An Open Letter to My Fellow Liberals: Stop Behaving Like Adam Kinzinger’s “Nasty Cousins”
A journalist acquaintance had a hot take on yesterday’s New York Times story about a letter sent to Illinois Congressman Adam Kinzinger, by his family, disowning him for his disloyalty to President Trump. “Oh my, what a disappointment you are to us and to God,” read the letter, which accused Kinzinger of being in “the devil’s army”: “You have embarrassed the Kingzinger family name.”
“Mr. Kinzinger seems to have some nasty cousins,” the journalist wrote on Facebook.
Missing the much more important point that Mr. Kinzinger is not alone.
Earlier this month I was being interviewed on a podcast, about my forthcoming book, An Effort to Understand: Hearing One Another (and Ourselves) in a Nation Cracked in Half.
I said I worried that there’s a lack of friendly social space for reasoning Republicans who are grieving the estrangement of so many in their party.
Not just their party, but their people.
I asked one of the hosts, who had worked in the Bush administration, if maybe she could relate to that.
She was stunned, and in tears. Her family, her friends — she can’t talk to them these days, she said. They consider her a traitor.
Well, liberal friends, what are we going to do with these kinds of Republicans, who according to most polls represent about one lonely quarter of the 74 million Americans who voted for Trump.
First of all, we’d better stop lumping these millions of Americans with the rest of Trump voters. In fact, we should take pains to distinguish between these groups.
Secondly, we’d better understand how truly far apart these Kinzinger conservatives are from their friends and colleagues, family and neighbors who believe various Trump-touted conspiracy theories.
When was the last time you beheld such a bright line between you and most members of your own political tribe? How alienating would that be? How scary, actually?
And make no mistake, these people do need a political tribe. Cut off from their own, where are these folks going to go if they’re also shunned by people on the left, who publicly believe — as they so often blurt and rant in their social media bubbles that are nevertheless transparent and not sound-proof — that only an idiot could have voted for Trump?
Adam Kinzinger is talking about starting a new political movement, according to the Times. “He is betting his political career, professional relationships and kinship with a wing of his sprawling family that his party’s future lies in disavowing Mr. Trump and the conspiracy theories the former president stoked.”
Kinzinger is a politician, who has something to gain by defying Trump followers and suffering the contempt of his conservative brethren and sistren.
Everyday Republican citizens have nothing to gain; only everyone to lose. And at a moment — in the middle of an economic disaster and a pandemic — when none of us can afford to feel more alone than we already do.
And where do they have to go, even for a sympathetic ear, or a tenderly offered invitation to the liberal half of the family’s weekly Zoom call? I’m seeing a lot of people otherwise close to my own political and social sensibility, shaking their heads in dismay and taking self-righteous pride in the extent of their mystification about how any Trump voter could possibly have come to their views. “I will never understand how seventy-four million people could vote for a person like that.”
That’s a vow of ignorance. And as deep as our differences remain even with the Adam Kinzingers of the world—it’s also brutally inhumane.
Liberal friends, if we don’t treat Republicans any better than their nasty cousins are doing, they are going to go back to their cousins.
Because nasty cousins are better than no cousins at all.
David Murray is editor and publisher of Vital Speeches of the Day magazine. His new book, An Effort to Understand: Hearing One Another (and Ourselves) in a Nation Cracked in Half is out March 2, from Disruption Books.