There was a time, no so long ago, when self-identification as a Democrat or Republican announced a person’s philosophical position on issues surrounding a party’s political platform. Claiming adherence to one party’s philosophies did not equate with loathing people whose political perspectives were aligned with the other main party. Today, though, party affiliation carries with it an almost automatic byproduct: hatred of people whose world views or philosophies differ from one’s own. For that reason, I find it difficult to be enthusiastic about announcing that “I am a Democrat.” Increasingly, I view that self-identification difficult; and sometimes offensive. I do not hesitate to express my support for certain aspects of what I believe are still Democratic Party principles, but I can no longer say I am fully supportive of the Democratic Party. That does not mean the Republican Party holds any appeal for me; it certainly does not. But both parties have become firmly entrenched in unyielding, unbending positions that do not lend themselves to certainty. Yet both Democrats and Republicans tend to be steadfast in their certainty that they are “in the right.” And both continue to migrate further and further toward their respective ends of the spectrum of beliefs. Little room exists for flexibility, compromise, or acknowledgement that pursuing ideals does not always require setting fire to those who do not share them.
I am a left-leaning centrist. While I rarely agree with political or social or religious positions taken by Republicans, I try to understand why they take those positions. I try to avoid assuming Republicans hold certain positions because Republicans are fundamentally “evil” or “mean-spirited” or otherwise “bad.” I try, but sometimes I fail. I can be just as obnoxious in my certainty as the next person; but I try to reflect on my certainty and I try to moderate it by attempting to look at issues from both sides, to the extent I can. It is not just Republicans who can be obnoxious in their certitude; Democrats can be equally as biased and unwilling to concede the possibility that the “correct” position may not always equate with the “Democratic” position.
In today’s political environment, I would be embarrassed to claim membership in either Republican or Democratic organizations. I have been (and may still be…not sure whether my dues are current) a member of the Democratic Party of Hot Springs Village. Though I subscribe to many of the principles promoted by the organization, I am no longer willing to accept that a principle is “right” simply because it is held by the party. Compromise and flexibility are absolutely necessary; when any organization refuses to entertain the possibility that its opponents’ positions may have a legitimate basis upon which to exist, that organization loses me. Republican organizations are just as guilty, of course. When a person refuses to accept even the possibility that an opposing position may have any merit whatsoever, compromise is impossible. Listening to the voices of our elected officials and their rabid supporters, it is no wonder we have been, and remain, at loggerheads.
Abortion. Gun regulations. Religious freedom. School curricula. And on and on. Though I hold very strong beliefs on each of these issues, I think having an open mind to opposing beliefs is absolutely vital if we have any hope of civil conversations and, ultimately, compromise. Compromise may leave a bitter taste in my mouth, but a bitter taste is preferable to having my tongue torn from my mouth.
Will I behave in accordance with my stated assertion that I am a centrist? I hope so, but I doubt I will be consistent about it. Therein lies the problem. We all recognize the dangers of certainty and inflexibility, but we do not have the discipline to practice what we preach.
Sometimes, I believe this world has no place for someone like me. Or, perhaps, I have no place in my mind to accept this world as it is and I do not have the inclination or the power to try to change the world. And so I sit back and fidget and complain and scowl at the unfairness of it all. Maybe my mood is what it is because I have a dental appointment today. Or because I am sliding, unwillingly, into a position of responsibility that demands certainty from me; and I innately see several sides to almost every issue—a viewpoint unsuited to certainty. Ach! I wanted retirement to be joy and comfort, 24/7. It is not that.