Dear Belladonna Rogers:
I live in deep blue America and am a conservative. When I see old friends after a long absence, or meet new people, they assume I’m a liberal Democrat, in part because they are, and also because I live in a blue city in a blue state. I don’t like to argue in social settings, so normally I don’t reveal my political views. I can deal with differences of opinion, but what I find increasingly unpleasant is how smug and nasty liberal Democrats are when referring to conservatives, Republicans, or even independents. I’d like to remain close to old friends and form new friendships, too. How do you suggest I deal with the demeaning attitudes and intense anger that so many liberals express toward conservatives these days?
— Adrift in San Francisco
(1) It is unpleasant to be treated as a moron, or criminally insane, a traitor to all that’s good and true, and, of course, a pariah, just because of your politics. It’s even more than unpleasant to incur wrath because you don’t want to dive head first into the blue seas of the liberal Democrats around you. In regions like yours it’s easy to be blindsided — stunned, really — by the unanimity of idolatry toward the current president. It’s galling to be presented with this uncongenial Venti, topped off as it invariably is by the latte of condescension. Disdainful liberals are unable to hide their contempt for those who differ with them. You begin what seems like an enjoyable conversation, but as soon you declare your political perspective, you go from being an attractive object of interest to the objectionable equivalent of a social leper.
(2) As soon as you realize that you’ve been presumed to be a liberal, nip it in the bud. Say that you’re a conservative. And say it as calmly as you can, not as if it’s a challenge to a duel. You may have to practice while you’re doing the dishes, but get to a point where you can say it with the same nonchalance as if you’re saying, “I’m from Nebraska.” No big deal. If you don’t reveal your politics as soon as you realize that the other person presumes you’re a liberal, you’ll become increasingly restless in the political closet as you mutely endure the slings and arrows of outrageous insults heaped on you and your fellow conservatives. You’ll also find yourself annoyed, not least at yourself, as you suffer through the predictable barrage of liberal arrogance. However conflict-averse you may be, not revealing your true colors is like trying to pass as something you’re not. Silence implies assent, and your silence won’t serve you well.
If you don’t disclose where you stand early on, you’ll become ever more irritated by how your liberal friends — having assumed you were one of them — refer to conservatives, and by the time you do tell them the truth, you’ll be far more exasperated than if you’d spoken up immediately. By the same token, your liberal friends will be equally irritated at you. They’ll feel that you deceived them which, by your silence, is exactly what you did.
(3) Your tone matters. Don’t be defensive, condescending, or aggressive with others, even when, or especially when, they address you in these ways. Be clear and friendly — and give them a chance to continue the conversation or let it drop.
(4) Your implied fear that expressing your political perspective may drive a wedge between you and your new and old friends is justified. It will put some distance between you and them, but in this case good fences make good neighbors by clearly demarcating the potentially toxic territory between you and them.
Think of it this way: if relationships are structures, revealing your political views will ensure that yours are built on firm ground and not on the quicksand of implicit deceit.
Even without a heated argument, a calm discussion is difficult to have with many liberals because they limit themselves to so few sources of information. An interesting exchange is foreclosed by their willful ignorance. It can be like talking with a cult member whose involvement forbids contact with anything that isn’t cult-approved.
When your interlocutor reads the New York Times and The New Yorker, listens to National Public Radio, and watches The Rachel Maddow Show — all uncritically and in the mistaken belief that these are objective sources of accurate information, what you’re dealing with is a person with an extremely restricted understanding of the country and the world. These parochial news sources reinforce one another. And even worse, the liberal will usually refuse to expose him-or-herself to a wider variety of sources. I, myself, had the experience of emailing a liberal acquaintance a link to an insightful op-ed piece that appeared in a newspaper that is, apparently, on the liberal “do not read” list. In reply, he wrote, “The Wall Street Journal? Please take me off your distribution list, Belladonna.” Wouldn’t even read it. He saw the source, knew it wasn’t approved, and that was that.
(5) What not to do: Don’t think you can convert a liberal to your views. Political affiliation has become a matter of tribal and personal identification with a group. Although it may appear to be rational, it isn’t, entirely. It’s emotional. The desire to remain a liberal, even in the face of all the evidence of its failures, is born of humanity’s — and all living creatures’ — deepest instincts to affiliate with others and to retain that affiliation regardless of logic or facts. Not everyone has either the desire or the need to think analytically about political realities. Many base their politics on a yearning to be part of a movement larger than themselves.
By revealing that you’re a conservative, what the liberal will hear is this: “I could have chosen to be a member of your tribe, but I’ve decided your tribe doesn’t represent my understanding of the world.” What this, in turn, conveys to the liberal is, “I’ve rejected the premises that undergird your entire world view. The foundations of your understanding of the world are not mine.”
While people can and do change, they don’t turn around on a dime because of a single powerful conversation over drinks or dinner. Change occurs, if at all, over years or decades, through the slow accretion of new or newly-understood information and newly-formed impressions, as well as through the gradual accumulation of experiences and observations.
(6) Adult friends cannot and do not agree on everything. You can try in an amicable way to agree to disagree on politics. You can look for other areas of commonality. You may or may not succeed in your search.
It’s also possible that your differing political views are too powerful to sustain a close friendship, even if you succeed in finding other areas of mutual interest. The enormity of your political differences may always be the rogue elephant looming in the corner, ready to trample on discussions of a wide variety of other topics.
(7) When revealing that they’re not liberals, some conservatives will add, “I’m a fiscal conservative and a foreign policy hawk, but on domestic social issues such as abortion, gun control and gay marriage, I think you and I would agree.” Of course, if that’s not true of you, that option isn’t available.
(8) Many conservative women, in particular, encounter liberal men in social settings who become uncontrollably loud and abusive when a conservative woman fails to nod pleasantly and express respectful agreement with his political views. When this happens, remain as cool as you can. Hold your ground. Let the liberal become apoplectic while you calmly say, “I disagree with your characterization” or “I don’t share your contempt,” “I don’t accept your premises,” or “I see things differently.”
You be the rational one, while the liberal is driven around the bend not only by your views and your knowledgeable statement of facts, but also by your composure and your refusal to be bullied.
Don’t be surprised or stunned into silence or submission when this happens. And it will happen. Expect it. Trust me.
(9) Try to be patient with your liberal friends. Their unexamined premises and their overwhelming desire for affiliation with their tribe are understandable, and not everyone has the temperament or inclination to think for him-or-herself. They’re like prisoners trapped in a dungeon, unable to escape.
(10) You could approach the challenge this way: try to show the liberals in your life what a thoughtful conservative is really like — as distinct from the demented fiend on the lunatic fringe conjured by their fevered imaginations.
— By Belladonna Rogers