My friend Stephen is planning a road trip. He grew up in England and moved to the states years ago, but he only ever lived in New York or LA. So, he told me, he wants to drive across America, see the Midwest, and find out what the insane people are really like.

Those are my people, I told him. They're not insane!

When I go back to Cincinnati to visit all my Republican relatives, as usual they are totally nice and completely convinced that, actually, I'm the one who's insane. I always want to have conversations about things like income inequality and equal rights for women and people of color and gay people. I try to talk about how America could be the global leader in reversing climate change, and that too many people are already suffering from the fires and the floods and draughts that global warming has brought upon us, and that in every holy text out there, especially the Bible, we are summoned to serve as stewards of the earth. Global warming is a moral issue!

Seriously, midwesterners are decent people and morality is important to them. I'm always convinced I'll be able to make some headway by talking about justice.

But many of my relatives do not identify those issues as moral issues. They see them as political issues. The only moral issue that they understand as a moral issue is abortion. By contrast, I see abortion as a political issue. Imposing draconian rules about women's bodies onto the electorate sounds, ahem, a little like Sharia law to me.
Because we have no common ground of morality none of these conversations go well.

To be honest, I'm not sure it's much better on the coasts. In New York, when people ask me where I'm from and I say "Ohio" it feels like I've admitted something. I also didn't go to an Ivy League—I went to Notre Dame—and that sort of makes it worse. Thousands of years of Catholic intellectual history are disregarded with a slightly embarrassed disdain. The fact that I want to talk about morality doesn't help either. Having been raised in the midwest makes me possibly a closet Republican. Or a person with ideals, which is equally dreary.

Because to the coasts, right now, the midwest really does look insane. I hear a lot of people whispering: Forty percent of this country might actually vote for him. Who are our fellow citizens? It's a legitimate question. There's a great moment in Spartacus (the one Kubrick directed, screenplay by Dalton Trumbo) where Caesar says: "Rome is the mob." And Laurence Olivier responds, "Rome is an eternal truth in the mind of God." America right now seems to be in the middle of a similar debate. Who are we? Are we a post enlightenment democracy whose founding documents are an inspiration to people everywhere? Are we a crazed, dysfunctional oligarchy? Are we the mob?

We have been told over and over by the pundits that America is "more divided than ever." Which makes me think, well then maybe we should keep talking to each other. There are an awful lot of guns out there. I worry about people digging in, and not listening.

So I keep telling anyone who will, to listen. Listen to Trump and hear what that sounds like. Listen to Hillary. Just listen. Only one of them is talking about a future for a united country. Only one of them is talking about American ideals.

In New York, I'm a Midwesterner, and in Ohio, I'm an east coast liberal. In the past few years I've come to see that as a great blessing. There are a lot of people like me, children of the unity of this great melting pot. America is many things. Above all, we are one country struggling to understand itself as a force for good on this planet. That's my morality and I'm sticking to it.

Hillary 2016.


August 22, 2016

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