I understand political differences. I teach political philosophy. My students would tell you I give much more vocal defenses of conservative and libertarian policies than liberal ones. One philosophy friend once described me as being “way too charitable” to the other side. I value beyond words the fierce debate of ideas and absolutely believe it can enhance rather than weaken the fabric of democracy.
But. The calls to pull together and try to understand each other are striking to me now because they seem to misunderstand where the fault lines are. I can understand polical disagreements. This is not a political disagreement. Those who say the words are bad but we need to shake things up, or change policies, or what have you, just said “Yes, he’s said racist and misogynistic things, but…” And that “but” is where the fault lines are. That’s the disagreement. To listen to what follows the “but” and engage in debate there, one must be willing to look past racism and misogyny, to treat those as secondary to the policy debate. That’s the disagreement. Those are not secondary. Racism and misogyny cannot be the price we pay to fight the establishment. They are prices we should be unwilling to pay. Period. Calls to understand that willingness are infuriating after over a year’s worth of people asking – BEGGING – for understanding about how terrified we are of this rhetoric, asking – BEGGING – for allies to pull together, to rally behind those who are vulnerable here.
This was a willingness to trade in equal respect and dignity for all if it might get other things people wanted more, while for some of us, there is nothing more important than that very equality. It can’t be traded in, set aside, treated as secondary to other values. To others of us, that equality is the whole ballgame.
I have tremendous respect for political disagreement. I am fully a Pollyanna about how good those differences and disagreements can make is. This isn’t that. My refusal to be sympathetic here is not a refusal to compromise. It’s a deeply held belief about where compromise is allowed. Compromise on equality of respect and dignity cannot be allowed.