Liberals and Conservatives Can Be Friends!

John Christian-Hopkins

I believe so; and, somehow over the course of my leftist life, several of my best friends—people I love and respect—happen to be conservative.

One in particular sometimes frustrates me to no end, with views that border on frightening. He’s not just “don’t wear white after Labor Day” conservative, but so far right as to make the Tea Party appear rational.

And we are still friends.

To maintain a cross-political relationship does require a lot of work, though. Both parties have to have a strong belief in freedom of speech—even speech that they vehemently disagree with—and it helps to have an almost-superhuman ability to overlook comments or viewpoints that make you cringe inside.

And sometimes, even that is not enough.

One of my closest friends is a frequent poster on social network sites, which means I often see many of his political diatribes that sometimes cause me to choke and sputter in outrage and disbelief.

Many of the issues we disagree on pertain to simple politics, where facts play little role. For example, he places the blame for the federal deficit squarely on President Obama’s shoulders, and absolves former-President Bush of any culpability.

There’s no room for compromise here. Our opinions are cemented in how differently we see and understand “the facts.”

I wonder about my right-leaning friends; for I know they are quality individuals; honest, hard-working and without prejudice. They are the kind of people you’d want to be your neighbors, your friends.

How can so many of my treasured friends hold political views so abhorrent to my own? Believe me, I have thought about this often. I think the answer is empathy.

Some of my friends don’t think the federal government should regulate businesses; but I say that was once the norm in America and we had 10-year-old kids working 12-hour days in coal mines.

That’s why I think the main difference is empathy. Conservatives can’t put themselves in the shoes of the abused worker, because when they envision the scenario they see themselves as owning the business, never as one of the average workers.

A national issue now is whether businesses have to serve gay customers. Conservatives say a business owner should be able to decide what customers he or she will serve.

Again that stance is rooted in the inability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. But I grew up in a pleasant small town in Rhode Island, and what if stores there could decide not to serve brown-skinned people? Guess what; my town only had two brown-skinned families, so 99.9 percent of the town—including my conservative friends—wouldn’t have been affected by such a change.

I have no doubt my family would. My parents wanted to buy a house once when one the community’s leading members said he’d have to check to make sure none of the other homeowners objected to a brown-skinned family living in the neighborhood.

The issue that my conservative friend recently railed at was assimilation; he basically said if you don’t want to assimilate into American society, you should just go back where you came from.

I can’t tell you how offended I was by that comment.

Now, I can understand how my friend could reach that conclusion. As I said, a lack of empathy is the culprit. My friend is a white male, so when has his ilk ever had to assimilate to anything in America? It’s easy to tell others to assimilate to your societal views, when it requires no change on your part.

His views on assimilation were especially distasteful to me, because I am an American Indian—a group of people who were forced to assimilate. Nor am I talking about things that happened hundreds of years ago.

My wife’s mother remembers the day she was “captured,” that’s the word she uses. In the late 1940s-early 1950s Navajos didn’t own cars, so when a car came down the road Indian parents warned their children to run into the hills and hide until the white people left. One day, my mother-in-law was too slow and the people in the car grabbed her, threw her in the back seat and took her from Arizona to Oklahoma so she could be assimilated. She was nine.

My father-in-law was only 5 when white government workers came to his rural Arizona community, yanked him away from his mother and sent him to Oklahoma.

They were children who did not speak English, who did not understand what was happening, who feared they would never see their families again.

It is a shame that my conservative friend, who believes in assimilation, lacks the ability to see it from another point of view. I have no doubt that he would think less highly of assimilation if some foreign government had pulled into his driveway and stole his 5-year-old child away.

John Christian Hopkins is a member of the Narragansett Indian Tribe of Rhode Island. He is the author of Carlomagno. He currently lives on he Navajo Reservation with his wife, Sararesa.

