It was Sunday School in the Age of Trump.
It's not uncommon in some mainstream faiths for the Sunday School hour to be casual, not strictly spiritual, and inclined to discussions of secular subjects.
But I told the class that, as the morning's guest presenter, I'd presumed to prepare what I called a "little political homily."
I said I'd relate it if time permitted in our otherwise news-driven discussion of impeachment, the Democratic presidential field and seminal issues newly facing the Little Rock schools.
Something in the conversation caused me to take the time to squeeze in the homily. It was when I said it was unfair to call "racist" those pushing a plan to separate the failing schools in Little Rock's minority neighborhoods from the rest of the city school district.
The plan, I contended, could be effectively a segregation reprise, insensitive to issues of racial division and a tacit and unknowing implication of systemic racism. But I said it could be all that--and ought to be confronted by opponents as all that--without being personally racist in the hearts of the people advancing it.
Thus, here was the essence of the little political homily: Our politics has become polarized to the point of dysfunction because of something the Trump presidency is both a result of and catalyst for more of.
It's that, anymore, we take political differences entirely personally, viscerally, bitterly. It's that we've lost sight that the functioning way to negotiate political difference is not for anyone to change one's philosophy, but for everyone to heighten their sensitivities--directing those sensitivities outwardly to those who differ rather than exaggerating them inwardly to feed their own resentments.
Let's say you were on the state Board of Education and you voted for the plan to return most but not all of the Little Rock schools to local control. Let's say you thought--insensitively, mistakenly, without proper historic understanding--that the plan to keep minority-neighborhood schools separate in terms of governance for the purpose of special emphasis would be a positive thing.
Let's say you reeled when people in the community said your plan was 1957 revisited. And let's say you began to wonder if maybe Trump wasn't right about "fake news" when an Associated Press article drawn from the local race controversy wound up in the big East Coast newspapers.
The oversensitive and dysfunctional reaction to all that is to take offense at being called racist rather than consider why some people would see it that way--just as the rush by those who attacked your original action as motivated by racist attitudes were engaging in oversensitive and dysfunctional reaction.
We're not going to get anywhere that way.
It's more easily said than done to begin reacting less personally and viscerally and with greater sensitivity not to our tender selves but to those with whom we disagree. But we'll never be able to do if we don't say it out loud.
There are countless everyday examples of this affliction.
A few years ago, in the afternoon a few hours after I'd led my usual retirees' class, I read on social media a post by an amused man who said he'd been confronted on a parking lot that morning by a woman asking him where he was headed and if he could give her a ride to her home. He said the conversation during the ride centered on the fact that the woman had been dropped off for my class, and that I had promptly called her a "deplorable" and that she had refused to sit another minute for such an insult.
I racked my brain to recall what she might have been talking about. Finally, it hit me: A woman down front had made a quip about "deplorables" and I--the one with the microphone reaching the woman in the back--had said something dismissively agreeable to her like, "yeah, deplorables."
Why, upon hearing that, would this woman assume a personal insult and choose a car ride with a stranger over raising her hand to ask: "Did you just call Trump voters deplorables, and thus me a deplorable, and why?"
Think about it: Hillary Clinton used the word "deplorables" to refer to a subset of Trump voters. It was a general political observation covering unnamed persons including white supremacists and nativists. Yet every Trump voter seems to assume the insult was directed at him or her personally.
There is this recent example: Dr. Angela Maxwell, a political science professor at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, is the primary author of a new book that says the long-term Republican strategy to take over the South exploited not only racial resentments, but an old Southern culture that placed white women on pedestals to be protected from black men, and thus was susceptible to scare tactics about the Equal Rights Amendment and other feminist issues.
So there is a young Republican woman who serves in the state Senate from Russellville. Her named is Breanne Davis. She went on Twitter to scoff bitterly at Maxwell's notion.
Davis tweeted, "Southern women: Ever wonder how to know if you're stupid, racist, anti-feminist, brainwashed by white men, and should be apologizing for who you are? [Professor Maxwell] has the answer for us and apparently it only applies to Republican women."
I dared to chance a Twitter reply to the senator to say the book's assertion might have been about data and research and broad generational and cultural influences serving to explain a political dynamic, not about the senator personally.
Data, research and observations about broad generational and cultural influences would tell you that 60-something white males living in Arkansas are angry, gun-toting Trumpians.
As a 60-something white male living in Arkansas, I can plainly see the general accuracy of that observation while proudly secure in the knowledge that at least one 60-something white male living in Arkansas is special, exceptional.
Let's all work on being special and exceptional.
Let's all try to deflect confidently rather than absorb hyper-sensitively.
John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.
Web only on 10/02/2019
Print Headline: BRUMMETT ONLINE: Don't take it personally