We The People: An American Citizen (New Mexico)

 My home state!

My home state!

 

It’s always a bit scary to have a conversation with someone whose politics aren’t congruent with your own, and more so when that someone is a dear, longtime friend. When we were setting up a phone date via messenger, he warned me that he didn’t want to talk about politics, and he reserved the right to bow out of the conversation if it became heated; we’re old friends and he doesn’t want to soil our friendship. Understood, gulp – no more do I.

Our call was delayed by a few minutes because his name came up for random drug testing at work. Having worked in the family business for years, he’s learned all the practical aspects of the work, and is now being groomed to take over the company in a few years. There’s a lot to learn on the business side that you don’t learn out in the field, he said. Boy, can I relate; the things I’m responsible for at work right now are not things they teach in music school.

We ended up talking for a half hour longer than intended, and one of the first things he brought up was journalism, describing a 101-level exercise of turning a thousand words into two hundred without losing any critical content. I’ll try to do the same with our conversation. And, for extra credit, I’ll do my best to distill an hourlong conversation into a 10-minute read without misrepresenting him – which apparently was not a requirement of the journalism assignment.

The question I ask everybody: What’s your vision for America?

Well – I’ve yet to meet someone that wants bad things for America. The president – he – or she – may carry more weight than maybe a janitor, but they’re still a single person, and politics are so very meaningless in so many senses. I enjoy the spectacle of watching it. Now there’s a lot of hysteria on your [left] side of politics. Eight years ago, people [on the right] were just as convinced that we were going to go down the road to ruin. The best gun salesman in three hundred years has been Barack Obama. The former president and the current one bear similarities if you know where to look for them – they both have complete control of the narrative in their own way, for instance – but their styles also seem so contrasted. I think there’s a lot of sensationalism because the change in styles is abrupt, and because news is entertainment now. Media is ultimately a product, it has to sell, has to get the clicks.

So, to back up a second, talk to me about the dynamic of the president only being one person, and the relative importance of rhetoric vs. actions. What would you say about the people affected by the travel ban, or the lack of filter in speaking to or about foreign leaders who may or may not take his rhetoric as empty? (Hah, just a simple, multi-faceted question.)

President Trump is lacking in some of the decorum and customs that it has been decided are part of decorum on the world stage…but I wouldn’t put him in with Kim Jong-Un; he’s not threatening to blow up a missile test and then failing; BUT he doesn’t follow the norms/rules of international decorum on the world stage.

He’s certainly effective in controlling narrative. Maybe it’s his perception [as a businessman] that he has to control the narrative, because no one else is going to give that to him…I don’t know.

I do worry about the immigration thing. I employ a bunch of immigrants who’ve worked very hard to obtain legal status…have families in Mexico, go back & forth. Maybe it’s because we’re scrupulous in our hiring practices, check I-9 status, etc, that we get this type of people, but these people have a very strong desire to comply with the law.

I don’t want them to not be able to take care of family, not be able to visit their dying mother – like I have one employee right now who is – I don’t want him to have trouble coming back across the border to come back to job that he’s good at.  

I have a lot of compassion for the refugees and their difficulties. I never want my family to go through anything like that. I don’t want anyone to go through that.

But I’ll tell you a story. It’s a true story of economics; it’s also true for a lot of things in life. So: there was a malaria problem in Africa, and people with good intentions tried to solve it by giving away mosquito nets. The malaria actually got worse. Why??? When they went and looked, no one was using the nets over the beds as intended. They were using the nets for fishing, other household activities. So they decided, we’re going to charge for the nets. Very, very little – like one or two cents a net, so it’s not so prohibitive to the people who need them. Now the nets had value to the people who were going to benefit. They were used for their intended purpose, and malaria rates went down.

Uh-huh…

My point is, Americans have to value themselves. We have several mutual friends in Australia. Dustin for instance went through an eight-month process to get a visa to Australia to get married. The same way, Americans have to value themselves, and not give it away for free.

Ok, I hear your story, and I can corroborate it with stories of my own where people treat things with much more respect if they pay even a nominal fee than if they get them for free. However, if we’re applying this as an analogy to immigration, my understanding is that immigrants – particularly refugees from places like Syria – already undergo something like an 18-month to 2-year vetting process that includes health screenings, background and security checks, extensive interviews…what do you say to that?

 (Here are two contrasting columns about the existing vetting process refugees written by former immigration officers; the former was published right around the time we were talking)

I don’t know. I would have to look into that. Listen, my hope if the current vetting proecess is determined to be strong enough is that we pass no new laws, that we would enforce the robust set of laws that exist.

But Americans have to value themselves, and there are problems with immigrant crime near the border, mostly related to drug smuggling. For example, I know ranchers who have lost their herds, their livelihoods, when people cross the border illegally and cut their fences because they can’t be bothered to go around. So there are problems.

…So there was previously a 20-year immigration ban, around the 1960s, and the first-generation immigrants who came in after that ban was lifted have a really hard time with people who come here now and don’t assimilate, who wish it was Mexico.

Can you elaborate on what you mean by not assimilating? Do you mean not learning the language? What would you have them give up to assimilate, because I’m gonna go ahead and guess that you wouldn’t want to give up tacos.

No, I don’t want to give up tacos, of course. People can bring their cuisines, their traditions, fine. Learning the language is important, sure. Getting out beyond your little circle, learning about America, the place you live.

There needs to be fealty or loyalty to the country. I’m not going to say hateful things about my neighbor. If my neighbor is homosexual, or a different race, I don’t care, I’m going to love my neighbor. Why are we [universal we] so mad at each other for not adopting each other’s points of view? We are way more than the way the country is run.

There needs to be civility, and enough of us that have the same idea of what it means to be American to have that happen – identity not a wedge, it’s glue. But it’s better for entertainment purposes, clickthrus, for there to be conflict. But there has to be some agreement on the minimum to be American – when national identity goes away, we struggle.

I love you, Kat. My faith is more than my nationality, and my national identity is more than my politics. If I didn’t love you, I’d be a sorry example of my faith.

I love you too, friend.

Well, do you have enough for your project? Have I turned your stomach enough in the last hour and made you late for work?

Haha, no, far from turning my stomach. Certainly we’ve opened many cans of worms and we don’t have any more time to go fishing today. But this conversation gives me hope that our country might survive if more people like you and I can just fucking talk to each other like reasonable grown-ups! (Pardon my salty language.)

Epilogue:

My friend is a very private person, and asked to be identified simply as an American citizen. I have been left considering my own thoughts on what it means to be an American citizen. What are the baseline values the vast, vast majority of us in all quadrants of the political map can swear fealty to? Can we get back to working toward a more perfect union – i.e. a civil and reasoned debate about how best to practice and uphold those values? What is each of our responsibility – what is my personal, daily responsibility – in working toward that more perfect union?