On March 22, Karl Rove, former deputy chief of staff under George W. Bush and a prevalent Republican commentator, made a host of thought-provoking remarks to conclude the University of Richmond’s 2017-2018 Sharp Viewpoint series.
Some of these remarks were endearingly corny, like the sales pitches for his book, "The Triumph of William McKinley." Some of them were touching, like his ancestors' story. And some of them were anecdotal and fascinating, like the election of 1800. But one part of his speech in particular had an especially stunning impact on the general audience: his impassioned appeal to resist xenophobia and to always remember the integral role of immigrants in the fabric of our nation.
It seemed as if the students in the largely progressive audience could scarcely believe it. How could these pro-immigrant sentiments come from a Bush Republican — a Protestant hillbilly who probably wants to disenfranchise women and revive Jim Crow? Who would have ever thought that conservatives were compassionate people?
In truth, most people before our generation. Between the insular influences of social media, the partisan fear-mongering of the press and the glaring lack of willingness to listen on the average college campus, my left-leaning contemporaries, as a whole, are depressingly incapable of imagining a conservative who values multiculturalism in addition to our proud nation.
That these particular statements by Rove would provide such a culture shock is incredibly disheartening. Are we, as a nation, so divided that the extent of our love and understanding for our fellow citizens — real people with real stories and real problems — ought to be determined by Alec Baldwin’s latest comedic spoof of Donald Trump?
Of course, there is reason to hope that things will get better. Rove also pointed out that very few parts of our history are harmonious in any meaningful way, with crises not unlike ours threatening our dissolution as early as 1800.
And yet, the American spirit is one that brings us together every time. Not everyone agrees with or supports all of his or her fellow citizens -- but overwhelmingly our tendency is to strive for a more perfect union. Not perfect, but better. There is no reason to believe that our social cleavages are irreconcilable or permanent, and five years from now there’s no telling what could happen.
None of this is to mean anyone should give up their respective "good fight.” If there is a cause you believe in, you should, within reason, keep at it. But if your cause is one that enables you to dismiss people you haven’t even met as immoral purists or scarecrows of the group’s worst elements, you have two choices: reevaluate your cause, or reevaluate yourself and your own values.
You may ask me — what do you suggest, Mr. Wise Guy? Funny you should ask! What I would do, if we wanted to lead more fulfilling lives with less bitterness and a greater understanding of other people, is to heed Rove’s call for optimism and unity. Our country’s had some rude political awakenings before, during and after 2016, but we’ve got to learn from them.
What I’ve gathered between our nation’s political upheaval surrounding the Trump era and Rove’s wisdom is this: ideologies do not define a person’s identity. Rather, a person’s identity defines their very unique ideology. It is my hope that by understanding this, we may grow closer as a community, and never again have to ask ourselves whether a Republican is actually capable of supporting undocumented migrants.
Contact contributor Michael Robinson at firstname.lastname@example.org.