Agree to Disagree? It Depends.

Us vs. them, for or against, Democrats and Republicans. This is what most US Americans learn growing up. There are always two sides to every argument. As a result, they end up inhabiting an intellectually limited dual world in which everything is either/or without realizing that arguments can have many sides and perspectives.

I recently saw these comments on Facebook in connection with Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on 18 January. “Yes, we must all learn to live together as brothers. I agree. Hopefully, both sides can do this and not just talk about it. Hopefully, both sides can agree to disagree with each other and respect each other’s opinion without slinging ugly words at each other. I have faith in our nation and know we can do this.” Someone added “I agree completely. America can come back together and agree to disagree, calmly.”

These comments, while perhaps well-meaning, are infused with moral equivalence, the notion that everyone has a right to her/his opinion (true) and that all opinions are created equal (false). This is a very US American way of looking at the world. It reminds me of this quote by Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a four-term U.S. Senator, ambassador, administration official, and academic: Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.

People who utter these inane thoughts wonder why we can’t all just get along. The simple reason is some differences are irreconcilable. We can “agree to disagree” on our favorite ice cream or which is the better vacation destination – the mountains or the beach – but not whether or not people of color are inferior to white people or whether climate change is fake news. Those US Americans who talk about “agreeing to disagree” also overlook the sobering fact that they’re living in a “broken land,” as President Biden mentioned in his inaugural address.

Here’s what I wrote in a recent post Twice a Loser, Twice a Traitor about a Vietnamese American man who was merrily participating in the insurrection festivities at the US Capitol on 6 January by waving the flag of a country that was tossed on the ash heap of history in 1975.

As with all Trumpies, you can’t just choose just one issue that suits your fancy, as odious as that one issue might be. When you support #SeditionDon, you get the whole nine yards, including – in A-Z order – the abuse, adultery, anti-intellectualism, arrogance, authoritarianism, bullying (cyber and offline), cheating, corruption, cruelty, discrimination, division, exploitation, extortion, fascism, greed, ignorance, incompetence, instability, irresponsibility, lies, malevolence, malignant narcissism, misogyny, mockery, nationalism, nativism, racism, (statutory) rape, sedition, sociopathy, theft, traitorism, and xenophobia. (Let me know if I overlooked anything, dear reader.)

There is no discussion with Trumpies, no middle ground, no mutual respect, no unity, no agreeing to disagree, only war, rhetorically speaking, unless self-defense becomes necessary. If you happen to be related to one, the only option is to agree not to “go there,” if you wish to maintain your relationship.

I can’t agree to disagree with anyone who believes in and supports any of the above. To think otherwise is to be delusional and unrealistic. I can’t respect the opinion of people who are racist, sexist, homophobic, nationalistic, xenophobic, anti-science, etc., ad nauseam. Can you?

The larger question, the overweight or, as we say in Asia, fat elephant in the room, is what will unite US Americans? Where is the common ground? What is the source of unity? That is the essence of President Biden’s inaugural address and Amanda Gorman’s poem, The Hill We Climb. I and millions of others await the answer(s) to these questions with great anticipation.

Shalom (שלום), MAA

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