Commentary

Crib Notes: How people get their politics

By From page A5 | July 12, 2017

I heard a news pundit recently say that the reason America is so divided is because we’ve become too focused on political doctrine at the expense of community. In other words, we’ve become hyper-focused on ideas but we aren’t taking the time to get to know our neighbors. If we did, we would realize we most likely have more in common than we do not.

I’ll take it one more step and suggest you broach a taboo topic: talk politics. Without scorn, when the time is right, ask others whom you admire why they have the political persuasion that they do. How do people get their politics? Since the 2012 election I’ve been fascinated by this question.

By 2016 a lot of Americans learned that the interpersonal stakes were too high to say who they were voting for. Thus the shock on Election Day. Polls had consistently shown that Hillary Clinton would win the presidency.

The truth is that there aren’t black or white reasons for voting the way that we do. For most of us, the reasons are complex and no amount of name calling is going to change perspectives that may have been formed in childhood, so we may as well give up trying to change other people’s minds. Instead, if we took the time to hear the full story behind a person’s political ideology, it might be hard to stay angry.

I asked one man, a self-described liberal, what turning points in his life made him so. His reasons were multi-layered, but what stood out was that as a young boy he saw firsthand how government assistance served as a hand-up, life saving actually, for his single mother, and in turn for him and his siblings. There are millions of other stories like his, all with different circumstances.

In author J.D. Vance’s current bestselling book “Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis,” Vance describes how myriad life events, including seeing people take advantage of the welfare system when he was a cashier, shaped his views. Without outright calling himself a conservative in the book, during the 2016 Election Vance’s memoir served as a guide to understand why many poor, rural, working class Americans voted for Donald Trump. Still, Vance’s story transcends politics, just as all of our stories do.

The same news pundit also said that a nation comes together when there is something to unite its people, like during war. Americans rallied together during World War II and many of us witnessed the greatest coming together we had ever seen in our lifetimes in the days after 9/11. If we could find ways to better connect in this increasingly isolated world — a world that ironically has also gotten so small — we could come a lot further in bridging the divide that seems so great sometimes.

I’ve been reminded again of the waste of time people devote to hating others with painful reminders of how fleeting life is. As of this writing I am traveling to my 45-year-old first cousin’s funeral. He leaves behind a wife and 5-year-old daughter. His father, my 84-year-old uncle, and his three much older siblings are devastated to say the least by the loss of their beloved child and brother. My older cousins even referred to their little brother as their “first baby.” One year ago, cancer was the furthest thing from his mind.

The day after my cousin died, I learned of yet another local father who has also died too soon, leaving three minor children and a grieving wife to begin to fathom living the rest of their lives without him.

Life is too short, folks. Fighting over politics or condemning those with a different opinion just isn’t worth it.

And from you, I’d love to understand: How did you get your politics?

Julie Samrick is an El Dorado Hills mother of four children. She can be reached at [email protected]

Julie Samrick

Discussion | 1 comment

  • NoraJuly 21, 2017 - 8:11 am

    Interesting, but another main reason that we're so divided is that so many of us choose to believe things that just aren't true. Critical thinking is sadly lacking and especially on the right though not exclusively. Another good question to ask is where do you get your information? Of course that usually becomes pretty obvious. Do people the favor of teaching them how to fact check though you'll find that many have no interest in fact based reality whatsoever. As grandma used to say, "none so blind as he who will not see".

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