It wasn’t until I was en route that I fully realized I was headed to a Republican fundraiser. I was more focused on the emotional and familial significance of the event. My mom had been invited by a friend of my dad’s, a member of our local township’s trustee board, the group my father had been elected with and served alongside until his death. It was their annual golf outing and dinner and this year, almost four years after my dad’s passing my mom felt ready to accept the invitation. I was there for emotional support. I was focused on what it would mean to see the people who had been with my dad the day he died and how my mom was going to handle it all.
So naturally it didn’t fully occur to me until I was driving to pick my mom up for the event that typically golf outings and dinners are synonymous with fundraisers. And I was probably headed to a Republican fundraiser… of which I am not their target audience.
My dad and I always came at issues of politics from different angles. He was a Republican mostly because I think fiscally that’s where his values aligned. Socially he was always more liberal than the party, but regardless when it came to politics we didn’t see eye to eye. However, my dad and I were capable of debates and while he probably thought I was an idealistic dummy who didn’t understand real life and I probably thought he was too blinded by loyalty to see some aspects of the party for what they were and he was still the person I respect more than anyone in the world and he still loved me more unconditionally than anyone else. It didn’t really get in the way.
2016 was a rough year for politics and more than once I felt conflicted with regard to my dad. What would he have said about Trump? Is it better that we never had to go there or do I wish we could have had one more conversation about the whole thing? Without my dad around it was much easier for me to demonize the whole party, throw my hands up and say, “Well, those guys suck.”
And, in truth, I did a lot of that. I read the articles, I skimmed the headlines and I looked for what would confirm what I already believed. To be sure, in the last year there have been some things that unequivocally go beyond partisan politics, ways in which people have said, supported, or contributed to racism, xenophobia, sexism, and prejudice. I won’t deny the existence of those things or minimize their damage on our society. But, if I’m being real honest, I threw the whole party out with that dirty bathwater.
So that’s where my head was at leading up to the Republican fundraiser….
I wasn’t going to stir the pot. Or start arguments. Or stand on my chair proudly declaring I was NOT a Republican. I respected my parents way too much for that. I stuck close to my mom, said thank you to the people who were there on that terrible day, and caught up with my dad’s old friends. It was really a lovely night, one that meant a lot to both my mom and I and only a few times did I find myself internally screaming “I VOTED FOR HILLARY!!!!!”
We were given raffle tickets to put in various buckets connecting to prizes. The prize packages ranged from assorted kids games to a giant cooler full of wine to a beautiful hand carved wooden elephant. One in particular caught my eye. Breakfast with my district’s representative in our state’s House of Representatives. Suddenly it became a hilarious thought to win that breakfast wherein this Republican rep would be forced to sit down and chat with me. It started as a joke, but the glass and a half of wine caught up with me and the next thing I knew all my tickets went in that bucket.
And wouldn’t you know it. I won. I laughed uproariously and may have screamed a little (in part because I never win anything and in part because, oh my gosh, this guy has to go to breakfast with me!).
The night before our breakfast I started doing a little research on his voting record. I wanted to go into breakfast informed. I wanted to have good questions and I wanted to be able to respectfully discuss some of the ways I hoped he would serve his constituents. My heart sank as I saw some of his votes. There were things that seemed like no brainers, bills either party could get behind that were Nay votes on his tally. And others that fell into the category of “fight to the death” with him on an opposing side. Suddenly this breakfast seemed like a crazy idea and I wasn’t sure why the heck I’d put all my tickets in that bucket. Suddenly this guy became the picture of all the things I disliked about the other side.
I don’t shy away from conversations about difficult topics but I’m terrible at conflict. My stomach was in knots as I waited for him to arrive. Taking deep breaths I prayed for a clear head and the right words. I prayed that I would listen well and that I’d stay open. I prayed that God would keep it respectful and comfortable. I reminded myself to just listen. Very rarely do we get to hear why an elected leader votes the way he or she does. Ask questions. Listen to the answers.
It’s kind of amazing what happens when we go into conversations focused on how we’re going to listen rather than what we’re going to say. I learned a lot. Our political system is kinda broken and the greatest casualties are the many of us who are somewhere in the middle, politicians included. There is more to a story than the black and white lines of Yay or Nay votes. You can disagree on how to best fix a problem and still both care very deeply for the people affected by it. It’s easy to throw a political identity out with that dirty bathwater but it’s a lot harder to do the same with a very real person with whom you’ve sat across a table from drinking coffee and eating omelets.
I’m not sure I changed his mind on any of the issues we discussed. But I did said a lot of what I’ve hoped I would have the courage to say in a situation like this. I only said “bullshit” once. I was kind and respectful. And I listened with and open heart and mind. And truthfully, he didn’t necessarily change my mind on any of the issues either. But he did become human. For that hour we weren’t people on opposing political sides. We were two people who cared about different things (and some of the same things) and were trying to do the right thing.
I had breakfast with a Republican and my heart was softened. Maybe we all need a little more of that. Maybe our elected officials need to be doing more of that with each other. Sitting down to breakfasts and letting their hearts be softened just a bit.