Here's How The RNC Convention Should Be Watched, No Matter How Hard This Is

CLEVELAND, OH - JULY 18: Delegates from Texas oppose a roll call vote on the floor during on the first day of the Republican National Convention on July 18, 2016 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. An estimated 50,000 people are expected in Cleveland, including hundreds of protesters and members of the media. The four-day Republican National Convention kicks off on July 18. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Source: Joe Raedle/Getty Images News/Getty Images

My grandmother watches the Republican National Convention the way that most people watch heated basketball matches: with a lot of colorful commentary. Although I'm not watching with her this year, I can't help but imagine what zingers she's launching at the TV this week. Sometimes, the only thing you can do is boggle and rage at the sheer insanity of it all.

But at this year's quadrennial Republican cluster, it seems particularly hard not to fulminate at what's being presented, whether it's Melania Trump's stolen speech, or Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke's assertion that "Blue Lives Matter" (and his celebration at the acquittal of Lt. Brian Rice of the killing of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Maryland), or former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani's accusatory declaration, "What happened to, 'there's no black America, there's no white America, there is just America?!' What happened to it? Where did it go? How did it float away?"

Yes, it's OK for us liberals to rage in our living rooms and on social media — for a little while, anyway. But if that's all we do, we're just adding to the problem of a polarized political state. Envisioning the gay rights-defying, reproductive rights-defying GOP as enemy combatants may feel right (especially as their platform flies in the face of liberals' most deeply-held beliefs), but it only adds to the enmity between us — and the same way that love is love, hate is hate, and only breeds hate.

So what can we do, besides rage? We can certainly do what several of my friends have done on Facebook already, which is to throw in the towel. Taking in the RNC is both time consuming and soul-crushing, and it's understandable why some people wouldn't want to waste hours of their lives on it.

But for those of us who can take it, it seems to me that we owe it to our country (and to ourselves) to reevaluate how we view our political opposition: not as enemies alien to our neighborhoods and social media circles, but as fellow Americans, people with whom we have common interests and purpose. What if we thought of them as a brother or a sister who's just going through an experience different from ours — that is, what if we couldn't just reject them out of hand as an "other"?

OK, OK, I realize I've gone a little "kumbaya" here, but stay with me for a second: it is incredibly easy right now to dismiss out of hand someone else's perspective. Watching a room full of people cheer on statements you fundamentally disagree with is an alienating experience, and when those fundamental beliefs are challenged, we want to default into fight, flight or freeze modes.

But what if we spent time trying to understand how an arena full of people — and millions of primary voters around the country — got to a place where they were willing to put someone wholly unqualified into the highest office in the land? The crazy thing is: we have an opportunity to do this right now.

So here's my suggestion: instead of rage-watching the RNC tonight (and with a lineup including Paul Ryan, Chris Christie and Ben Carson, there'll be plenty to rage against), what if we empathy-watched? What if, instead of feeling anger at their inflammatory, insulting, wrong-headed remarks, we felt sorry for them? That whatever pain our fellow countrymen and women are feeling allows them to find refuge in divisiveness, xenophobia and misogyny? How might we approach our own policies and ideas differently? How might we communicate them differently to those who don't agree with us?

I don't know that this is the magic panacea to our political ills — there's even evidence that empathy in our politicians isn't helpful — and certainly empathy-watching the Republican Convention will take much more energy and focus than rage-watching it. It will also probably be a lot less fun. But it might help us get out of our current political paralysis, which is what we desperately need to do. Otherwise, regardless of who wins in November, we'll end up spending the next four years, each in our own corners, backs up against the walls, constantly spoiling for a fight.

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