Opinion: Stop vilifying those who disagree
Washington — I’m a rock-ribbed conservative who wants Republicans to keep control of Congress. But I’m not unhappy that Republican state Rep. Rick Saccone appears to have lost the special election in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District.
Why? Because he insulted my mother.
Trailing his Democratic opponent in a district Donald Trump won by 20 points, but which still has more registered Democrats than Republicans, Saccone hit on a genius idea to turn out the vote: At a campaign rally just before voters went to the polls, he declared that liberals hate America and hate God. “I’ve talked to so many of these on the left,” he said. “.?.?. And I tell you, many of them have a hatred for our country. .?.?. I’ll tell you some more — my wife and I saw it again today: They have a hatred for God.”
My mother is a liberal Democrat, and I can tell you: She does not hate America or God. Quite the opposite; she is one of the most patriotic people I know. She grew up in Nazi-occupied Poland, fought with the Polish underground, was taken to Germany as a prisoner of war, was liberated by Patton’s Army and moved to London. Eventually, she became a doctor and made her way to the United States, where she became a U.S. citizen.
There is no one prouder to be an American. When Poland held its first free elections in 1989, Polish Americans living in the United States were invited to vote. Many did so, but my mom refused. She loved the land of her birth, but she was an American citizen now and would not vote in a foreign election. When someone hears her thick Polish accent for the first time they often ask, “Where are you from?” She answers proudly: “New York City.”
She’s also a proud Democrat, who voted for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. We disagree about politics, but we both love America and want to make this country great. We just have different ideas about the best ways to do it.
So when Saccone says liberals hate America, he’s talking about my mother. I take it personally. And you should, too.
Whether you are liberal, conservative or in between, I’ll bet that you have a loved one who disagrees with you about politics. It might be a sibling or a parent or a beloved cousin, aunt or uncle — or even your kids. We should not stand for politicians from either party who insult them or question their motives or their patriotism.
Too often, politicians on both the left and right do just that. We saw this recently when, during an event in India, Clinton insultingly claimed that Trump won the parts of the country that weren’t “moving forward.” She said those voters liked what she characterized as Trump’s message that “you know you didn’t like black people getting rights. You don’t like women, you know, getting jobs. You don’t want, you know, to see that Indian American succeeding more than you are.” If you have a loved one who didn’t vote for Clinton in 2016, you should be offended. I doubt the people you love are against civil rights, or women working, or people of color succeeding. They just thought Clinton was a terrible choice for president — an impression she confirmed with those comments.
We see it in the gun control debate that followed the Parkland, Fla., school shooting. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said that if you’re not in favor of immediate action on guns, “you’re an accomplice” to the Parkland killer. Seriously? Do you have a loved one who disagrees with you about gun control? Are they accomplices to mass murder? No, they just disagree that gun control is the solution.
The problem exists on both sides of the aisle, and it’s not just politicians. American Enterprise Institute President Arthur Brooks recalls how a few years ago he was giving a speech at a large conservative event. “I said that while my own views are center-right, I have no reason to believe progressives are stupid or evil,” he recalls. “An audience member countered, ‘You’re wrong: They are stupid and evil.'” Brooks is from Seattle, which means almost every member of his family is progressive.
Progressives are not stupid and evil. Conservatives are not racists and misogynists. Our fellow Americans who disagree with us are not our enemies. They are our fellow Americans who differ with us. And we should not put up with politicians, on the left or right, who can’t seem to understand this.
— Marc A. Thiessen is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group.