Politics Free Zone
February 24, 2017
We were at a fundraiser for a local cultural institution. Food was good, entertainment was fine, I got outbid on the Silent Auctions which was probably for the best. Then our hostess, the Grand Maven Patroness of the Arts came running up to us, wild eyed. I am not exaggerating.
“My God,” she said. “Can you please, please explain to me, what does Trump think he’s doing!” She was borderline hysterical, on the verge of tears, waving her arms around. “The whole everything!! Tell me why you people think these awful things make any sense at all!!”
“I’d rather not.” I said. “I came tonight for a Politics Free Zone.”
Politics Free Zone. I know it sounds weird for those of us for whom politics is our profession, but there’s a time and a place for no politics. None. Nope. We talk about something else. This includes politicized events. I don’t care what some bimbo entertainer did or what some unfunny political operative “comedian” said. It goes double for politicized art. It’s the politicization of these formerly entertaining events that makes me avoid them. And now department stores! Who cares if the President’s daughter sells a line of clothes? If people want to buy them, then sell them, already! If you don’t like it, then don’t buy them.
Here’s the deal: not everyone agrees on everything, including politics. Seems like it’s split almost fifty-fifty. That means when you start getting political, you’re sure to alienate at least half the people. Maybe you’ll build loyalty in one half, and the other half won’t care. But I’m sure less interested in Meryl Streep or Nordstrom’s. SNL? Where were you the last 8 years?
Our neighbors had a party. They’re ardent Democrats, and many of the guests were too. On the door was a sign: Politics Free Zone. And boy, was it enforced! Y’know, we all had a great time. A week or so later, we had folks over, posted the same sign, and I was the enforcer. All of us, lefties, conservatives, Trump people, Democrats, all talked about other stuff and had fun. We even did this in the legislature. A few of our guys, a few folks from the other side, and we took a break from the “I’m OK, You’re Evil” stuff and got to be friendly. It made the business of the people’s government easier too.
A politics-free zone is a truly a radical idea! It boils down to this: there’s such a thing as “civil society.” It means people without the state, without the government. Here we have individuals, families, friendships, churches, voluntary organizations. Somewhere over there is government and the politics of government. Out of sight, out of mind. We leave it alone and it leaves us alone. The opposite of this is a politics-everywhere society. The word for this is “totalitarian.”
Totalitarians apply their politics to everything and everybody. There’s no room or space for anything else. They are RIGHT and GOOD. Whoever and whatever is not with them is WRONG and EVIL, and evil must be destroyed. They can call you anything, do anything to you, wreck your job, ruin your reputation, physically hurt you—it’s all justified. You’re no longer really human.
Totalitarians dehumanize. This is how they can do the things they do, whether it’s Mao, Hitler, Stalin, or your opinionated cousin who ruins every family gathering. It’s about power. This is what they do, this is who they are. When everything is politicized, people cease to be complex human beings. They’re reduced to grotesque evil caricatures. Even nice folks who give money to support the arts are reduced to objects of fear, even to the lady who took our money.
So go the other way: re-humanize. Take politics out of the mix, even for just an evening. Tell the totalitarians to get lost, have a No-Politics Zone. You’d be surprised how much we all have in common when we’re just people. So push the state back. Carve out little areas of civil society.
Expand them. Insist on No-Politics Zones at your church, service club, family gatherings. We’re all supposed to embrace diversity, shouldn’t that include diversity of opinion too? And here’s one other thought: if you’re scared because government power is in the hands of your opponents, maybe the government has too much power.
teaches Political Science at Oakland University and serves on the Board of the Regional Transportation Authority. He was elected to represent the 40th District in the Michigan House and was appointed Chairman of the all-important Appropriations Committee, responsible for the entire state budget. Prior to politics, Chuck was political columnist for the DETROIT NEWS, and has hosted talk shows for radio and television.