PERSUASION IS FOR AMATEURS

   Gracy Olmstead, associate managing editor at The Federalist and the Thursday editor of BRIGHT, a weekly newsletter for women, challenges us to think more about people rather than labels. The article's byline of "Why a focus on adjectives, rather than nouns, might be the salve our political culture needs" gives insight into a better way to love thy neighbor regardless of political affiliation. Read all the way to the end to appreciate the pizza graphic. Happy reading or should I say happy eating.


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Earlier this year David Wasserman wrote for FiveThirtyEight that "November's election was an exclamation point—or perhaps a flashing danger sign." He wrote this not because of Trump's election, but because of the deep geographical and ideological schisms that this election demonstrated among the electorate. "America's political fabric, geographically, is tearing apart," he said.

Many communities are doubling down on partisan ties: in over a third of the nation's counties, one candidate or the other won by an "extreme landslide" among voters, a margin defined as exceeding fifty percentage points. Meanwhile, the shock with which Trump's win was heralded by national media signalled a disconnect, and distrust, that has continued to permeate our political and cultural environment. Works like J.D. Vance's Hillbilly Elegyhinted at a world of separation and blindness that divides an elite class of intellectuals and politicians from the rural folk in West Virginia, Appalachia, or Georgia.

To be an amateur is to be a lover of something for its own sake: to act out of passion and principle.

It doesn't seem that these divides can (or should) be simply labelled: they might, on the face of it, be Democratic versus Republican, rural versus urban, or elitist versus populist. But these are just names, labels to issues that also have a human face.

Our society loves to simplify and quantify. If we just properly label ourselves and our issues, then perhaps we can figure out how best to get along. But this reductionist view of the human person is antithetical to true dialogue, and will never help us emerge from the polarization we're currently experiencing. Ironically enough, in order to bring back a more ideologically diverse and thoughtful society, I believe we must stop looking at red and blue America entirely.

I started thinking about this issue a couple years ago as I was interviewing Wendell Berry for a magazine feature in the American Conservative. A native Kentuckian, Berry is a farmer and philosopher, essayist and poet, environmental activist and localist. I sent him a list of questions, many of which considered how his various literary characters or ideas in his non-fiction intersected or were at variance with conservatism. When I asked him whether his protagonist Jayber Crow, for instance, was a conservative, he responded thus: "Jayber's membership is not in a party or a public movement, but in Port William. He is a man of unsteady faith in love with a place, a perishing little town, a community, a woman—with all that is redemptive and good—struggling to be worthy."

Berry then added, "I prefer to get along without political labels. They don't help thought, or my version of thought. Since I'm self-employed and not running for office, I'm free to notice that those political names don't mean much of anything, and so am free to do without them. I'm free, in short, to be an amateur."

The word "amateur," of course, comes from the Latin word for love. To be an amateur is to be a lover of something for its own sake: to act out of passion and principle, not for financial or professional gain.

Our thanks to Carissa Gan for the photo from Unsplash

 Gracy Olmstead