Righting America

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Getting Beyond the Culture War: One Inspiring Example | Righting America

by Susan Trollinger

Just about a week ago, Qasim Rashid (a Democrat running for Congress in Virginia’s first district) was speaking at an outdoor campaign event to about 30 supporters in the beautiful setting of Aquia Harbor in Stafford, Virginia. As you would expect, it was obvious to all in attendance and passers-by that this was a campaign event as the candidate was holding forth with a microphone while standing in front of a campaign banner. 

Top: Photo of Qasim Rashid standing and talking with a microphone outdoors in front of a chain-link fence.
Bottom: Photo of supporters and one protestor holding a Trump 2020 Poster while standing outdoors next to a parking lot.
Trump supporters at Qasim Rashid’s campaign event in Stafford, VA. October 19, 2020. Image via Facebook.

Shortly after the event got underway, Mr. Rashid noticed (as did his supporters) a small gathering of folks nearby who were energetically waving Trump flags. Mr. Rashid reported that he wasn’t quite sure how to respond. Should he just ignore them? A reasonable response, to be sure. As he pointed out in his account of the event, they were exercising their first amendment rights. That is good for all of us.

But then he got an idea. How about inviting them to join his event? What might that look like? Would they accept his invitation? How would they react?

To their credit, it turns out that they did! Standing among Mr. Rashid’s supporters, they asked questions and posed challenges to Mr. Rashid.

One of their concerns was that if Biden was elected he would pack the Supreme Court. In response, Mr. Rashid reviewed the history of court appointments over the last 6 or so years and how it was actually the Republicans who have been packing the court. He reviewed the facts—that it was Mitch McConnell and the Republicans in the Senate who denied President Obama his constitutional responsibility to appoint a replacement on the court when Justice Scalia died. They did so on the grounds that it was an election year and voters should decide who got to replace the Justice. 

One man from the Trump flag-waving group admitted (to his credit) that Mr. Rashid had a point. More than that, he admitted that what the Republicans were doing to force the confirmation of (now Justice) Amy Comey Barrett just days before the 2020 election was hypocritical. 

What is so interesting about this whole encounter is that it exposes the lie of culture war discourse. In my estimation, the crucial rhetorical work that cultural warriors are obliged to do is prop up the notion that the enemy is so other as not to be worth engaging. 

That may be putting it too lightly. It may be that the enemy is so horrible just on the face of it (in the sense of a prima facie case) as to not only not warrant a hearing but to be understood as evil.

What is truly remarkable about this story of Mr. Rashid (a Muslim—which only makes the story richer) and a group of Trump supporters is that he actually managed, by way of a gesture of hospitality and his humble and informed manner of engaging them, to give them pause. 

This blog post is not firstly about a Democratic candidate enticing a Trump supporter to think otherwise. That’s impressive, to be sure! But that is not my point. 

My point is about the reckless animosity that we are all invited (strongly urged by some folks) to partake in. Through such reckless animosity, we are encouraged to demonize the other to the point that Mr. Rashid’s decision to extend an invitation to his apparent adversaries can seem to be nonsensical. 

It turns out, despite the incessant claims to the contrary, that the binaries don’t hold. Sure, we can all point to folks who simply can’t hear. William has had the patience to remain engaged with an AiG apologist (for a total of 68 emails) who can’t seem to get beyond AiG talking points. I don’t know how William does it. 

But there are others. William has also had surprisingly productive conversations recently with fundamentalists who wanted to let him know that he has it all wrong. And then, after some dialogue over email, had to take a step back and think about things they had been taught. Two of his interlocutors even apologized for making unwarranted assumptions about his religious commitments. 

I don’t know what the answer is to the terribly divisive place that cultural warriors have worked so hard to get us into. And I must say that Mr. Rashid is definitely onto something.

On this eve of the election, when Trump supporters in pick-up trucks displaying Trump flags and American flags endeavor to block traffic and force a Biden campaign bus traveling down an interstate in Texas to slow to 20 miles per hour before trying to force it off the road, Mr. Rashid’s intervention into the culture wars seems not nonsensical, but downright miraculous! 

Perhaps folks in the Christian Right could learn something from this Muslim.