Politicians Are People Too: Why we should welcome the #bipartisanroadtrip

Other than the BBC Dad story (which makes me laugh to the point of tears pretty much every time I watch it), my favorite story of the week is of the #bipartisanroadtrip – a two-day drive undertaken by Texas Congressmen Will Hurd (a Republican) and Beto O’Rourke (a Democrat). The two men, who don’t seem to have had much of a relationship before the trip, decided to team up to get to Washington in time for some votes after their flights were canceled due to our winter storm.

During the trip, the congressmen talked policy, fielded some calls, uploaded videos to Facebook (of course) – and generally just got to know one another. And… whaddya know? It turns out that they kind of like each other. These two politicians from opposite sides of the aisle found some common ground; they built up some good will.

Moreover, because Hurd and O’Rourke broadcast their trip on social media, they were able to bring other Americans along with them on their journey. Not just their literal journey, their tens of hours together in a car – their journey toward a friendly, productive working relationship.

Man, do we need these kinds of stories right now, or what?

I’m a dreamer and an idealist, so it’s easy for me to get wrapped up in this sort of thing. Indeed, during the election I nursed this fantasy of a Congressional exchange program, wherein Congressmen from opposing parties would be paired with colleagues whose districts are dramatically different from their own. I love the idea of an urban Congressman sitting down to a backyard barbecue on some ranch in Montana, a western Congressman attending a church service in inner-city Baltimore, a wealthy suburbanite Congressman visiting a VFW in the rust belt, etc. (Let’s call this idea #347 for me to fund and promote when I win the lottery.)

But I can be practical too, and I know that with the way politics works these days, any politician who tries to reach out to the other side risks being swatted down by his own. These are divided, partisan times. And politicians can be victims of that paradigm just as they are perpetrators of it.

(Read the rest at the Catholic Review.)

The Space Between - Politicians Are People Too

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Interested in coming along with me as I share stories about my family and chew on the topics of motherhood, politics, and society? Like These Walls on Facebook or follow the blog via email. (Click the link on the sidebar to the right.) You can also follow me on Twitter and Instagram and you can find me at my politics blog at the Catholic Review, called The Space Between.

Seven Posts I Haven’t Yet Told You About (7 Quick Takes, Vol. 43)

Hello there!

Gosh, it’s been forever again, hasn’t it? Especially since I keep forgetting to cross-post my Catholic Review blog posts here. Argh. All that time writing and I don’t even share it with you. (Unless you follow me on Facebook. Then maybe you’ve seen my posts.)

When I started that blog I was pretty good about sticking a new post here every time I had one there. But then I started forgetting, and once I started forgetting, I felt like I had to catch up before I could post anything new. (Weirdo-OCD-perfectionist Julie.)

Anyway — this is me catching up!

Here are seven posts (one in two parts) I haven’t yet told you about. And because I’ve (kind of) hit the lucky number seven here, I’m linking up with Kelly for Seven Quick Takes. (By the way, if you haven’t yet read her latest 7QT post — don’t miss it! It’s This Ain’t the Lyceum GOLD.)

—1—

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“Our system is better designed to stop than to do, and for one who fears the direction of a new government, that should be a comfort.

(Conservatives saw the value in that uncooperative-cog concept in the last administration; liberals will undoubtedly see it this time.)

So as worrisome as political developments may seem, I retain my basic trust in that spread-out, clunky system. I may disagree with the people who make it up, I may see few prospects for positive developments, but I trust that if things become truly dangerous, some sticky cog will get in the way.

God bless those sticky cogs.”

(Click here to read the whole post.)

—2—

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“Lately I feel like a failure at pretty much everything I try to do: mothering, managing my household, blogging, being a good friend and an involved member of my extended family. (I know I’m not actually a failure, but it sure feels like it at times, especially as the holidays multiply our obligations.)

