“But you seem so normal.”
Living in a state of constant contempt
A letter from November, 2011
Comrade C and his family came to London. As my usual habit for friends visiting, I took them to tea at my favorite location: the hotel with the nude shabby chic mosaic. That’s a distinguishing feature of the hotel, not my favorite feature — although it is certainly memorable. (…)
Anyway, the girls are in high school. They are Christian and conservative and sadly accustomed to the “but you seem so smart/normal/nice/well informed” remarks that seem to come with any reply that our cross is real or any admission that we didn’t vote for Obama.
Incredulous comments that we seem so normal are common conversation topics when conservatives get together. It happens all the time. Sometimes they even write it up.
At this conversation over tea, I told the girls about the recent, “I can’t believe my best friend is a Republican” article in Salon. Read the whole thing, but this bit caught my attention:
When I moved to Los Angeles, the 2004 election had just finished ravaging the neighborhood. Friendships had ended over differences of opinions, a few marriages had learned what they were made of when one couldn’t abide what hadn’t been that big of a deal before 9/11. And so when I met Janet, she was on the defensive. That first dinner at her house, someone brought up her Republicanism. I looked down into my soup, sure this was something we shouldn’t talk about. I don’t remember the comment, or Janet’s reply, but I remember my husband asking why she’d be friends with all these liberals — and yes, it was only liberals at the table — if she felt so strongly. Throwing her hands up, she said, “I guess I lack the courage of my convictions.”
But it’s not that. I don’t speak for Janet, but I think there’s something deeper at play. Janet’s willingness to associate with so many liberal friends — though I know she seeks refuge in chat rooms and magazines that share her beliefs — makes her a better and more interesting person. She has her beliefs challenged constantly. She is more well-read and educated in her politics than most of the liberals I know. Too many liberals I know are lazy, they have a belief system that consists of making fun of Glenn Beck and watching “The Daily Show.” Shouldn’t their beliefs be challenged, too?
I won’t quibble with Taffy’s conclusion about liberals needing to be challenged, but she is wrong about the reason for her friend’s comment. She missed, or avoided, that her friend’s comment about courage of her convictions was ironic. Her friend doesn’t lack the courage of her convictions. In a moment of frustration, she was accusing liberals of lacking the courage of theirs.*
Liberals tell us that they are the most open and tolerant, yet it is the liberal who can’t look her friend in the eye and missed the subtle jibe that refusing to socialize with the Other is hardly courageous. It is Janet who is willing to sit amongst the Other, willing to have her beliefs challenged, willing to calmly explain and defend her beliefs to someone who sometimes won’t even look her in the face. It is Janet who will have to endure the common smear that conservatives are so intolerant that we must find it difficult to associate with people with whom we disagree — while we sit amongst those with whom we disagree.
We conservatives know of liberal contempt. Liberals should not imagine that they hide it well. When Janet seeks refuge in chat rooms, and magazines, and like minded friends, I assure you that the topic of the left’s impressive irony-resistance capabilities comes up from time to time. They are tolerant of everything they agree with.
Sometimes we get weary. But we pick up and carry on. After all, we aren’t going to win any hearts or minds by crying on a pillow or preaching to the choir.
- Note, we conservatives do respect the courage that people like Taffy, the leftist author of the Salon piece, have. We know how our liberal friends have to defend themselves and, perhaps, to keep us separate from their other friends. Some are braver than others, of course, but we know they come under fire for associating with us. The effort does not go unnoticed.
Interesting, but now, in 2018, what stands out to me about the article is how polarized things were back then. Conservatives are so used to being other-ed, that sometimes I forget it is only an increased intensity that grew out of social media and — more significantly — out of the fact that we now do it to each other. Those online retreats we used to go to, to restore our strength, our center, and even our sense of worthiness from the constant disdain, they are gone now. “But you seem so normal…” It’s a lot harder now than it used to be.