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Sue Lani Madsen: We need more dialogue, less fear

UPDATED: Fri., May 12, 2017, 10:20 p.m.

Thousands of protesters walk around the Grand Hotel in downtown Spokane, Jan. 21, 2017. The Women’s March took place in many cities across the nation to protest the policies and proposals of the new president, Donald Trump. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Thousands of protesters walk around the Grand Hotel in downtown Spokane, Jan. 21, 2017. The Women’s March took place in many cities across the nation to protest the policies and proposals of the new president, Donald Trump. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

None of us was sure what to expect. Eleven progressives had been recruited from the Indivisible Spokane movement to tell their personal stories. I brought a friend as my wingman. Everyone was a little tense, except the toddler accompanying her father. She settled in to get acquainted with my lovable lug of a dog. I brought Herbie because I was nervous too.

The face-to-face meeting grew out of a Facebook exchange. Cynthia Hamilton, founding member of the local Indivisibles, hoped for a continuation of a dialogue the two of us had started last month seeking to answer my question.

What are progressives afraid of?

For conservatives, whether they voted for Trump or not, the persistent hyper-reaction to every move by the new administration is baffling. Changing parties changes priorities. The White House has flipped political parties every four to eight years since 1945 with only one exception. Trump following Obama is normal from a historical perspective.

Republicans weren’t happy in 2008, but there wasn’t the deep division we’ve all experienced the last five months. “On election night, we felt like we’d been kicked in the gut. People are afraid of the policies; it’s not just the man,” said Cynthia.

But the same thing was said by Republicans then. What’s different now?

I am grateful to those who took the time to share their stories. Michael described his election night reaction to a man whose campaign statements he sees as emboldening white supremacists to act out. Alfonse had been offended by President Trump’s campaign kickoff speech and remains concerned about immigration and the environment. Darlene and Jennie focused on health care. Jerry had concerns about living on Social Security. George agreed with everyone, and added his comments on foreign policy and use of the military.

Jenna stopped by with her two babies in tow to defend Planned Parenthood as a health care provider. No one is pro-abortion, no one would advocate killing a baby “unless they’re a really sick person,” Jenna said. It was 45 minutes into the conversation, and everyone was a little more relaxed. We managed a civil discussion about a subject described by a federal district judge in 2013 as “the most divisive issue to face this country since slavery.” It wasn’t a deep dive but a good start to a dialogue.

But what about the fear?

Bonnie described herself as growing up in a progressive liberal household, but said she always felt she could trust Republicans. They were predictable and “you knew what you were going to get, even with Nixon and Bush.” This time she feels like there’s just too much happening too fast, and the anxiety is overwhelming her. There are more than a few Republicans who yearn for that old predictability, but that’s not what the country elected.

It was impossible to listen to Bonnie without feeling the depth of her fear, and to feel helpless to fix it. Like everything else, there’s a social media meme for that: “Never in the history of calming down has someone calmed down by being told to calm down.”

What will help us calm down?

My wingman, Susan Wilmoth, serves as state committeewoman for the Spokane County Republicans. When the anonymous college student at the end of the table described his fears on election night, he and Susan found they shared a common frustration. He was brought here from Mexico as an 11-year-old boy and has jumped through all the hoops, paid all the fees, is just one step away from U.S. citizenship. Susan has been on the same journey with her Australian husband for more than 20 years. Both are fighting a broken immigration system.

Ed Duhaime serves as state committeeman for the Spokane County Democrats. He objected to the demonization of the left, and described the right as having degenerated into a cult. But transpose left and right, and many Republicans would say the same.

We may not agree on which side suffers most from media stereotypes, but we agreed on this. “We’re becoming very divided, with two camps who can’t even talk to each other. And that’s dangerous,” said Ed.

I’m glad I listened. We still have differences. But let’s keep talking.


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