understanding the narratives in play

As COVID continues, one of the best things about the extended, isolated time in our homes is the opportunity for (A) taking more much-anticipated naps, (B) eagerly anticipating the next Netflix series upon which to binge, and (C) making major dents in books you’ve longed to read. This weekend, I chose option (C).  

Know now that this post will be incomplete. As is oft my hope from this humble hobby, my desire is rarely for a blog post to stand alone, be a mic drop moment, or serve as some sort of contemplative cessation. We aim to spark increased dialogue and thought, prompting continued processing.

I picked up the latest literary offering from David French, entitled “Divided We Fall.” French is not a Republican nor a Democrat. He calls himself “a man without a party.” His aim is not to “adjudicate the competing narratives of the left and the right”; it is instead to understand them — and warn against  “the product of their inexorable and relentless spread through the American body politic.” His book is thus sobering. Hence, barring any unforeseen events, we will wrestle more with the sobering in our next post. For now, let’s listen well, and attempt to understand the two distinct, authentic narratives…

“… The two competing narratives began to take clear shape. The left looks at the GOP and offers a critique that flows from the racial conflicts and racial divisiveness of the worst days in American history. From this perspective, a shrinking white Christian population, steeped in historical privilege, is lashing out as America becomes more racially and religiously diverse. The very man who most denied the legitimacy of the nation’s first black president now leads a coalition of voters that is at best indifferent to racial justice and at worst outright racist. His own explicitly racist comments only seem to anchor his support in an angry white community.

In this narrative, these same voters are granted out-sized power by the quirks of America’s white-supremacy-stained constitutional past. Thanks to the Electoral College and the Senate, an angry minority governs from the White House. An angry minority has a hammerlock on the Senate. In states across the nation, they use temporary gerrymandering and voter suppression. Thus, even if a majority of Americans demand change, they cannot obtain it, and as the GOP opposition to Merrick Garland demonstrated, not even a clean and clear presidential victory could guarantee the president’s Supreme Court nominee so much as a hearing.

Even worse, continues the left’s narrative, the angry white minority is inflicting cruelty as policy. How could a party that fashions itself as pro-life and pro-family endorse policies that led to mandatory family separation at the border? How could they look at themselves in the mirror as agents of the state ripped children from their mothers’ arms?

Right-wing intolerance breeds cruelty, and it also breeds violence. Anger at necessary social change is spilling over into outright racism, homophobia, and Islamophobia online and in political rhetoric. And in some cases angry men are taking their rage into the real world, massacring worshippers in South Carolina and Pittsburgh, gunning down Latinos in an El Paso Walmart, committing a terror attack in Charlottesville, and inflicting silent hate on racial, religious, and sexual minorities in communities from coast to coast.

Compounding it all, the left’s argument continues, the angry right elected an angry man, and then stubbornly defended him even as he was caught, time and again, in overt lies and obvious abuses of power. The same party that once impeached a many for lying about sex locked arms to defend a man who orchestrated a criminal scheme to pay hush money to a porn star, ran a political campaign that eagerly sought help from a hostile foreign power, and then — once in office — tried to force a desperate and dependent ally, the vulnerable nation of Ukraine, to engage in a politically motivated investigation of one of the president’s chief domestic political opponents.

If you see these facts, the narrative concludes, how can you not be alarmed? Isn’t it necessary to view your political opponents as dangerous? Isn’t it foolish to believe they mean well?

The right has a competing narrative, one rooted in faith, history, and the nature of the American founding. It begins simply: They hate us, they lie about us, and they use all the instruments of their power to deprive us of our rights and even deprive us of our jobs and economic opportunities. The left’s message is clear — conform or lose your livelihood.

Even worse, in the name of social justice and so-called reproductive freedom, they have legalized killing on a mass scale. In the years since the unelected Supreme Court read a right to abortion into a Constitution that’s utterly silent about the topic, tens of millions of innocent children have died in the womb. And leftists are fanatics about ‘the right to choose,’ resisting even the most modest attempts to restrict the deadly practice and even sometimes using their economic power to sanction states that resist.

According to the right’s narrative, the left tramples individual liberty. In the name of ‘tolerance,’ they restrict free speech. In the name of ‘justice,’ they limit due process. In the name of ‘peace,’ they seek to limit the fundamental human and constitutional right of self-defense.

They will use any means necessary to accomplish their goals. If they have a social media account, they’ll shame and humiliate you online. If they own a company, they’ll impose economic punishments on states, cities and towns — even as they’re happy to do business with truly oppressive regimes like China or Saudi Arabia. If they run a university, they’ll openly discriminate against conservative and Christian students and faculty. They’ll harass people in restaurants. They’ll harass people at movie theaters. They’ll harass people at home.

Leftist anger breeds violence, continues this narrative. Remember the flames in Ferguson, Baltimore, and Charlotte? Remember the police officers ambushed in Dallas and Baton Rouge? Did you see antifa beating journalists? And who can forget the angry leftist who almost changed history with his attempted massacre of Republican congressmen on a Virginia baseball field?

And now they disrespect the constitutional order. They abused the counterintelligence surveillance powers to obtain a warrant against a former campaign aide, they used a fake dossier full of Russian disinformation to spread conspiracy theories and undermine public trust in the president, and then they rushed to impeach that same president for — at worst — a minor diplomatic mistake, one that was ultimately corrected before any harm was done. Oh, and they rushed to impeach after years before locking arms to defend a Democratic president after he was caught red-handed committing the federal crime of perjury and the federal crime of obstruction of justice. If it weren’t for double standards, they’d have no standards at all.

If you see these facts, the right’s narrative concludes, how can you not be alarmed? Isn’t it necessary to view your political opponents as dangerous? Isn’t it foolish to believe they mean well?”

Fascinating. Note the existence of two distinct, authentic narratives. Alarming?

Let’s keep talking. Let’s listen and learn more first…



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