I feel like I’m a failure at being an attentive and engaged citizen. My post-election sense of being overwhelmed has not gone away. I’ve found it difficult to keep up with the competing news stories and the competing narratives of single news stories. I haven’t weighed in on anything. I haven’t gotten my little “let’s get people of different political stripes together to talk” project off the ground. (Status: information gathered, dates not yet set.)

I feel kind of like I have writer’s block, except it has to do with the thinking of the whole thing, not the writing. As I become more consumed with events at home (some of them pretty stressful), I pay less attention to news from the outside. And as I pay less attention to the news, I feel increasingly less capable of any sort of mental and emotional wrangling with the world.

But I’ve been trying, when I think of it, to rely on a strategy from an earlier point in my life: putting aside my worries about what I’m not achieving and instead focusing on what I am doing in a particular moment. Usually (but not always), that “doing” is pretty constructive, even if it seems insignificant in the scheme of things.”

(Click here to read the whole post.)

—3—

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“Why must we choose a side and hold onto it so tightly?

During the campaign, of course, the “side” thing was taken to a frenzied, fevered pitch. Third-party voters like myself were told in one breath that we were essentially voting for Clinton and in the next that we were essentially voting for Trump. (The supposed beneficiaries of our votes aligning perfectly with our critics’ bogeymen.) Our votes – our actual votes – weren’t good enough. We either had to hate Trump enough to vote for Clinton or hate Clinton enough to vote for Trump. People seemed downright blinded by the binary.

But that was then, back when we were facing a black-and-white choice on a ballot. What about now?

No doubt, many will choose to continue carrying on this way. Some will think we owe allegiance to one side or the other. Some will think that any kindness or concession to the opposing side is a blow to their own. Some will think that their own side’s transgressions must be overlooked in the interest of some Important Ultimate Goal.

But I think this attachment to the binary is the absolute worst course we could take as Americans, as lovers of democracy and liberty and justice. No one wins in the downward spiral of suspicious, spiteful, partisan politics.”

(Click here to read the whole post.)

—4—

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“For all the focus on national-level politics, many (most?) of the programs and policy decisions that impact our everyday lives are formulated much closer to home than Washington, DC.

Schools, roads, assistance programs, the environment, hospitals and clinics, business incentives and regulations – the State of Maryland (and your state too, if you live elsewhere) has a hand in it all. And in turn, organizations that you and I care about – our faith communities, our schools, labor or business or other advocacy organizations – have a hand in the development of the laws, policies and regulations of the state . . .

Ninety days from now, the Senate will still be debating at least some of Trump’s appointments. We’ll still, I expect, be witnessing a tense back-and-forth between the president and the media. We’ll probably feel stuck on a whole range of issues and relationships.

But in that time, we’ll also have seen much movement at the state level. Maryland will have passed a budget and hundreds of other bills that will impact our lives for years to come. Let’s pay attention, because lot can happen in 90 days.”

(Click here to read the whole post.)

—5—

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“Today as we inaugurate a new American president, I sit at home nervous, waiting, wondering what will come of this all. I haven’t decided whether I’ll watch. I’m more likely to listen, the radio humming in the background as I busy myself with lunch and laundry and little ones.

But I’m sure to be praying.”

(Click here to read the whole post.)

—6—

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“It’s natural that we should vary in our attachment to various issues, so I don’t mean to tell one set of pro-lifers or another that they’re wrong in focusing their efforts on x,y,z. You do you: pray at an abortion clinic, volunteer at a soup kitchen, donate to Catholic Charities / Catholic Relief Services / National Right to Life. Do your part, whatever it is, to advance the dignity of human life.

But I do think that all pro-lifers should do a better job of talking about it all. Liberal pro-lifers should speak against abortion just as they speak against poverty and discrimination. Conservative pro-lifers should speak for the immigrant and the refugee just as they speak for the babies. Because this divide has become too divisive. There is too much resentment. There is too much misunderstanding. There is too much distrust. There is too much space for evil to sneak its way in.

