This election has made me crazy (everyone must decide for themselves if they are included in the “this election has made everyone crazy” group). I write to apologize to my conservative friends, family, colleagues, strangers who I have had conversations with and then been so dumbfounded at what I hear that I go off on them. That doesn’t help the conversation, and in my advancing years my mind grows slower and I always think of the questions I should ask too late; either after I’ve gotten angry or the conversation is over.
And I write this now, the day before the election to try and show that I am not trying to change anyone’s mind—it’s too late for that—but to explain, should we still have a semblance of a country come Wednesday, why I think we have more in common than we realize. We just believe different things are facts.
For this purpose I’ll describe a conversation with Nik, an alter ego or foil. I borrow part of a name in homage to the great Mike Royko and his alter ego Slats Grobnik, who he often had conversations with in his columns. In what follows, Nik is a composite, but everything he says I have heard in conversations during this election season.
–Hi Nik, have a seat.
Nik—Good to see you. Can you believe that Colin Kaepernick? Why does he have to say all that stuff? He should just stay quiet. It doesn’t help anything.
–So he doesn’t deserve the first amendment? He didn’t really say anything, he just knelt down.
Nik—I don’t care. Why do I have to hear that?
–Um, don’t turn on the TV and you won’t.
Nik—Oh, I hardly watch any TV news.
–So how did you even know about what he did?
Nik shrugs—You know, Hillary says this country is already great. But Trump says we have to make it great again. I think that’s right.
–Hmm. Why is it okay for Trump to complain about America, bash our military, call us a third world nation, rate women in a sexist way, embrace Putin over America, and that is all good and great and ok by you, but somehow you are deeply hurt by a football player kneeling down?
Nik shrugs again—Hillary is just corrupt you know.
–There are questionable things about her, sure. But Trump is probably more corrupt, right? He hasn’t released tax returns and it looks like he hasn’t paid any for a couple decades. His university was under investigation by Florida’s AG Pam Bondi, and the day he donated 25 grand to her reelection campaign the investigation was dropped. His foundation was used to pay his employees and to pay for a couple six-foot tall portraits of himself. Clinton’s foundation has had some accusation of possibly questionable dealings, but non-partisan organizations that rank charities gave them an A+ rating, higher than the Red Cross. I could go on of course.
Nik—Well, okay, maybe not as many things as Trump, but Hillary is corrupt. I’ll say this, and I’m sure you’ll disagree with this too; The media is in the tank for Hillary.
–My God Nik, you shock me. I thought sure you believed in capitalism.
–Come on, the media companies just want to make as big a profit as they can, like any other good capitalist company. If they’re doing more negative stories on Trump, it’s just because that is what the market will pay for, what they get the most money for with the ads they run. As Les Moonves of CBS says, Trump may not be good for the country, but he’s great for CBS.
Nik—Well, there should be rules…
–Who are you, my old friend? Here you are, arguing for more onerous regulations on business. I’ve never heard you do that before.
Nik—Don’t you think the news should be the news?
–Once upon a time it was. As part of the deal for use of the public airways, networks had to do so many hours a week of public interest programming, and that was the new divisions, which had to be separate from the entertainment divisions, and the news divisions could not be subject to making a profit.
Nik—Sounds like a good idea to me.
–That’s almost sacrilege. In the early 1980s Saint Reagan (bless his holy name) changed the rules and said everyone should be able to make a profit on everything. We don’t need fair news!
Nik—Still, I like that Trump is a businessman. He builds things!
–Um, Nik, you’ve told me many times that you are a small government conservative. Why would you want to hire a president whose one skill is doing the very thing you don’t want the government to do?
Nik–Well, really I just want Trump because of the Supreme Court.
–And there it is. It always comes back to that in the end. But now I’m really shocked, my old friend. I thought surely you would want there to be fewer abortions, not more.
–I mean, there have always been fewer abortions when Democrats are in the White House than when it is occupied by Republicans. I can show you the data if you like, but I’d rather you research it yourself if you are really interested. The last time I gave some conservatives links to actual data, I lost friends and relatives who I haven’t heard from for years. Apparently the facts aligned me with the devil or something. They never told me, they just disappeared.
Nik—I don’t know about that, but we have to overturn Roe v. Wade.
–I think it is pretty clear the Republican powers that be really don’t want that to happen.
Nik—What are you talking about? We’re the pro-life party.
–Then why haven’t you done it? You’ve controlled the court for a couple decades (until Scalia died) and you haven’t pushed a case to the court. I don’t believe they want to overturn it, cause then they’d lose millions of free votes from single issue voters who have been scared into only caring about the unborn and not the born, because, for example, they claim the biggest threat to humanity, climate change, is a hoax.
Nik—Climate change is a hoax!
–What do think happens if Roe is overturned?
Nik—Abortion will be outlawed of course!
–Actually it’s just thrown back to the states. It wouldn’t change much. Red states like Alabama that have only one clinic left in the state would likely close that. Blue states like NY and IL and others, where abortion is legal, safe, and available, it would remain so. What it would do is ignite a whole new generation of activists who never experienced a time when they didn’t have the right to choose what happens to their own bodies.
Nik—But there have been a million and a half abortions since Roe! It’s a holocaust!
–There were that many before Roe too, but a lot of women had to have them in back allies and got sick or died themselves. Is that what you want back?
Nik—We have to do something!
–Elect Democrats. They believe in providing health care and financial support and birth control to poor women, and those things make it possible for them to choose to give birth. The majority of abortions are made because economic reality doesn’t give women the choice to give birth. Sure, there are too many abortions for other reasons as well, and isn’t it better to save potential lives rather than bask in ideological purity?
Nik—If that’s true, why don’t the Democrats run on it?
–I don’t know Nik. I wish they would. It seems like we really want a lot of the same things. We just see reality so differently that we don’t share common facts anymore. We both think the other lives in the world of truthiness. How can we find a way to see empirical reality the same way? Can we?
Nik—I don’t know. I just don’t know. I’m scared for the world.
–I’d say, open your eyes, but then you’d tell me to do the same. I’d say, is there any way in which Trump’s campaign is anything more than the old school yard taunt?
Nik—I know you are, but what am I?
–Finally, we agree on something.