In my freshman history class in Decatur, Alabama, one of our weekly assignments was to bring in a news clipping from the paper to discuss. It’s not an unusual assignment, but this was an unusual day because I actually remember the clipping I brought in. It was a headline about our then-Supreme Court Justice, Roy Moore, and how he’d managed to move a monument of the Ten Commandments into the rotunda of the judicial building in the dead of night. It wasn’t just any old monument - this was 2.64 tons of a monument. No small feat. This was in 2001, when I was 14 years old. I remember thinking that this was embarrassing behavior for an elected official, for a grown man. Nearly 16 years later, Judge Moore is now a very likely candidate to win the election for United States Senate.
Typing that last sentence makes me feel really weird and gross, neither of which are particularly professional or shiny journalistic terms, but both of which accurately describe where I am. In these moments of emotional yuck, I like to deep-dive and ask myself: what’s the root of this problem?
A few weeks ago, Sarah Silverman, in a clip from her new show I Love You, America, spoke out about her longtime friend Louis C.K. in light of the allegations that had surfaced against him:
“It's a real mindf-ck, you know, because I love Louis. But Louis did these things. Both of those statements are true, so I just keep asking myself, ‘Can you love someone who did bad things? Can you still love them?’ ...So I hope it's OK if I am at once very angry for the women he wronged and the culture that enabled it, and also sad, because he's my friend.”
I found myself choking up a little watching this clip, and, because it wasn’t a particularly emotional one, was confused as to why (please feel free to blame it on the fact that I am, as I type this, 39 weeks and 4 days pregnant). As I looked inward, it occurred to me that the reason her words were so striking is that we don’t often hear grace and compassion alongside a harsh rebuke. This sort of duality of sentiment is not of our time.
It is decidedly safe to be unambiguous, even fundamentalist in one’s beliefs. It is much easier to take what we’re handed and stuff it into our collective back pockets as a given than it is to scrutinize, to carefully overturn, to discover just where the breaks are and where water is beginning to leak out.
This is precisely how we ended up with a President whose behavior disappoints many of us on a day-to-day basis. We stopped asking hard questions of ourselves because we got tired. We said, “The Access Hollywood recording is bad, but it isn’t as bad as voting for a liberal.” We became lazy and frustrated and weary of being asked to parse through the fine print of analyzing people’s character, gave up, and voted red straight down a ticket so that we could sleep at night knowing we didn’t promote a pro-choice candidate.
This era of American culture loves social media for the reason of mindless allegiance. We shuffle around the Internet, aligning ourselves with groups who mostly share our beliefs, even if they express them in ways we wouldn’t. Even if they are cruel and unrelenting. Even if they don’t account for the fact that you’d be hard-pressed to find a single soul who hasn’t uttered a racist remark, whose iCloud hasn’t housed a lewd photo, whose fraternity brothers haven’t witnessed an act of hazing, whose heart doesn’t burn with shame at the memory of a misdeed. We are, all of us, guilty. But how much simpler is it to stand in the coliseum, pointing down at the thing we certainly are not, than it is to sit silently, deciding what it is we are?
To close, as I opened, with a pop culture reference: this dichotomy - the easy stance versus the nuanced one - is everywhere. As my husband and I finished up How the Grinch Stole Christmas last night, I found myself relating to Jim Carrey’s fuzzy green villain-turned-hero as he stands atop Mount Crumpit wondering how the hell those Whos, these simple-minded people who deserved no joy or gifts at all, could still be enjoying Christmas despite his best attempts:
And he puzzled three hours, till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before! "Maybe Christmas," he thought, "doesn't come from a store." "Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more!"
On this election day, my Alabamian sisters and brothers, I urge you to look inward. Don’t let this age of zero tolerance get the better of you, no matter how much it wants to. Don’t be fooled by falling into line with people who excuse a candidate who not only stands accused by multiple women of child molestation, but who boasts a hefty professional history of bigotry, religious discrimination, and thwarting the law of the land while serving as a judge, simply to say that they voted Republican. Please don’t stay home. Please don’t write someone in who can’t win. If you are a Roy Moore supporter and a person of faith, and it’s likely that you are, then you, too, can employ the art of nuance in the same way that Sarah Silverman did: you can love him, and pray for him, and you can still not vote for him because he has no place in the United States Senate.
If voting for a Democrat sets your teeth on edge for reasons of Supreme Court picks or abortion law, I encourage you to read this brilliant piece written by my evangelical Christian and Republican friend Dana Hall McCain, who lays it out more beautifully than I ever could.
Nuance is hard and groupthink is easy. But there are lives and livelihoods at stake. There are freshmen all over the state who are expecting better of us, and we can’t afford to phone it in. Not again. Not after the year we’ve had. Maybe we all need some time to puzzle, our feet cold in what was a miraculously unusual Alabama snow, and who knows? If we step away from the crowd atop our own Mount Crumpit, we may find out that our opinions weren’t always right after all. We might feel our hearts grow three sizes.
Even better, we might just follow them.