The human experience is a constant reminder of the comedy, romance and tragedy of reality. From Memorial Day through Independence Day, we remember Flag Day, Juneteenth, Father’s Day, as well as the anniversaries of the Tulsa massacre, D-Day, Watergate, Bunker Hill, Little Big Horn, Stonewall and Loving and Windsor. Nestled in here is a mosaic of complexity: honor, triumph, sacrifice, tragedy, evil and good.
History’s complexity is the intricacy of humanity. Every person is complicated and every community is interwoven with that messiness. These complexities define generations forming history. Frederick is a part of that weave. No single narrative can tell the story and mono-causal explanations fail to explain the daedal reality of our past and present.
Within this context, I wanted to talk about absolutism. Today’s political rhetoric is too often defied by absolutist language that hunts for fault in our neighbors and their histories, while reducing each other to poor stereotypes. It betrays the true complexity of life.
If this was just the annoyance of social media bickering, toxic comments sections or manipulative media coverage that would be sufferable. If absolutism was just poor analysis, that would be another thing. Too often absolutism is the weapon of choice in political rhetoric by degrading the issues facing our community and perpetually demonizing others.
I was initially inspired to write following the racist remarks in April levied at Del. Brenda Thiam implying that she was a house N-word (the delegate’s words) for being a Black Republican. As a Black Republican, I’ve encountered these viewpoints endlessly: that Black people can only vote one way. It is a commonplace but reductive perspective of a whole race of people that fails to respect the complexity of one’s identity and freedom. Del Thiam dealt with the issue with class. Black Republicans across the county have proven that we are not minstrels for either party but rather freethinking people who can come to our own conclusions despite the hate used to reduce us.
However, this is not just about race or anti-racism. Today’s political rhetoric too often reduces people to single identities and weaponizes concepts, theories, fear and hate in a way that does not seek to foster dialogue, but rather seeks to end it. The rapidity through which language can move these days makes it so much more pernicious.
We’ve seen it impact Frederick in terrible ways. Over the past year, we’ve seen language that has been used to reduce White people and Black people in our community. We’ve seen it used to demonize all teachers at times and all police officers at other times — all Republicans and all Democrats. You see it used against everybody. The content of our character is too often reduced, in bad faith, to one component of our identity.
So much of what fuels this toxicity, is fear and the manipulation (conscious or not) of that fear. Cancel culture persists across the political spectrum. The worst offenders use this as a grift, but too many use it to demonize and silence others. Fear breeds prejudice and it begets distrust. These erode the resilience of our community so that when a true crisis faces us, we are weakened.
As Edward R. Murrow once said, “We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men.” People of virtue and sound mind must contribute to the conversation by speaking up, volunteering and getting engaged. We have elections coming up in the city this year — a great chance to do it.
Political parties need to do better by not drawing micro-targeted artificial lines that divide our communities. The media can do better by embracing complexity and telling the fullest extent of any narrative. Consumers of both can do better by not sowing this fear, distrust and prejudice — don’t buy it. We’re all better than this. We will not be governed by fear. Furthermore, the competition of pointing to which side or group is worse is an endless race to the bottom.
There is no path forward with the weaponized rhetoric of today’s politics. Communities are not built with weapons, they are torn down by them. We build from engagement and conversation. For those to happen we need not just tolerance, but the respect for each other as precious human lives (as fallible sinners). With respect we seek understanding, and with that we can afford grace to one another.
This does not mean we all have to agree. There are important issues at hand. Perpetual moderation is not the solution. These issues should be discussed openly and with real heat when warranted. But we don’t need to tear each other down to do it. Not only is it the cheap way out; it’ll ultimately be our end.
Many are worried about what we will hand off to future generations. Our political culture is critical to our community’s long-term success. It’s conservative to care about tradition, but it is also conservative to be concerned with how we pass those traditions to our successors. We are all inheritors to legacies in Frederick that are not our own. Future generations need us to overcome the grievances of yesterday and build a community that looks past tomorrow.
Dylan Diggs is the president of the Republican Club of Frederick County.