Tekriwal: Where do politics end and morality begin?

Tanisha Tekriwal, Op-Ed Contributor

I wonder how many Northwestern students are not going to spend Thanksgiving with their families next month to avoid the impending disagreements over campaign season. Countless publications attempt to broach the topic of political polarization — specifically the sensitive, pulsing, gunpowder keg that is familial disagreements.

The years 2016 and 2018 saw more disparate Octobers than any before; I lose count of the stories of estrangement I read in this spell in American history — because yes, this will make history.

Years later, when college students analyze this time, they will link it to the emerging patterns in the world: the polarization beyond American soil and the common themes of divide and disparity. I am tempted now to make this about the United States, to zoom in on one specific zone of fraught and frayed relations, and conveniently leave out my own narrative. In this Trumpian age that wouldn’t be particularly difficult. But it would be a half-truth, and I am trying to be honest.

As my fingers work these keys, I heed the protest in solidarity with Kashmir simultaneously materializing in Chicago, past these sequestered suburbia roads. I almost attended it, and I almost forgot how differently the conversation leading up to it would have played out back home in India.
Often, the widening rift between my parents and me is easy to dismiss as a cross-generational divide, a difference of era. It is easy, but not right.

We christen this “politics,” dismiss it as the affairs of the state that cannot, and should not, penetrate familial ground. Increasingly, I ask where the difference between political and moral beliefs lies. I am told that “maturity” plays a role in keeping estrangement and discord at bay and that “higher level values” are not the same as partisan inclinations. What of the higher level values involved in accepting the threadbare and hungry and homeless and stateless that turn up at your doorstep, and of the values of living and letting live?

The easily ruffled and offended person in me says yes — yes these are things worth severing ties over, that relationships are, and should be, subject to a political litmus test. Where politics and personality overlap, what choice does one have but to “take offense,” to take these things “personally”?

I read a story about a woman who left her husband of 16 years over a Republican-Democrat spat, and another of a woman who has remained best friends with someone for the same period despite the same fight. Yet both these stories are different from the question of blood: because in all versions of the family chronicle, we first instigate and then eventually make peace. And all our real-world complexities run like this: all resolutions of disagreement are hurtful, so we choose the one least likely to wound: pacifism.

How do I equate a ruined friendship or a lover lost, with a feud of siblings — childhood cohabitants engendered to love wholly, unconditionally? What of the strife and struggle with those who reared us, who brought us up to be both like them and yet separate from them — from the handed-down biases we shirk and yet cannot shirk? How is it that those closest to us can often be farthest to us?

In this age of Trump, Erdogan, Modi, Netanyahu, Orban and al-Assad, can I dine in disagreement? Can I forget my mother because she will not have me love a woman? Is that even politics? Can I leave this childhood threshold, this adolescent hearth, because once a week we disagree on television tragedies? And am I even framing this right — how do I raise this question unemotionally, impartially, surgically?

Politics is, after all, not simply a weekly occurrence. It is the silent subversion of votes gone separate ways, a rising argument after a vigil only some attended and the hush over dinner-table candles after national announcements and national ridicule.

I suppose the real struggle is drawing the lines of differentiation: where does politics end and morality begin? The task now is to come to a compromise — to coexist and avoid the cycle of first chafing and then withdrawing. Psychologists suggest keeping the conversation about individual issues, rather than ideologies is more fruitful, and that further connecting these issues to emotions shall yield favorable results.In this fractured time, can we afford more fragmentation, to step away from our few tethers to this world? Or is that precisely why we must do it; because in choosing head over heart (Is that even the struggle, is it heart over heart?) we are sewing these clefts and crevices back together?

Tanisha Tekriwal is a Weinberg first-year. She can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.