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Lightfoot92's picture
I fully agree and can 100% relate with the author of this article, who also happens to be my first cousin. I, like my cousin, have a friend who is ultra-conservative to an excessive extent. Even to the point of being close-minded on many issues. This friend is someone I grew up with and have known very well since we were just boys in elementary school. We have been the kind of friends who defended one another against schoolyard bullies. He is your average, every day white male and I am an American Indian. Race was never an issue for he and I, at least not in regards to my being a Native American and him being caucasian. But he did have a hotheadedness that would lead him, in some of his lesser moments, to use disparaging slurs against other racial minority groups. So he has shown an ugly racist side, which has caused many an altercation between he and I. He does currently love to post his disdain for President Obama and blame everything that he feels is wrong with the United States on the President. He even goes as far as to blame the fact that President Obama is a Muslim, as the reason and even a motivation for Obama to 'ruin this country'. This friend and I have butted heads via social media over this as well. My friend applauds my love of my heritage and culture but he doesn't seem to understand why certain things offend me and he feels I overreact, or should "get over it" since it "happened a long time ago". My friend is adamant that english must be THE official language of the United States and that any new immigrant group that enters this country, must learn english. I understand that english has been the dominant language for a few hundred years. I realize that english is even the primary language that I speak. But what my friend doesn't comprehend, is when I explain to him that the very fact that english is my first language is a result of the brutally forced assimilation on my ancestors, and all Native Americans and even African Americans who were ripped from their homelands and forced away from their original languages. I find that his (and anyone's) argument that everyone in the U.S. MUST speak english or go back where they came from is insulting, ignorant and, yes, racist. First of all, several hundred Native American tribes lived in this hemisphere for many millennia before European contact and developed several hundred different languages. Europeans came to these lands, learned just enough of the tribal languages for communication and ultimately overran the tribe's way of life, including forcefully disallowing the speaking of the native languages aka the languages that were here first. Europeans showed no regard for who was here first or which languages were here first, yet now, they expect any new groups of people to assimilate to their way of life. So its as if they came into my home and forced me to speak like them, think like them, dress like them, pray like them even though it was my house and I was there first. Furthermore, anyone else who comes in and visits or wants to live in MY house has to follow the rules of those who took my house from me. How can they not see the hypocrisy? Many are intentionally blind to it so that they don't have to face or acknowledge that perhaps their forefathers were wrong and in an exceptionally inhumane and insensitive way. Also, they refuse to see the obvious because of the fear of feeling guilty and having the responsibility of righting the wrongs of the past. My fiancee's father, a full-blooded Navajo, was forced from his family's home as a boy and locked in a closet for a few hours at a time whenever he was heard speaking the Navajo language. He was openly ridiculed and punished for speaking his language, a language that was in America way before english was. The treacherous wrongdoings by European powers-that-be from the past are defended, directly and indirectly, by people who think that everyone, Native Americans included, should assimilate to the Eurocentric mindset or leave this land that the Europeans "rightfully stole" with force from Native Americans. Ignorance is bliss. Brian Lightfoot Brown Narragansett Indian Tribe
swrussel's picture
I maintain friendships across political lines and I find it good for me in that I have to stay on top of facts, something required as well for my op-ed columns. So I generally agree with you. What I cannot fathom is marriages across those lines, most famously James Carville and Mary Matalin. How can you be intimate with somebody you believe to be seriously fact-challenged? One of my daughters made that mistake and I had no input because I was halfway across the country and the relationship was a done deal by the time I found out, so I kept my mouth shut. He turned out to be seriously untrustworthy. I can't help thinking that his self-interested brand of politics might have predicted that.
derrico's picture
Wow. You've got stamina, patience, and compassion. These are powerful and important qualities, and your friends don't seem to have them, so you are a hero to persist. Demographics is making your friends less and less comfortable: white males are diminishing in proportion to the rest of the population. This is perhaps why they are running scared and talking loud. Your perspective is vital to finding a peaceful way forward.