And there are too many women who hear that pro-lifers “only care about babies until they’re born” and believe it.

The honest truth is, each side of this divide is incomplete without the other. If human life is to be respected, it’s to be respected at all stages. If human life is to be respected, it is to be respected in all forms. If we Catholic pro-lifers truly believe that each human being is created in the image and likeness of God, then we’d better talk like we do. We’d better dwell on that idea, chew on it, practice it by saying it aloud.”

(Click here to read the whole post.)

—7—

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“I’m trying to decide when to panic.

Standing where I am (somewhere in the middle, I suppose) I turn to face my friends on the left and panic is pretty much all I see. Well, panic and its more sober, productive, currently-popular relation: resistance. I see people who are more than just dismayed at the direction in which our government is heading; they fear that the system upon which we rely – a system of justice and due process and free speech and equal opportunity – is coming undone. They fear that we could be nearing the end of the American experiment.

Turning to face my friends on the right, I mostly see amusement or bemusement or even satisfaction at the Left’s distress. They think the panic is overblown. If they supported Trump’s “bull in a china shop” campaign persona, they’re thrilled to see it carried over to his presidency. If they weren’t crazy about that persona then, well, they’re mostly just relieved to see Trump heading in the right direction. Clumsy steps in the right direction are better than agile steps in the wrong one, they seem to say.”

(Click here to read the whole post.)

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“I used to think of myself as the stubborn, brave, independent type – the type who spoke the truth and stuck up for the oppressed no matter the consequences. After all, I was a kid who stood up to bullies. I regularly stick up for myself. I used to make my living advocating for the poor, the vulnerable, the stranger. I write on contentious issues – issues that wrangle with the concept of justice – all the time.

But the older, or the more self-aware, or the more flawed I become, the more I see how gutless I can be.”

(Click here to read the whole post.)

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Thanks for indulging my little catch-up! I hope you’ll check out the posts and I hope to have more for you (both here and there) soon. Have a great week!

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Interested in coming along with me as I share stories about my family and chew on the topics of motherhood, politics, and society? Like These Walls on Facebook or follow the blog via email. (Click the link on the sidebar to the right.) You can also follow me on Twitter and Instagram and you can find me at my politics blog at the Catholic Review, called The Space Between.

Don’t Turn Away: Attempt the Politics You Really Want

(Everyday Bravery, Day 12)

I understand why people want to be done with this thing.

I understand why I’m seeing person after person complain on-line and in-person that they wish people would just stop talking about it. They want their Facebook newsfeeds to return to kids and puppy dogs. They want politics to stop encroaching on their neighborly conversations.

I get it.

But honestly, I don’t think we deserve that. I think we deserve to feel uncomfortable right now.

I don’t mean that as some sort of a punishment, some sort of Catholic guilt thing. (And I should probably find a better word for what I mean than “deserve.”) I just think that we should be present. We should inhabit the time in which we live. We should be attuned to the reality of our day, and today’s reality is uncomfortable.

Read the rest at the Catholic Review.

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This post is the twelfth in a series called Everyday Bravery: A Write 31 Days Challenge. Every day this month I’m publishing a blog post on Everyday bravery – not the heroic kind, not the kind that involves running into a burning building or overcoming some incredible hardship. Rather, the kinds of bravery that you and I can undertake in our real, regular lives. To see the full list of posts in the series, please check out its introduction.

These Walls - Everyday Bravery

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Interested in coming along with me as I share stories about my family and chew on the topics of motherhood, politics, and society? Like These Walls on Facebook or follow the blog via email. (Click the link on the sidebar to the right.) You can also follow me on Twitter and Instagram and you can find me at my politics blog at the Catholic Review, called The Space Between.

