How to disagree and still see each other’s humanity
“The problem is not that we disagree, but that our disagreements have become so callous, emotional and inconsiderate,” wrote Michael Wear in his book “Reclaiming Hope.” Wear used to work for President Obama on faith-based and neighborhood partnerships.
I was reading through “Reclaiming Hope” just hours after a memorial Mass for Michael Potemra, my colleague at National Review, the other day. He was an excellent editor, but Mike didn’t agree with every word the magazine published. None of us do, truth be told, but he’d be in that boat more often than most of us — and he’d at least be funny about it.
The same day of Mike’s memorial Mass, Melania Trump wore that jacket on the plane to visit migrant children who had been separated from their parents. “I really don’t care, do u?” the jacket read. To me, it seemed pretty clear what it was about from the get-go.
Wasn’t there obsessive coverage recently about her having “gone missing” from the public eye after surgery? I’ve done enough radio and read enough emails and comments in recent days — or years — to know that people are fed up. They don’t trust the media. Sometimes there’s no trust of neighbors, and certainly not of strangers.
Many are grateful to have a president who says what he is thinking to whoever will listen. I’m convinced the whole business with the jacket will get her husband’s party more votes in the midterm elections.
That’s where we are in America today. No Trump started the fire. As Wear put it, “Donald Trump is responsible for his actions, but the table was set for his election by what we deemed acceptable in our politics — and in ourselves. … The polarization of our politics and our communities is a defining feature of modern American life. Our inability to understand and empathize with our neighbors is straining our society to its breaking point.”
Wear goes on: “Our politics is now predicated on making those who disagree with us beneath our notice. This is to the benefit of those who run for office and of the interest groups structured to ignore alternative viewpoints. But it is not at all to our collective benefit. We the people cannot allow our neighbors to become invisible, for doing so makes living together peaceably and fruitfully nearly impossible.”
Charles Krauthammer died the same day as the memorial Mass for Mike. I only knew him a little, compared to many friends who worked with him day in, day out on Fox News and elsewhere. But he taught me about things fundamental to Christianity, frankly — like the Beatitudes, in both personal deeds and in some of the questions he asked.
We’ve become a nation of pundits, watching and pouncing. But perhaps Charles Krauthammer and Mike Potemra died recently for a reason. Both of them had some sense of awe about them. A sense of stewardship and service, too.
In his final column, Charles wrote:
“I believe that the pursuit of truth and right ideas through honest debate and rigorous argument is a noble undertaking. I am grateful to have played a small role in the conversations that have helped guide this extraordinary nation’s destiny.”
In his book, he talks about how our political questions are always at the service of the higher ones.
Wear cites C.S. Lewis: “A sick society must think much about politics, as a sick man must think much about his digestion. However, if either comes to regard it as the natural food of his mind — if either forgets that we think of such things only in order to be able to think of something else — then what was undertaken for the sake of health has become itself a new and deadly disease.”
Having Mike around National Review definitely kept us from the “new disease” of taking ourselves too seriously, even when handling some of the most important issues of the day. He took these things seriously, but in balance.
And because his views could be unique, as he was, he set a challenge before us, one that Wear raises in his book: “On the issue of our day, we must not only ask ourselves whether our position is correct, but also raise to the surface the question of why our neighbors are not quite convinced as well.”
It may have something to do with the way we made them feel during the course of a Facebook debate.
It may have something to do with whether or not they have seen us as people of the Beatitudes. It may have something to do with whether humanity seems as important to us as politics, and whether they can tell humanity is the “why” of our politics.
A better politics requires us being better. Good men come and go, daily, who remind us it’s possible, even among a nation of pundits.
Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review Online and founding director of Catholic Voices USA. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.