This might be a first for me, but here’s something I think you should read—on a Republican senator’s web page. Whenever I think of Marco Rubio, I cringe a little and remember the “small hands” comment that embarrassed even his own family and ultimately led to his exit from the presidential race. At that point in this election cycle, it would have been unthinkable that I or anyone who shares my political views would visit his Senate web page to read his remarks on a current event. But I find myself in the odd position of agreeing with almost everything he said on Friday at a press conference in Miami:
Those of us who are not African American will never fully understand the experience of being black in America. But we should all understand why our fellow Americans in the black community are angry at the images of an African American man, with no criminal record, who was pulled over for a busted tail light, slumped in his car seat and dying…
Surprised at excerpts from his remarks in news articles, I searched for a full transcript, almost certain that I’d find myself disagreeing with him at some point. I read on, ready to object. And I did. My first instinct as a liberal and an English teacher was to pounce on his choice of words:
The fact is that there are communities in America where black families tell us that they are fearful of interacting with their local law enforcement. How they feel is a reality that we cannot and should not ignore.
I talked back to him as if he were sitting in the room with me. It’s not how they feel that’s the problem, Marco; it’s the reality of what’s happening to them. Haven’t you read the statistics?
I read on, and again and again he talked about their feelings, rather than what evidence shows—that their feelings are a result of what happens in their communities over and over again. He also devoted much more time to remarks about the realities our police forces face than to the realities of the African-American community. But I couldn’t disagree with his final conclusion:
We Americans are a complicated, imperfect, and diverse people. We most certainly don’t see eye to eye on everything, and not everyone is pure of heart. But I truly believe that the vast majority of us all want the same things.
If we’re going to move forward on the issues that face us, we have to accept that it takes not just those who are in complete agreement with us but also those with whom we share little common ground. And in recent days and weeks, I find it extraordinary that Rubio and Newt Gingrich and even RedState bloggers are acknowledging the reality that what is happening to one community among us is happening to us all.
Perhaps this is a chance to move forward. These men have a voice that a conservative audience might begin to hear—an audience that will never hear liberals they perceive as sanctimonious, no matter how reasonable the arguments. And if that is the case, I welcome these men’s ideas.
My most liberal friends will, as I once did, continue to find fault with anyone who doesn’t wholeheartedly agree. In fact, when I suggest on social media that there might be a middle ground, I am consistently attacked by both my most conservative friends and my most liberal friends. My more moderate friends remain reliably silent, occasionally asking me privately why I try to reason with people who are never going to hear me.
Why? Because we can’t browbeat everyone into agreement. Because we will never have a utopian world where everyone reverses course completely until we are all united as one in our perspectives. Because we can’t hope that the recent spike in violence is an aberration. Most of all, because we can’t afford to keep screaming at each other from opposite sides while people we love are dying in the claws of the monster we’ve created from the sinews of our stubbornness.
We can’t move forward as long as we consider the concerns of people who disagree with us meaningless, ignorant, or unthinking. Certainly, that approach is the one we’ve taken for the past several election cycles, and it’s only getting us mired more deeply at the two extremes. Respectful disagreement is only possible when we listen to hear, and that’s very hard for most of us and well nigh impossible for those who are driven to be right.
And I’d far rather move forward than be right.