On My Mind (Vol. 7)

Over at my Catholic Review blog, this was a Clinton week for a change. I shared my thoughts on her flubs and my thoughts related to those thoughts. Like this one:

This whole “deplorable” thing has prompted me to think about my own feelings toward the segments of the voting population with whom I disagree. I’m not truly angry with them. Maybe I’m the kind of frustrated-angry where you want to grab someone by the shoulders and shake some sense into them, but I’m not the kind of shouty-angry where you fool yourself into thinking that those someones are bad guys out to wreck society.

Part of it is because I recognize the love and beauty in people I know and disagree with. In them, I note a position I disagree with or support for a candidate I can’t stand, but I mostly see their talents and kindnesses and humor and wit and hard work and loyalty. And I know that if this “there’s-more-to-a-person-than-his-politics” thing is true of the small slice of America I’m familiar with, it’s also true for the rest of it.

For more on this, and on Clinton, and on global security concerns too, head on over to The Space Between.

The Space Between - On My Mind

Let’s Not Tell Ourselves That None Of This Matters

Last week I saw a meme on Facebook that said something to the effect of: The day after the election, your kids will still be your kids, your home will still be your home, the sun will still shine, and butterflies will still flit about fancifully.

Or something like that. I don’t remember who posted it, so I can’t find it to validate the accuracy of my impression. In any case, the meme was telling us, “Don’t worry; none of this matters anyway.”

To which my inner lobbyist was shouting, “No! This does matter! Elections have consequences! Governments do real things! And you have more power over them than you realize!”

I understand where the meme’s creator and the multitudes who share it are coming from. This election has shaken people. Ideologies are in flux, loyalties are shifting, and opinions that were once shushed are now voiced aloud. Some find the situation thrilling. Many find it disturbing.

For the latter camp, it’s tempting to treat this campaign, and indeed politics overall, as a television show that can be turned off. It’s a topic to be weeded out of a newsfeed, a fad to be ignored, something as disconnected from our real lives as Justin Bieber and the Kardashians.

Except it’s not.

The Space Between -- Let's Not Tell Ourselves That None Of This Matters

Arguing Well on Facebook – Even About Politics

Well, friends, we are deep into that most wonderful of seasons, aren’t we? Election season. And we know what that means: half of our Facebook friends are volunteering their political opinions to the world while the other half are signing off until mid-November.

I kid a little, of course. It’s not as clear as all that. While some people are vociferous in their political opinions, others are completely mum on the subject. Some are cranky, some (few this year, it seems) are inspired, some (many?) are despondent. Some people seem to be unable to handle the heat and so have decided to get out of the kitchen. Some argue their points well; others have little to show for their efforts but annoyed or offended friends and family.

As far as I’m concerned, it’s okay for someone to be annoyed with me because they don’t like my politics. What’s not okay is for someone to be annoyed or offended or hurt by the way I’ve discussed my political opinions with them.

So I try really hard, especially during election season, to make sure I argue my points well. Here are thirteen (what a lucky number!) ways I do that:

Read the rest at the Catholic Review.

The Space Between - Arguing Well on Facebook Even About Politics

The Better, Impractical Choice

I’m over at my (new) blog today, expressing some frustration about presidential politics and pledging to not be part of the problem. (That is, to not vote for either major candidate.) It’s a perky little piece, I’ll tell you that!

“If politicians are slippery, if they tell us only what we want to hear, if they refuse to offer real solutions, if they’re unwilling to work with those with whom they disagree – it’s because we have made them that way.

We reward negative campaigning. We punish compromise. We respond to sound bites. We expect ideological purity (i.e. You Must Think Exactly As I Do). We champion magic-wand political solutions. (How about I just say that I’ll “Make America Great Again” and wiggle my magic wand in the air, and it will be so! How about I make economic inequality just… disappear! How about I build a big wall at no cost and magically make it get rid of all the scary people? How about we pass a law that will – poof! – make people stop shooting each other?)

We have gotten ourselves stuck between a rock and a hard place. We have done this. We have made presidential campaigns into something that decent people cannot win.”

The Space Between - The Better Impractical Choice

Announcing…

No, not another baby.

