When Politics Become a Religion, There's No Breaking Bread With the Enemy – Flagpole

Autor: Flagpole

Regular readers of this column (when it was regular) know I grew up in a small town—Greensboro, in nearby Greene County. Those who also have grown up in small towns have had similar experiences, and to some extent, so have those who grew up in cities, with their neighborhoods.

In small towns, you see people up close, and they see you. You have constant interaction. Your schoolteacher is also your customer at your store job, and in the pew next to you at church on Sunday, and maybe your cousin. Small town people can’t hide and can’t hide who they are. Everybody knows everybody, knows who can’t handle their money or their drinking or their love life, and there are gossips who make sure you keep up.

Small towns are hard on introverts and are made for extroverts, because life is a constant round of interactions, and you run into people everywhere, and they ask how you’re doing and your spouse and your children and your mama and daddy, bless their hearts.

You live under the watchful eyes of others, but there’s a built-in forgiveness, too. You can be peculiar, and people will say, oh that’s just how he’s always been, even when he was a kid. His daddy was like that. You can be sorry, and people who have always known you will make allowances.

The main thing is that small towns are a laboratory of life, where you can find just about every type of person you’ll ever meet, so that when you do go out into a wider world, you’ve got a pretty good grasp on human nature in all its manifestations. You’ve seen them before, up close. You know their type.

Athens has always been a unique small town for those who grow up here because it is shared with the university and all its transient students and faculty from all over, plus the fans who come here for the sports. People who grow up here, though, know each other as they can never know those of us who have become Athenians along the way, since we’re “not from around here.”

Still, the fact of it being a university town has always given Athens an acceptance of newcomers and a willingness to judge them on their merits, and I have found in my checkered career here many opportunities for friendly fraternizing with political opponents. When I was part of a group prosecuted (twice) for criminal trespass because of a sit-in at the UGA president’s office, we could still enjoy an after-hours drink with our prosecutors. “Mr. McCommons was no doubt sincere, but so was Adolph Hitler.”

In later years, in spite of intense political battles in Flagpole, we were always welcome at the local Republicans’ annual Christmas party. Old adversaries welcomed us with warm smiles and overlooked our scurrilous attacks as we forgave them their wrongheaded politics.

But the last time I dropped by for the Christmas party, it had turned into a room full of strangers; no drinks, just a sit-down dinner. They couldn’t figure out who I was, nor could I figure out who they were. I made excuses and eased out.

Since then, I have been out of circulation and out of touch. I hope Republicans and Democrats can still enjoy a beer together, but I fear the Age of Trump has changed everything, even here. Signs are that it is no longer possible to separate politics from personal relationships. I hope I’m wrong, but I assume that a group agitating for book banning would not be likely to enjoy a beer afterward with the people they have just confronted, and vice-versa.

The saving grace of politics is the give and take of ideas, and the understanding that none of us is right all the time or in control all the time, and that a certain forbearance is necessary, an acceptance of differences, as in a small town. But when politics become a religion, there’s no discussion, there’s no chance for honest debate, adversaries become enemies. Thus do we lose our democracy, and our republic. That’s why small towns try not to discuss religion and politics.

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