In a week when the political left and right in this country were pulling apart like the two halves of the San Andreas Fault, I found myself breaking bread with a liberal from California.
Our “Mission Impossible”? To try to bridge the gap that has grown into a chasm between those who get Trump and those who get sickened by him.
The invitation to look for solutions instead of new ways to insult each other came from my host — an Inter Lake reader and occasional letter writer — who acknowledged that she is usually troubled by my column but also saw in me someone who “could have a respectful discussion of differences.”
That led to our lunch at a local restaurant, and a pretty lofty goal set by my counterpart:
“I need someone with whom to kick around ways to save the world. What better combination than a conservative Republican and a moderate Democrat, perhaps one of the few remaining in this endangered species?”
We came from nearly reverse lives before winding up in Montana. She had grown up in the 1950s on a farm in the conservative Midwest, and somehow transformed into a Democrat during a career as a federal-government employee in California and later a banking executive before retiring to Montana. I had grown up in the 1960s in the suburbs of liberal New York City, and somehow transformed into a skeptical conservative while working at a newspaper in Kalispell.
The question was: Did we still have any common ground?
As we shared our stories, and talked about our hopes and fears for the country we both loved, the answer for me was obvious. Yes, we had common ground, but none of it was in the realm of politics. We had widely divergent views of the role of government and the ability to improve people’s lives through legislation. She admired LBJ’s Great Society agenda whereas I saw it as proof positive that well-intentioned politicians are a clear and present danger.
Indeed, in issue after issue we were at loggerheads.
In her invitation to me, my reader proposed: “I’m convinced that we all agree more than disagree but rarely get to that point that we can see it.”
After 90 minutes of conversation, that didn’t seem to be the case. And yet, somehow, there was a glimmer of hope in our meeting.
The very fact that we could sit down and talk without name calling and raising our voices shows that political opponents can still disagree without being disagreeable — a lesson that has largely been lost in our contemporary discourse.
I hope that more such conversations can take place. For my part, I’ll continue the discussion with my new friend, and next time lunch is on me.
Frank Miele is managing editor of the Daily Inter Lake in Kalispell, Montana. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.