Though our oldest has repeatedly talked on and on about “all the other baby girls we’re going to have,” and the next in line is so effusive in his love toward our youngest that he literally told her, “You are my dweam come twue” – so if another should ever come to pass, we know that at least half the crew in this picture would be thrilled.

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But that’s not what this announcement is about. No.

This is to tell you that I’m starting a new blog! The kind folks at the Catholic Review (the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Baltimore) have invited me to start a blog on their site, which will “focus mainly on issues related to faithful citizenship – offering commentary on the political world, legislation, civic responsibility and the upcoming election.”

I was thrilled to accept. The Catholic Review is the best-written local paper I’ve come across. I’m continually impressed with their work and I feel honored to be able to contribute to it in some small way.

I will still be here at These Walls on matters of motherhood, family life, and the odd political thing that for whatever reason doesn’t seem to be a good fit for the Review. But most of my writings on politics and society will now be found over there, on my new blog, which will be called The Space Between.

The blog’s name comes from a conversation I had with a friend about what we see lacking in most political discussions today – a willingness to admit that each side is at least a little bit right, that most people come to their positions honestly, that there remains a space for real conversation – not just conflict.

I think the name is well illustrated by something I noticed the other day while praying at the grotto outside my parish in Libertytown: Two rocks stood against each other, similarly strong and stubborn-looking, with a slight gap between them. Through the gap, I could see light – sunlight filtered through the woods behind the grotto.

People tend to focus on the discord of politics – on fighting and nastiness and sides standing in opposition to one another. But I’m interested in that gap, that space between. I’m interested in the place where the sides bang up against each other, where we get to see how different (or not) they really are. I’m interested in getting to what we really mean, what we really care about, what really motivates us – and carrying on the conversation from there.

I want to use this blog to explore different political perspectives, to work through issues that divide us (especially those rising to the fore in the 2016 presidential campaign), to consider whether we’re well represented by the categories – political party and otherwise – that the real pundits like to put us in. I have a feeling we’re not. I have a feeling that we’re often better suited for the space between than we are the rocks pressing up against each other.

Read more in yesterday’s post – the blog’s first.

For the foreseeable future I plan to post links to each of that blog’s new posts on this one too. So if you’re subscribed here you’ll still receive notice of all my new posts. But I’d love if you could subscribe there too, and like the new blog’s new Facebook page.

Fair warning: if you’re a Facebook friend of mine, you’ll likely soon receive invitations to like both blogs’ pages. I promise to just do it once. (Or at least not again for a few years.)

Oh! And I’ve changed both my Twitter and Instagram handles to reflect my name rather than this blog’s. They are now both julievwalsh. I decided I could handle one new Facebook page, but I couldn’t handle duplicating all my social media accounts.

I think that’s it for now. I hope to see you over at the new place!

These Walls - Announcing

All I Know

What a day for the pick-pick-pick-everything-apart news shows, hm? There seems to be something for everyone in Orlando’s tragedy. Terrorism, Islam, gay rights, gun rights, gun control, mental health, politics, security, freedom, racism, persecution, division…

Grief.

My own mind swirls. I have no answers. I have no admonitions to issue. I have no suggestions for how such events can be prevented. All I know is that the problem is bigger than any one of these things. (And that anyone who tells you there’s a simple solution is mistaken.)

We are human and we hurt. We hurt others and we suffer hurts ourselves. We wrestle with evil and anxiety and anger and fear, goodness and love and service and sacrifice.

I know good and loving people who are Muslim, who denounce and abhor the terrorism committed in their faith’s name and who suffer its after-effects. I hurt for them and I pray for their safety. But I think the West should be more, not less honest about the social and religious turmoil feeding terrorism today. I think we should be more active in confronting it and I think we Christians should be brave enough to offer our alternative to a theology that takes violence and domination as its central tenants.

