This is one from the archives, but it seemed fitting in light of the [ongoing] government shutdown.
Sometimes it is painful how much my mom and I seem to fulfill the stereotypes of our roles. She is the faithful conservative, religiously devout, financial over-comfortable and stubbornly old-school. I play the role of the steadfast liberal, en-route up the economic ladder, evangelically atheist, and sensible to an extreme degree. We love each other fiercely and clumsily display our political and religious views when we have a particularly potent weapon or, as is more often the case, an unbearable itch to scratch.
I want badly to tell my mom that every time we have a political debate, I end up respecting her less. But to do so would be to admit that my respect for her arguments has already flagged to half-mast. We are dabbling with a truce period in which we do-not-preach-and-so-do-not-get-preached-to but there is a “right-place right-time” exit clause. Conveniently, I am an ocean away, spending 4 months abroad traveling and learning to speak French. In this configuration our debates cannot possibly spoil any family dinners or holiday celebrations so, it is basically all fair game. My mom sent a lovely email updating me to the goings-on of our family, which ended with a salutation that included some combination of “tax day,” “tea party,” and “educate yourself” all in the same paragraph. I shouldn’t have to point this out but it should be known that I didn’t start this.
Anyway, I wrote a message back about my stance. What I considered a well written, off-the-cuff, brutally accurate statement-of-beliefs which served as a subterfuge for my devastating attack. Since we are still related, I ended with a plea for clarification, asking her to explain that which I cannot understand and which I can only hope to have misunderstood. 3 weeks later, my mom has not responded.
This exact scenario has played itself out before. Just over a year ago when I was in South Africa for 4 months working with an environmental rights group, she chose to bait me with some very reasonable snippets from the Communist Manifesto to prove that I was a Socialist (at best). I went into my analysis of the spectrum of political philosophy from Dictatorship thru to Communism and have yet to get any feedback. The point is that, however air-tight or swiss-cheese my arguments are, I am left unsatisfied because I am not given the dignity of a response. My mother has the maddening strategy of a drone attack. Leaving the victim looking around at the shit that just rained down on them and deprived of the dignity to respond. Unable even to utilize a snappy come-back, since the comedic pause has long expired.
Maybe it is better this way. After all, when we are left to truly debate, we never convince each other of anything, we end up becoming more polarized in our beliefs, spoiling birthdays and recitals, and pushing apart from one another. Maybe at this point, the long-armed attack is better than none. We can prove ourselves every once in awhile with a self-righteous jab when the other one is looking the other way. Our debates are indefinitely postponed and deadlocked. Of course this mild aggravation is far better than the consequences if we were able to truly flush out our thoughts. Ultimately it leaves me with a sense of respect for politicians whose job it is to address their differences every day, and an utter lack of hope that they will every get anywhere.