When I was a child in Missouri, there were liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats. And vice versa. Most of the more religious people I knew were Democrats, but most of the Democrats I knew were just middling on all that. Lots of them were union people, but my dad was a Democrat and a small business owner, and he didn’t like how unions were given preference in contract bidding.
The only Republicans I knew were kind of “high church,” and I am pretty sure they would have found the religious zealots these days classless, but they weren’t any different in ordinary life, appearing at the P.T.A. meetings, chili suppers, and community snow days. Where my husband grew up in Kentucky, Republicans were considered people who didn’t care so much for the man on the assembly line. They were the business owners, Democrats were the workers, plain and simple. His dad called them the patricians. It wasn’t so simple, but people liked to see it that way. They’d have shunned or mocked a desire for cultural sophistication, but where I grew up, a person might be worldly and still be a Democrat.
Little of this had to do with social issues just then. And nobody bored on about the Left and the Right, because to all of them, leftists were Pinko Commies, and if they ever did talk about the right; ordinary people that is, they knew them vaguely as Fascist if they stepped too far out of the middle.
Social issues didn’t receive the attention they needed, of course; they weren’t seen as particularly political by the older people I knew. That was just beginning. And they certainly weren’t seen as the provenance of The Left—you had only some relative you saw at holidays who was maybe a pinko commie or maybe just ahead of the game in terms of seeing the system working against women and minorities and people born or thrust into hard times, but he was boring, and the people who needed to think about that were worried about what their states and cities were doing about it, while truly busy in their daily lives fighting against the seemingly unfair odds they were given. The ones I knew were Democrats, though, some real religious, some not at all.
It seems a lot of people take comfort in so defining their place in life, spending their days working to fit in neatly. So those basic divisions existed between the “little guy” and the banker or factory owner, but they all expected Congress to work together and get nothing done pretty much to the same degree. People without money assumed people with great amounts of money were influencing certain things, but that had ever been so.
Maybe it wasn’t such a great way of administrating on a larger scale as the population exploded, but people took pride in the idea that it still could be. This was before Walmart became ubiquitous, before much automation or desktop computers, and you were identified by the community you lived in and could take individual pride in, or not. The problems you didn’t see were not your problems, and someone else would be and should be handling them. People tolerated the Archie Bunkers and Meatheads, but shook their heads at them.
I grew up not wanting any of those labels, because, well, they’re sticky and linear and when you label something, you act like you’ve now defined it for all time, and you treat it according to what you’ve decided about it, to the exclusion of all else. I don’t like being defined for all time. I didn’t identify with any of these labels as a young adult, because it looked more like a buffet to me than a menu with two distinct columns, and I certainly don’t identify with them now. I don’t want to file you strictly into conservative or liberal, either. I remember when people knew those ideals as having overlap and I am convinced the ordinary but reasonably educated American is still a mixture of both. I most certainly don’t want to carve you into Lefts and Rights. Dividing people in extreme binary categories has set them against each other, each “side” using the other label as a pejorative. The new administration is both happy you’ve done that, and disinterested in either one of you beyond using you to further their own ends.
I’m not afraid to say that the people currently managing the highest office in our country are using religious people as a foil and excuse to control the populace and make more money from it. That is all they intend to do. It’s not moral, it’s not ethical, it isn’t part of any religious tradition I ever heard of, but some number of religous people are wearing blinders and refusing to see this because they are focused solely on their fear of or distaste for how other people live. The people in that office and the people who helped pay for them to be there don’t care anything at all about that, they only want as much control as they can take. They amplified signals to draw in fearful, gullible citizens and set them anxiously against everyone else, and now here we are.
Knowing this to be true does not render me a Relative Direction. It renders me a person with a willingness to see what’s really happening right before our eyes, that’s all. Surely no one really wants to be less than that.