this election. Disappointment about an election’s outcome makes sense. Shock does not.

Iyengar noted that, by and large, Americans don’t mix with those from the “other” party. So most people don’t have this rich pool of bipartisan friends that I have. Almost all of the Republican folks I know — some that I would call friends — I know because of my husband. (It helps that I’ve lived in Louisiana my whole adult life and well, a lot of folks there are conservative voters.) These people are bright, charming, caring folks — they don’t have two heads. They have implicit biases like anyone else. I don’t know how all of them voted but I know a few who voted Trump, others for Clinton. I know them and they’re my friends. And you know what? They know me. And I’m not a crazed, elite, uterus-scraping liberal — I’m their friend.

My life is better for knowing them and I think they would say the same. Surely, my life is better for my marriage. I am able to have clear, respectful conversations with my husband and many of our friends (but not all of them) about things that make them uncomfortable and things that make me uncomfortable, too. But the important takeaway here is that we are coexisting because there is no us, there is no them.

We are all Americans trying to do what we think it best for America. Don’t point fingers, try reaching out. It might surprise you. It might not. But keep reaching. Not because you might convince them of something or change their view but because just knowing you will give someone, not exactly like you, a face. Not a “them” but a you. This is a time for unity, America. But real unity. Re-friend that racist relative on Facebook. Call your Pentecostal Christian aunt. Have coffee with the out-of-work blue-collar guy down the street. Give a buzz to your gay cousin, your feminist niece, your immigrant neighbor. Start a conversation and actually listen. LISTEN. You might educate them. They might educate you. But please, stop self-dividing. Stop believing the politicians who pit us against one another. Stop hating someone for thinking differently.

Stop, because you’re living in an echo chamber.

And who knows, among those “others” might be a lovely person who will stand beside you for the rest of your life and give you a respectful — if opposed — point of view.

Adriana Garcia is currently a JSK fellow at Stanford University researching how media use correlates with poverty.