To what degree are Americans politically polarized? How does the battle between Republicans and Democrats play out in our everyday lives?
Here to help answer those questions is a first hand report from the “front lines” – in this case, the community mail room in our condominium.
It all started when a friend who is a Republican political consultant asked if my husband and I would host a “Meet and Greet” in our condo for her client who hopes to be the next congressman from our district. This congressional hopeful must first win a three-candidate August primary. Then, if victorious, in November he will face a Democrat congresswoman up for her first reelection in a majority Democrat district.
The consultant was going to promote the event through her email list and social media. All I needed to do was place some flyers in the mail room. Easy, simple, done.
In our 273 unit condominium there is a small mail room divided on two sides by rows of mailboxes. On each side is a corner table usually covered with free magazines and newspapers.
Before placing my stack of 50 flyers on the two corner tables, touting free wine and cheese as an incentive to attend, I asked the building manager for permission to leave the flyers. She gave me the green light and also responded favorably to my request that a flyer be displayed behind the mail room’s locked glass bulletin board. Now, all I had to do was watch my email for the RSVP's to come rolling in.
The next day when I went to retrieve my mail I was shocked to see that all 50 flyers on both sides of the room were gone. Were people that eager to attend? I doubted it. Not to be deterred, I printed out another 50 flyers.
Again, the following day when I checked the mail room the flyers had vanished without a trace. I even went diving through the trash bins next to the corner tables hoping to retrieve the flyers, but the culprit was savvy enough not to toss them in such an obvious place.
It was time for a declaration of war.
As in all wars, allies must be recruited and intelligence gathered. So I marched to the lobby front desk situated around the corner from the mailroom and told the building guards about this act of aggression. They were sympathetic and said they might have some ideas as what Democrat would commit such an undemocratic act but provided no names.
Armed with that little bit of intel I began round three using psychological warfare.
Saving trees, I printed only 20 new flyers and attached a warning label to the stack. In bold it read: “Please stop trashing these flyers, I KNOW WHO YOU ARE.”
But psychological warfare failed and again the flyers were snatched.
Especially disheartening was the flyer made no mention of the fact that the candidate was even a Republican. Due to this omission I received an email from a resident asking me what party he represented. For the record, I did not write the flyer, but only inserted my contact information. Thus the political consultant made the determination that since her candidate was running in a majority Democrat district, omitting party identification was an acceptable strategy recognizing the reality on the ground.
Round four of “flyer wars” began with reporting my travails to the GOP friendly building manager. My request was to tape a flyer to the lobby front desk counter, manned 24/7 by my allies, the guards. After hearing about the ongoing battle, the manager granted my request. Now I had conquered the front desk with a secured taped down flyer. Surely this high defensive position would send a strong signal to my enemy that they had failed to stop grassroots democracy.
Even though my flyer now occupied the front desk, I was not ready to surrender the all-important mail room tables. Thus, I positioned another batch of fresh flyers and left the building for some meetings.
Apparently the building guards were fully engaged in the flyer battle because in the early evening as I was entering the garage one of the guards stopped me and gleefully reported, “Hey Myra, I was just in the mail room and saw your flyers were still on the tables.” I replied, “But probably not for long.”
Sure enough, in the fifteen minutes it took me to park, ride the elevator up to our condo, drop off the dry cleaning, and then ride the elevator back down to the mail room, the enemy must have also returned from work and went to work trashing the flyers.
Meanwhile, in the four days since flyer wars had begun, I had received only three RSVP's from building residents.
At this point I could not wait for the event to be over. As it turned out, attendance was sparse but the candidate was gracious and probably earned himself a few primary votes. Of course I entertained the guests with my mail room battle tales.
The next morning, as if on cue, I received an email newsletter from the University of Virginia’s Center for Responsive Politics, run by the well-known Dr. Larry Sabato. The title of the email was: Sabato's Crystal Ball - Americans Are Divided & Feelings Toward The Parties Show It.
The newsletter was citing a report on polarization in public opinion by the Pew Research Center. Intrigued by the subject and the perfect timing, I clicked the Pew Report link and out jumped this sentence:
Among Republicans and Democrats who have a very unfavorable impression of the other party, the vast majority say the opposing party’s policies represent a threat to the nation’s well-being.
This was a perfect explanation for what I had experienced in the past several days. Obviously, my mail room enemy felt the nation’s well-being was threatened by a wine and cheese gathering for a stealth GOP primary candidate.
However, my enemy must be aware that if my candidate wins the primary it is still highly unlikely he will win the congressional seat. For in a high-stakes game of political polarization, my district was gerrymandered by the Republican-controlled state legislature to be a safe Democrat district making way for two new Republican congressional districts.
Ironically, two days after my event, a Circuit Court ruling declared this gerrymandering illegal in violation of state law.
Regardless of those political facts, my enemy felt they were doing their civic duty by protecting the building residents and the nation, from people like my candidate and by extension, me.
Conversely, I strongly believe our nation is threatened by the policies of my mail room enemy’s party and by political intolerance.
What does the future hold for a mail room and a nation divided against itself?
Finally, while the flyer snatching was at its peak, one of the front desk guards shook his head as he asked me, “Why couldn't they just mind their own business and leave your flyers alone?”
My answer was, “because they fear the truth.”
And truth will eventually prevail.