I have been pretty honest and clear about my refusal to sing Kumbaya with the other side on policy. But I’m not willing to demonize people with whom I disagree in areas where politics and policy, ideology and integrity are irrelevant.
Case in point: Phil Murphy.
The governor of New Jersey was out last month dining with family, when two irate constituents began to heckle him with foul but familiar epithets. I will leave to your fertile imaginations the sort of things that were thrown around (and yes, they had some passing reference to fertility). It was a disgraceful, horrific display of subhuman behavior. It was wrong, and none but the most brainwashed partisan could justify that type of conduct.
It’s exactly the same type of behavior I condemned when I saw it being used against members of the Trump administration and perceived allies, people like Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Mark Meadows and “Javanka.” It was the same rude, crude hatchetry used against Melania and her son Barron, against former DHS Secretary Kirsten Neilson, against Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett.
Vile is vile, no matter the voter registration of the abuser.
I understand that we are a divided country, and I have absolutely no problem with the divisions when they impact governance and fundamental rights. I will bring the full weight of my anger against legislators who push for liberalized abortion laws, against women who make false accusations against female jurists and lawyers they do not like, against men who are selective with their misogyny.
But that is what I will do at the public level, at the level where dissent is effective, necessary and appropriate. What I will not do is carry this over to my personal interactions with friends (the easy part) and strangers (much harder), because that will require hypocrisy, and there is nothing that I despise and devalue more than hypocrisy.
In the intimate relationships that form the tiny pieces of the great life mosaic, there is a need for reciprocal respect, and an open mind. From people who represent nothing more than the face of our own humanity, we should demand kindness. And we should extend the same, until it is no longer deserved.
I am not saying that I will always turn the other check. In fact, I never have. In terms of Christian perfection, you could put me in the lower third of the virtue pyramid. I was born a fighter, under the sign of St. Michael. Don’t tread on me, and all that.
But again, this is when I see my lifestyle, livelihood and value system threatened. Joe Biden will find no friend in Christine Flowers if he does what he has promised to do, including his desire to enshrine abortion rights in a constitutional amendment, or those things he has refused to reject, like packing the courts. In those instances, the battle armor is hanging in the closet, shined up and ready for wear.
Still, not every moment is political. Not every act is public. Not every gesture carries a dual intent, a dichotomy in connotation and import. Some things are private, and impact only the normal intercourse between human beings of good faith.
For example, I was in a Barnes and Noble bathroom last week when I overheard one woman ask another to put on a mask. I would never do that, because (1) I am not in the business of mask-shaming and (2) I am worried about the reaction I might get. And given what happened in the bathroom, I would be entirely justified in that anxiety.
The maskless woman started screaming racial epithets at the other woman, calling her a “white (fill in the blank)” and telling her that she would “(blank up) her white (blank)” for daring to make what, in all honesty, is a fairly normal request these days. Stunned barely describes my reaction, as I imitated that little Amish boy in “Witness” and pulled my legs up so no one would know I was in the room. (I later made a report to the security.)
Then you have the people who were issuing death threats to public officials in Georgia who, despite pressure from the White House, continue to do their jobs and certify the election. That is madness, and it is borderline criminal. We have become an angry, vicious tribe, and the vitriol transcends voter registration.
I hope that I can find that point of commonality with my political enemies, in the moments when we can be personal friends. I hope that we can all navigate the roiling waters, raging fires and storms that surely await, with one singular Polestar: Decency when it is warranted, caution and benefit of the doubt when it is unclear, and a righteous war cry to the heavens when the enemies come at us with their swords.
Phil Murphy was eating dinner. No swords were out. Sometimes, a meal is just a damn meal, and should be honored with silence, in anticipation of higher battles.
Flowers is an attorney and a columnist for the Delaware County Daily Times, and can be reached at email@example.com.