I started my Midwest tour by presenting in a conference at the Walker Art Center about how discord is vital for democracy, but during my first conversation there were only a few moments when I could find any real conflict between our points of view. I went to a lake town outside of Minneapolis to meet friend of a friend who had grown up in the Bible Belt. He had recently moved to Minnesota from North Carolina to be closer to his girlfriend and her family. When I asked him about his own family’s political preferences he told me his dad falls asleep each night listening to Fox News, and added, ” like so many other Dad’s do.” In my head I thought, “not in my version of our country,” and noted how we had different assumptions of what is a normal American life. He told the story of his family as an example of the American dream: his dad was born into a family without much except religion, started his work life delivering Coca Cola, but then advanced within the company to such a point where he now could send his kids to College.
When he was attending the Christian College his Dad had helped put him through he got involved in student government. That experience shaped a lot of his opinions about politics because it was so hard to get anything done or get anyone to agree on anything. It left him feeling like politics on a national scale is simply too vast and distant and he would rather deal with issues on local and personal level.
He described a tension between what he feels is morally right and how much he thinks the government should intervene in citizens lives, referring to issues such as abortion. He feels like he can’t make a decision about how these matters should be resolved, and added that he doesn’t think he needs to. When I asked if that meant that he trusted other people, either politicians or citizens, to make good political choices without him he said “not really,” just that politics isn’t really his focus. It seemed to me that he had a strong loyalty toward the conservative beliefs of his family and church and but also saw other sides of the issues, and even said he would be glad to have a more socialist system – if it could work. I am not certain, but it seemed that these more liberal leaning beliefs were motivated in part by his goal of living with Jesus as a role model, which to him meant a life of loving and caring for others. While this left him with a rounded perspective on most political issues – and without any of the charge of polarization – he also stepped away from taking personal responsibility for the country’s political landscape in order to stand on more neutral ground.
After talking we went for a walk by the lake. He said that during our conversation he had overheard someone sitting by us say with disdain, ” That’s ridiculous.” He imagined the people behind us were judging us for trying to talk politics across the partisan divide, and he was frustrated with people thinking it is wrong to fraternize with the other side.