I recently mentioned Facebook-unfriending a Trump supporter from my high school in a tweet (Can you imagine a bigger millennial stereotype?). One of my former classmates tweeted back, “you unfriended someone just because they had a different political opinion than you?”
His statement reminds me a lot of those sappy social media posts about unity in the face of division. You’ve seen them, or something like them: a Facebook photo of a car that has both a Trump and a Clinton sticker captioned, “My husband and I don’t always agree, but we don’t let politics get in the way of our impassioned lovemaking! Don’t let the media fool you!! We can disagree as a nation and still all be intimately in love with one another. #ONELOVE #HUMANRACE” followed by the “couple with heart” and American flag emojis.
It seems like a proper time to invoke what I like to call Vallandigham’s Law, named (by me) after Clement Vallandigham, the primary leader of the anti-war Copperheads during the American Civil War. Vallandigham’s Law dictates that for every Instagram photo of a Hijabi woman being egged, there exists a Facebook status about two neighbors with opposing political lawn signs breaking bread at their community barbeque. The former is meant to demonstrate the vitriol surrounding politics; the latter, to demonstrate the goodness that still exists in spite of it. In other words, public responses to presidential campaigns consist of a tug-of-war of polarized rhetoric and feel-good anti-polarization stories.
There’s this fundamental understanding in political discourse that when all this (whatever “this” is) is said and done, we’re all going to be pals. According to this general perception, the most respectable partisans and ideologues are those who are able to set their differences aside and interact as human beings, rather than as ideological antipodes. There’s a huge underlying assumption in this attitude, and in the aforementioned cutesy Facebook posts: that somehow ideology can be separated from the individual. This assumption is dubious. True, you are more than the sum of your political beliefs, but your political ideology is deeply rooted in your predispositions and your personal history. Similarly, your personal behavior is deeply affected by your political beliefs. The relationship between individual and ideology is anything but alienated. It’s connected. It’s circular.
Macropolitics cannot be separated from micropolitics. There’s a tough line to toe here: how do you reconcile beliefs that are deeply offensive to you, and still maintain politesse with those who hold those beliefs? How do you uphold the ideals of capital-D Discourse in a democracy, yet exhibit intolerance for the most repugnant of beliefs? I think it’s easier to have this sort of happy, friendly Discourse when mainstream politics is simply people with differing means of protecting similar values. Today, I don’t think that definition fits.
Honestly, I am no longer asking myself these questions of how to tolerate vulgar rhetoric, because I have decided to tolerate it no longer. Yes, I should be tolerant of other beliefs, especially when they differ from mine. After all, I expect the same tolerance from others. However, I don’t think I’m obligated to provide the same tolerance when a belief is rooted in a fundamentally malicious value. To give an extreme example, if someone says, “I hate Black people,” I will not respond with “Wow! That’s such an interesting and fresh perspective. I love Discourse and talking to people with different ideologies.” Instead, I will lose respect for that individual, because the individual is inseparable from their hazardous belief. We are no longer children who are excused from our statements and beliefs because we “don’t know any better.” We are adults, and we should be held accountable for our opinions.
It’s difficult for me to admit to intolerance. While writing this, I’m reminded of a Dalai Lama quote that says, “In the practice of tolerance, one’s enemy is the best teacher.” I’m also reminded of comedian W. Kamau Bell having a meal with a member of the KKK in order to understand where their malice stems from, in order to humanize this hateful group. It’s strange; I’m ordinarily all about listening and empathy even when others are so profoundly against my beliefs. But at this point, I’m not sure if this sort of tolerance is effective. I think a more applicable quote is one from Gilbert K. Chesterton: “Tolerance is the virtue of the man without convictions.”
So, yes, I did, and continue to criticize people in my personal life for their political beliefs, because now these beliefs have become personally offensive to me. These are comments excusing sexual violence against women, excusing the mass profiling of Muslim-Americans, excusing authoritarianism, excusing blatant racism. I am generally tolerant of differing opinions, but I cannot be tolerant of this. I have to draw the line somewhere. This is it.
Pegah Moradi is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. All Jokes Aside appears alternate Mondays this semester.