An Open Letter to Conservatives

I’m going to tell you a story, then I’m going to tell you why. I was raised by and around conservatives, so I hope I remember how to speak the language.

Once upon a time, a failed Austrian artist threatened the planet with destruction. Great people walked the earth, and they rose to the challenge. You’ve probably heard of Audie Murphy, who was a warrior first and an actor second, but did you know Hedy Lamarr invented a torpedo guidance system? Jimmy Stewart flew 25 missions over Europe (and one over Vietnam as a Brigadier General). Heck, Julia Child worked for the Office of Strategic Services (that’s British intelligence, if you’re not up on your World War II history). I’m not here to talk about them, though. I’m here to tell you about a young man named Ronald Reagan.

Ronnie was an up-and-coming film star who probably would have attained A-list status if his career hadn’t been interrupted by the draft. His bad eyesight kept him stateside, but he didn’t have to see war firsthand to comprehend its horror. He’d acquired a reel of unedited footage from the liberation of Auschwitz, and he pledged to show it to anyone who questioned the absolute brutality of Germany’s crimes against humanity.

Not long after the war, he hosted a dinner party. A few close friends were in attendance, and as it often did in those days, the conversation turned to the war. One guest, a producer, turned to Ronnie and said, “Really? Surely it couldn’t have been that bad.”

Ronnie said, “Give me a minute.”

Soon, he’d wheeled in a projector and loaded up the film. Off went the lights, and Ronnie sat back and let the screen do the talking. By the time the end of the strip flapped against the side of the machine, the room was in tears.

Today on NPR (yes, I know. Liberal media), they interviewed Reagan’s Solicitor General. That’s the government’s top lawyer, right below the Attorney General. They asked him what Reagan would have thought of the Muslim Ban (Trump’s words, not mine).

He said that Reagan was pretty light on immigration, then he went on to say that while it may end up being legal, the way the ban was implemented was beyond the pale. “Even those who disagreed with Reagan held a sort of affection for him,” he said. “He never talked to people that way.” It’s true. I vehemently disagree with the majority of his decisions, but even I recall his popularity. Rehearsed or not, he had a way with words, and rhetoric counts for something.

I have a feeling that most of us, deep down, want a benevolent dictator to sweep in and tell us what to do. I’m not going to extol the virtues of the Democrat opposition. The DNC hornswoggled their constituents just like the Republicans bamboozled you, but I also won’t pretend it’s six of one and half-a-dozen of the other. She would have continued the Forever War and stoked the refugee situation you’re so concerned about, but she would have put a happy face on it. She’d have thrown the populace some social justice bones to keep them satisfied enough to go along with it. I mean, it’s not happening here, right? If the middle class is happy, everyone’s happy.

It’s still not in the same ballpark, though. What you call progress and what I call the long decline of late stage Capitalism would have continued. Now we’ve jerked the wheel hard to the right, and I’m not doing a very good job here because that’s where you think it should be.

Look. We all get sold lies. I’m not going to tell you to stop trusting your politicians and start trusting mine. Anyone who feels the need to control large swaths of human lives requires a certain combination of narcissism and lack of empathy to be successful. I’m not exempt from this declaration. If I could flick a switch and make everyone see why Star Trek should be a model for our civilization, I would. If that makes me a monster, so be it. I’ve been called worse lately. Naive, for starters.

There’s something dangerous, though, when the most powerful person in the world has Twitter tantrums. I’ve always disagreed with people, but you’re starting to frighten me, folks. This is my white man privilege talking. It’s okay if you don’t believe in that, but I’m still not used to this feeling. My security, which I’ve always taken for granted, is being nibbled around the edges by folks who think it’s okay to bully large groups of people, since the President does it.

Furthermore, facts aren’t facts anymore. Science is called into question because its very nature is to question. Science is never through, which is its power, but that’s held up by its detractors as a fatal flaw. Polls aren’t real because the media lies. Which media? All of it. Well, except for FOX, and a few alt-right bloggers.

People have always argued, but isn’t there something wrong when the man in the highest position in the land has convinced Americans that discussion is over? There are no facts but his. If Trump had been in that room and Ronnie had pulled out that film, and if it didn’t match up with Trump’s narrative, it wouldn’t have been real.

From immigration to the actual threat of terrorism to climate change to health care, I’ve spent weeks pulling out those proverbial film strips, and according to his supporters, they aren’t real. It’s not that we disagree, they’re fake, and make no mistake; I do not wield this analogy lightly. Millions of lives are at stake. Billions. The fate of humanity hangs in the balance.

Conservatives, I can’t call my representatives because they’re all Republicans and they don’t want my vote. They don’t need it. I speak to the parents, grandparents, the aunts and uncles. The Christians, where are you? We don’t agree on much, politically, but I know you. Is this where you stand? Do you stand with Donald J. Trump?

Rebellion isn’t in you, or you wouldn’t be conservative, but I beg you, we don’t have to do this. We don’t have to go to the place where discussion is over. Let them know you aren’t done talking. Let them hear you won’t be lumped in with people who don’t read studies. Let them see you refuse to be cruel.

If we play our cards right, there’s a place in the clearing where we can all pursue our interests without actively destroying each other. I must believe this. My fingernails dig into that cliff of hope.

We cannot go out like this. Let’s argue. Let’s live to fight another day. We’ll make it work with someone else, but this isn’t the answer.

I’ve been thinking about The Night of the Hunter lately. If you haven’t seen it, Robert Mitchum plays a killer, with love and hate tattooed on his knuckles, who masquerades as a religious man. He stalks a family and ends up singing a hymn outside their house, in the dark, as the grandmother keeps watch on the porch with a shotgun.

He’s out there, menacing, in his low voice, “Leaning, leaning. Leaning on the everlasting arms.” She joins in, not in concert, but because it’s her song he’s stolen, her faith he’s appropriated to do evil.

Sing it. Sing it louder. Maybe I sell out every progressive position I’ve ever held when I ask you to take back your party in the name of a God I don’t acknowledge, but I’d rather live a wishy-washy NeoLiberal than die a beautiful, perfect Space Communist. I can climb that ladder again if we don’t burn it down.

Tell them he doesn’t represent you. Tell your legislators, then tell the world. We’ll be waiting. Ronnie thanks you, and so do I.