Archived Opinion

Relishing common ground amid the political divide

Relishing common ground amid the political divide

I am at the salad bar, evaluating the freshness of the broccoli and spinach, deciding whether I want croutons or sunflower seeds sprinkled on top, when I perceive a short, stocky man with dark hair sizing me up from the other side. I can already sense what is coming. Am I a confederate? Or, shudder, a liberal? Maybe apolitical, though how could I be — how could anybody be — with so much at stake in this election? He approaches, and I turn to acknowledge him just as I spear my second radish.

“That damn Hillary Clinton is out to ruin this country, you know it?” he says, leaning in a little. “If she gets in, we won’t recognize America two years from now.”

I am trying to frame a response, although feigning a sudden illness is also a possibility. But I wait a beat too long.

“One thing I know for sure is that she will take your rifle,” he says. “She will take every gun in your house if we don’t stop her now. I’ll be damned if she’ll take mine.”

I know I have to get out now because I know where this is going. The government is coming to take our guns, and we must be prepared to fight. This man believes in a well-regulated militia, except for the part about “well-regulated.” He believes that a showdown between the government and its citizens — the ones who will not kneel — is inevitable, especially the way things are going.

Now he waits for an answer. Will we bond or will we fight?

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“Do you know if this ranch dressing is fat-free?” I say. “I’m diabetic.”

He shrugs and walks off, his salad teetering on the tray. I guess we’ve called a truce somehow.

I would like to say and believe that I have had my last argument over politics before this election, made my last snide remark, stayed up too late for the last time reading — sometimes even engaging in — those tedious Facebook political wars, even though I long ago came to the conclusion that the people who will vote for Hillary and the people who will vote for Trump do not just disagree on issues. The issues are, in a weird way, beside the point. We now live in completely different realities that have nothing in common.

If you scratch the surface, I bet you would find that Trump voters, the majority of them anyway, do not really believe that he is qualified or capable of being President of the United States. They are as appalled by his disgusting remarks about women as anyone else. They see that he is a blowhard and if they squint hard enough this can be seen as a condemnation of the political correctness they hate so very much, but they know that’s a stretch. They wouldn’t want him around their daughters, and they wrestle with their support for him. The main thing he has going for him is that he is Not Hillary.

Conversely, there are many Hillary voters who have had to persuade themselves that she is “not that bad” and that her mea culpa regarding those deleted emails is genuine, and not just a political calculation. She’s basically a centrist, too conservative and hawkish for old guard lefties, too liberal on social issues for the blue dogs. Sure, she has experience and has accomplished some things, but she makes a lot of voters squeamish, and many of the Bernie Sanders voters just cannot make the leap to her, even with Bernie himself out there stumping for her day after day. The main thing she has going for her is that she is Not Trump.

Then there are the conspiracy theorists, who inhabit yet another reality. Hillary and Trump, they’re in it together. From the very beginning, Trump was a pawn to get Hillary elected. In return, he gets the greatest promotional campaign in history for his latest get-richer scheme, Trump TV. For the citizens of this strange and unsettling land, Trump’s surrealistic meltdown over the past two weeks is intentional, and not the antics of a desperate narcissist who sees the writing on the wall. He was never supposed to win, see?

At this point, still three weeks before the election, I just want to get away from all of it. I feel contaminated enough already. Outside, the mountains are ripening by the minute, the red and golden hues sweeping the ranges under a sky that remains blue and perfect and indifferent to all of our pitiful flailing and posturing.

All of that majesty spread out before you, and then at your foot, a single red maple leaf, almost the size of your face, so red that it seems ready to burst into flame. You pick it up and hold it at arm’s length to admire it, and from across the street it looks as if you are offering a flower to an invisible lover.

I need to watch baseball, my beloved Dodgers, bedraggled and fashioned out of used parts like an old jalopy, hanging in there in the National League Championship Series against the fearsome Cubs, with the winner advancing to the World Series.

I need to enjoy my daughter learning to drive, driving her mother crazy with her unpredictable behavior at intersections. I need to enjoy my son playing fall baseball, brandishing a new bat and hoping for a fat one over the plate. I need to relish my neighbors: one walking her dog at dusk, another one in his driveway under a dune buggy trying to get that rattle out of the front end, and one more keeping an eye out for the coyote we’ve been seeing lately, in case he starts getting a little too close.

In these things, we are united. In this place, we can talk and understand each other again.

(Chris Cox is a writer and teacher who lives in Haywood County. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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