Politics by Bumper Sticker

Driving on the highway the other day, I passed a car with a “Coexist” bumper sticker, the cheerful one with symbols from the world’s great religions. Warm feelings flooded through me.  I love these stickers. To me, they symbolize  open-mindedness, inclusiveness, and respectful appreciation of our differences.

I gave the driver a friendly smile as I passed him. Then I stiffened as I got behind a truck with a prominent “Pro-Life” bumper sticker. Because I believed that the decision to terminate a pregnancy was a deeply personal one that should be left up to the individual, I figured this driver would think my car should be adorned with a “Pro-Death” bumper sticker.  The lines of this debate have been drawn so starkly that there is little room for someone like me who would much prefer alternatives to abortion but knows this is not my decision to make for someone else.

As I drew closer to the truck in front of me, I noticed another sticker. This one proudly proclaimed, “0% liberal.” Really? There is not even one eensy “liberal” idea the driver could tolerate? Wow. How did our politics devolve into this zero-sum game? Even I, a liberal Democrat, am a fan of free trade, which used to be Republican orthodoxy.

I want to be someone who engages in civil discourse, who respects the opinions of others, and who “seeks first to understand.” But truthfully, I’m having a hard time with that. After class one day during this past presidential campaign, two of my most capable students told me they were “definitely going for Trump.” When I asked them to explain, they said, “Clinton wants to take away our guns.” I countered with, “I don’t think that’s what she said. She supports the Second Amendment but wants sensible gun controls.”

They both shook their heads emphatically. No, they insisted. Didn’t I watch Fox News? She was going to take away their guns.

I felt as sad and frustrated that day as the day I passed the truck with the “0% liberal” bumper sticker.

There has to be a better way. Can we at least agree that facts matter?

Some days I wonder.

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