A few weeks ago, a dear friend texted me, “I’ve been wondering. How do you and your husband deal with the election, ya know, since he’s a Republican?”
I laughed out loud at her text, but there is a serious undertone to it. We are, in fact, a “mixed marriage.”
I hail from what some might call a “raging liberal democratic (Jewish) family.” Yup, my parents were hippies and their kids have not strayed too far, at least from their politics. And if you would have told me 15 years ago I would be happily married to a—gasp—republican, I would have told you that you’re out of your mind.
But it was our mutual love of politics and authentic interest in debate and the state of the country that contributed to our attraction. We met in Washington, DC just over nine years ago. We had both majored in political science, focusing on the Middle East and Israel, and both worked in politics, he for a presidential campaign and political strategy firm, and me for a lobbying firm. I scoffed when I first met him: He was younger than me, he was from New Jersey (ick), and he was, indeed, a Republican. Practically a four-letter word for me.
Nevertheless, I gave him a chance, which (obviously) has a very happy ending, at least on the days when he doesn’t leave his laundry all over the bedroom floor.
Now that we have both left the (wonderfully nerdy) bubble of Washington DC for suburban New Jersey (not so ick, turns out) and neither of us work in politics any longer, we still crave the engagement in current affairs and healthy debate. We have both influenced one another’s views: My husband has become a vocal advocate for LGBT issues, and he has challenged my positions on taxes and economy. (I won’t quite go quite so far as to say he has changed my mind, but he has forced me to examine my positions.)
Some people have been critical of his changed position, saying I have “converted” him. But I view the political challenges we have given one another as the best possible outcome when two people have diverging viewpoints. We debated, we researched, we debated some more, and we moved a little closer to one another through education and conversation.
Like a marriage, a healthy political system needs checks and balances and will thrive from respectful, ongoing, healthy debate. I would like to think that’s one of the ways a government can best act in its citizens best interests: by elected officials challenging one another, and by listening to dissimilar viewpoints with an open mind. It doesn’t always result in a vast change of view, but hopefully it does result in greater knowledge.
We will probably never agree on foreign policy or taxes, though I am now trying to better understand the minimum wage debate as a result of our conversations. We agree on most other domestic issues, especially gun policies and reform considering recent tragic events. There is one thing we agree on of late: what a crazy upside down and somewhat terrifying election this has been. And I am relieved with the degree to which he has been disenchanted with the Republican party of late.
This election has truly brought out the worst in all of us. It’s emotional. It’s frustrating. Those are understatements. It’s hard to scroll through Facebook without seeing dozens of inciteful posts from both sides, and of course, it’s so easy to have strong, sometimes hateful opinions when it’s online. Which is one of the reasons I do appreciate having a partner with whom I can debate in person.
We all tend to stick to our bubbles and shy away from debates that could be contentious in person. It’s hard when someone you love doesn’t agree with you on an issue you feel passionately about. But I think that’s one of the reasons the country is as polarized as we are right now: We react emotionally instead of rationally; we respond to a headline before actually reading a piece; and we don’t take the time to know “the other.”
“If you understand each other you will be kind to each other. Knowing a man well never lead to hate and almost always leads to love,” wrote John Steinbeck.
I am scared about the outcome of this election, but I remain pro-dialogue. And I am happy to be married to a thoughtful, smart, albeit messy, Republican who is happy to (respectfully) duke it out with this raging Democrat.