Erick Erickson: How to Find Common Ground
A year ago my life went to hell. After I declared myself unable to support the election of Donald Trump because of my faith and conservative convictions, three protesters showed up on my front porch. They did not threaten physical harm. But they did express feelings of betrayal and declared their intention to ruin my career as a conservative talk radio host and writer. I needed to carefully reconsider, or else.
I just could not bring myself to do it. For the next three months, we had armed guards parked outside our house. People called my radio station demanding I be fired. My children came home from school in tears because other kids were wondering when I would be shot or telling them about all their family members who hated me.
A woman in my wife’s Bible study group said that she and her friends wanted to punch me in the face. For a while we stopped going to church. At the grocery store, my children were accosted by a stranger yelling that their father was destroying their lives and the country. And in the middle of this I found it harder and harder to breathe. But it wasn’t the stress of the situation causing it.
In April 2016, with my blood oxygen level below 90 percent, doctors rushed me into a cardiac intensive care unit when they discovered blood clots in my lungs. There were so many that a doctor who saw my scan wondered if my corpse had been taken to the morgue yet.
As I lay in a CT machine getting scanned that day, the Mayo Clinic called my wife to inform her that doctors thought she had lung cancer. Less than six months later they confirmed she has a genetic, incurable form of the disease. Fortunately, she can take an oral chemotherapy pill that keeps her cancer at bay. The cancer cells will eventually mutate so they can’t be suppressed by the medicine, and we can only pray new drugs are developed before each mutation. Our family life is now focused on three-month windows of normalcy between my wife’s CT scans.
Contemplating these things, last November I posted a short essay on my website of things I would want my children to know if their mother and I died before they woke. I would want to confess my sins, some of which have been written about in this newspaper. I was mindful that should they Google me they would find out a lot of terrible stuff, some of it very true and some of it not so much.
A publisher asked me to turn my essay into a book of love letters for my children, “Before You Wake.” Little did my editors know they would also get a collection of recipes as the penultimate chapter.
Writing a book like that forced me to confront my faults, my fears and my aspirations for my children. I want them to do what is right, not what is popular, and I want them to measure their self-worth by being ethical individuals, not by the applause they receive on social media.
As we have moved more of our lives onto the internet, we have stopped living in actual communities. Instead we have created virtual communities where everyone thinks the same. We do not have to worry about the homeless man under the bridge because he is no longer part of our community. He is someone else’s problem. But that simply is not true.
Even as the internet provides us great advances, it also segments us. We have social-media tribes and our self-esteem is based on likes and retweets. We have hundreds of television channels and even more video choices online where Hollywood no longer has to worry about broad appeal. There is a channel for everyone, and everyone in the tribe will get the inside jokes. Social-media interactions have replaced the value of character.
The truth, though, is that our Facebook friends are probably not going to water our flowers while we are on vacation and our Twitter followers will not bring us a meal if we are sick. But the actual human being next door might do both if we meet him.
This is what I want my children to know if I should die before they wake. The kitchen table is the most important tool they have to reshape their community. Preparing a home-cooked meal and inviting people over, both those we know and those we want to know, forces us to find common ground.
Not everything should be political, and we can only make everything political when we decide the other side is evil just because they disagree with us. We can see the world only in this polarized way if we never take the time to know anyone on the other side, if we never find ways to build friendship despite our differences.
Every person has an interesting story to tell. I want my children to know my story. But I also want them to know that the stranger next door has one, too, and that even if they disagree on much, they can still be friends.
We may also never find that common ground with people whose politics or faith conflicts with ours. But we owe it to one another to disagree agreeably, without anger or intimidation, whether on a front porch or a Facebook page. A little more grace among us all would go a long way toward healing the nation.