Christopherson: The Pandemic Could Move Conservatives To Accept Liberal Policies. The Left Should Welcome Them.

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Nain Christopherson writes, "Add political coalition building to the list of ways you can help address this crisis, along with washing your hands and staying home as much as you can." (Photo by Gage Skidmore | Courtesy Flickr)

By Nain Christopherson, Assistant Opinion Editor

 

Like many of you, I have felt seriously troubled by the COVID-19 pandemic. Its ramifications for the economy and upcoming presidential election have already proven staggering, and I’m sure it will continue to surprise us all.

As of April 3, the virus has caused more than 6,100 deaths in the US. At least 243,000 people are sick and more than half of American jobs – almost 80 million – are at risk. COVID-19 has laid bare the deep, systemic inequalities built into our political, economic and healthcare systems. If there’s one upside to this chaos and devastation, it’s that people are noticing the failures of these systems. If my Twitter feed is any indication, this pandemic is starting to change minds about where to draw the line between basic human rights and privileges. Even controversial conservative commentator Ben Shapiro tweeted that COVID-19 tests ought to be “widely available” – an unwitting acknowledgement that in a crisis, socialist values have real merit.

For those of us already on the political left, this situation poses a question — how can we create a welcoming culture on our side of the aisle?

As moderates and even conservatives inch our way, we should accept them with joy and enthusiasm. We should not condemn them for their previous views if we want to keep them as participants in the fight for human rights, equity and social justice. On these principles, the Democratic Party has the potential to be the party of tolerance and compassion.

These precepts are at work in the policies we advocate — but not always in the way we treat people who disagree with us. In 2018, I went to a poetry slam where a girl performed a rap about gun rights, even going so far as to say gun control would put women at greater risk of sexual violence. It made me deeply uncomfortable – but I felt just as icky when the liberal crowd yelled awful things at her and aggressively booed her off the stage. It was especially discomforting because I knew their response only cemented her opinion of liberals as mean and irrational people.

I’ve recently seen similar unkindness from fellow liberals on Twitter toward politicians like Mitt Romney. Romney advocated for direct payments to American adults (which is also a part of the Trump administration’s coronavirus relief program and an idea Andrew Yang championed in his presidential campaign this past year) after the start of the pandemic, bucking the traditional GOP rejection of “handouts.”

The fact is, we are in the Trump era and living with a Republican-controlled Senate. We liberals are in no position to turn our noses up at any policy move that rolls our vision forward — whether it comes from politicians on the left or right. That kind of disdainful reaction reveals a dangerous loyalty to our political party rather than to a better world. It is particularly unsettling to see people choose party over country during a pandemic, when the changes we have always wanted to see — especially in healthcare and wealth distribution — are suddenly far more urgent.

It’s not just liberal policies from Republican leaders that we should accept, though. We need to accept people whose views have shifted in the wake of the pandemic. While our instinct might be to distrust family members, social media acquaintances and lawmakers who haven’t been lifelong advocates of our cause, it’s imperative that we find room for them on our team. We cannot recreate the argument that many on the left have used against Elizabeth Warren and Democratic presidential candidates that defines them by their past. After all, it’s not often that anyone in this country changes their mind about polarized issues — and isn’t that exactly what we want from conservatives? To see that we were right about a certain policy all along?

As continually scary and shocking as the pandemic has been, its aftermath is far more uncertain. While things may not settle for months or years to come, we can help ensure that America and the world change for the better by welcoming people to share our liberal values. Add political coalition building to the list of ways you can help address this crisis, along with washing your hands and staying home as much as you can.

 

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@nainchris