By Dustin McKissen, Guest Blogger
I live in St. Charles, Missouri, right in the part of America country music singers always sing about. My family and I moved here in 2013. About a year later my mom passed away, and my wife and I needed to leave town and take care of her funeral. Unfortunately, we couldn’t afford to bring our kids on such short notice.
Despite knowing very few people in our new community, the entire neighborhood stepped up. Our kids spent a week going from house to house, getting consoled with unlimited mac n’ cheese and Netflix. People here in our adopted hometown look out for each other.
I learned that again the following year.
My wife, who was a stay-at-home mom for 12 years, started volunteering at our community’s startup incubator. A short while later she was hired to be the incubator manager. Valuing the transferrable skills of a stay-at-home mom is a progressive, uncommon employment practice, and for our family it happened in a conservative community in one of the reddest states on the map.
The people of Red-State America aren’t Neanderthals.
My wife isn’t chained to a stove.
My Republican neighbor doesn’t have a welcome mat with a swastika on it.
But some of my neighbors can be just as guilty of thinking of their counterparts in other parts of the country in similarly simplistic terms.
This past December I appeared on Patriot Radio, a conservative channel on Sirius XM. During the show the host kept referring to Democrats as “coastal elites.” Hearing the host use the term made me think of my very liberal brother. He lives in Seattle, but he is no one’s idea of a “coastal elite.” He attends Seattle Seahawks games with his giant beard dyed neon green. He manages an auto parts store and builds hot rods on the side. You will never hear my brother use terms like “safe space” or “trigger word.”
My brother didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton because he wanted to see vanilla ice cream, Chevy trucks, and all else that is good and holy about America banned. In fact, my brother likes vanilla ice cream and owns a Chevy truck. My brother voted for Hillary Clinton for the same reason my neighbor voted for Trump: he believed she was the candidate who best spoke to his concerns.
Even if they didn’t know he was my brother, my Republican neighbors have never shown an inclination to take out one of their multiple firearms and start shooting at him, nor has my brother ever shown a desire to make his way to Missouri and force my Catholic, conservative neighbor to liquidate his 401(k) and give all the money to Planned Parenthood.
You wouldn’t know that from listening to our present political rhetoric. On a regular basis politicians, pundits, bloggers, and a whole lot of regular people use political dialogue laden with references to war and violence—including Senator Rand Paul’s tweet from a year ago that suggested the Second Amendment exists specifically to shoot at the government.
This week the violent rhetoric became more than just mere words with the shooting of Republican congressman Steve Scalise. The shooter, James Hodgkinson, was apparently motivated by his political beliefs and, according to sources, carried a list of Republican legislators he hoped to assassinate. Of course, the heated left/right divide is not solely a feature of American politics. Last year Jo Cox, a British Labour Party politician and Member of Parliament, was murdered by Thomas Muir. Cox was killed because of her stance on political issues, including Brexit.
My wife isn’t chained to a stove. My Republican neighbor doesn’t have a welcome mat with a swastika on it. …You wouldn’t know that from listening to our present political rhetoric.
Carl Phillip Gottfried von Clausewitz, a Prussian general and military theorist, famously said “War is politics is by other means.” Politics as war has become an increasingly common metaphor. Former House Speaker and sometime Donald Trump advisor Newt Gingrich has frequently made a similar statement: “Politics is war without blood.”
Except when politics becomes war with blood. When political language becomes filled with references to metaphorical violence and war, the risk of actual violence skyrockets.
If things don’t change the violence we currently see directed at politicians—which is bad enough—may end up being directed at targets far easier to kill than politicians: each other.
If we want to stop that from happening, we need to start seeing our neighbors as more than left/right caricatures. We need to see the people we share our communities and country with as actual human beings, and remember that labels like “liberal” or “conservative” can never capture the totality of a human being.
We need to remember that there are red state conservatives who hire stay-at-home moms for tech jobs, and blue state liberals who build hot rods and listen to George Strait—and that it is possible for those people to coexist in the same country without hating one another.
And we need to remember that before anyone else gets shot.
This article was adapted and updated from an article that originally appeared on CNBC.