I know good and loving people who are gay, who struggle to feel welcome and safe and loved. I grieve for the loss their community sustained in this attack and for the fears it will kindle in them. I pray for their safety and peace of mind. But I disagree with our culture’s take on love and sexuality and marriage, including its championing of homosexuality and other lifestyles too. I don’t think I should have to agree with someone to mourn their loss or pray for their wellbeing.

I know good and loving people who own guns, who abide the law even when they disagree with it, who feel scapegoated for the terrible actions of a few. I want people to understand them. But sometimes I wonder whether it’s all worth it – whether something that is overwhelmingly enjoyed as a hobby should trump the safety of those who are the targets of terrorism and domestic violence and achingly-damaged attention seekers. I just don’t know.

I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know what will work, what can be fixed, what we simply have to accept as members of a free society.

All I know is to plead:

Lord, help us.

Lord, be with us.

Lord, bless the souls of the departed and grant them eternal rest.

Lord, give comfort to those who mourn.

Lord, heal our brokenness.

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Afterthought:

When I went outside this afternoon to snap pictures of broken things for this post, I (obviously) chose a tree which had some of its top branches snapped off in a storm.

A few minutes later as I was walking on past, I noticed the base of a tall, strong-looking tree and stopped to admire it. The tree gave me a sense of peace, of well-being; I took comfort in how sturdy and resilient it looked.

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In a moment, I realized I was looking at the very same tree. The brokenness that had seemed its primary characteristic from one angle was insignificant from another.

I can’t help but think that maybe we — we humans, our world — maybe we are something like that tree.

These Walls - All I Know

 

Strangers in Our Own Land

The other night my husband and I were watching a Ken Burns documentary on the Dust Bowl. He was sitting at the kitchen table with the laptop open before him, giving the baby a bottle. I was supposedly washing dishes, but really wandering over to him every time an intriguing phrase or story caught my ear. Because I’ll tell you what: That thing was shocking.

When I’d thought of the Dust Bowl before, I’d simply thought of families escaping drought and poverty. I had no concept of immense walls of black dust racing across the plains, swallowing everything and everyone in their paths. I knew nothing of the buckets of dust that women would sweep from the insides of their homes, of how the dust enveloped people so completely that they were unable to see their hands in front of their faces, of how they’d grow ill (and many would die) from having their lungs coated with the stuff.

The documentary showed elderly people telling their stories of that horrible time and I thought to myself: These experiences are part of those people’s heritage. These must be the stories passed down to the people living in those places today. And I know nothing of them.

I know nothing of what it’s like to live in the west, on the plains, with farmland stretching for hundreds of miles in every direction. I don’t know how it feels to be held captive by the weather and her whims. I don’t know what it’s like to be a descendant of pioneers, to have stubborn resilience for a heritage.

Neither do I know what it’s like to be a child of immigrants or a great-great-grandchild of slaves. I don’t know what it’s like to be from mountains or shore or desert or city. I don’t know how it is to live in a factory town or a coal town or a fishing village, everyone’s livelihood depending on a tired, waning industry. I am out of my element visiting my husband’s family in the Midwest. I have felt similarly foreign in New England and the Deep South.

All I know – all I really know – is my corner of this land, my way of living.

So when I huff and puff and heave my chest in maddening wonder at Donald Trump’s ascendancy – when I bark an “I don’t understand these people!” – I’m right. I really don’t understand them. I have not lived their experiences. I have not shared their struggles. I have not felt their frustrations.

This is me coming to terms with that.

This is not me saying I think Donald Trump is an acceptable choice for the presidency. I continue to find him shameful in action and in word. I continue to disagree with those who support him. But I’m trying to recognize my own limitations in imagining the millions of individual histories that lead to his rise.

Because the next time I feel like grabbing Joe Trump Supporter by his shoulders and shaking him out of his dangerous delusion, I want to bestow some mercy instead.

There is so much we don’t understand about each other.

And if this election cycle is teaching us anything, maybe that should be it.

These Walls - Strangers in Our Own Land