PHILADELPHIA — Earlier this week, a producer from a local television station called to inquire if I would like to come on and defend the separation of parents and children at the border. I politely replied, “No, thank you.”
I couldn’t figure out how, after everything that I had written on the topic, they could ask me to publicly advocate for a draconian policy. Had the producer invited me to argue the other side of the controversy, I would have called it harsh and un-American.
And then it dawned on me.
This producer knew that Christine Flowers is a conservative, and so to the average observer, she must be the kind of person who thinks it’s acceptable to separate toddlers from their parents and house them in a refabricated Walmart. Conservatives aren’t supposed to care about crying babies like the ones on that ProPublica recording. They only worry about keeping kids — white, American ones — from being aborted.
I can’t blame the producer for making the assumption that I must support the administration’s zero-tolerance policy because I’m a right-wing pundit and for wanting to use me as one-half of a juicy morning skirmish. After all, discussions of various views on important issues — even when they’re loud and contentious and ratings-driving — is how we figure out how we feel about what’s happening in the world.
Still, it troubled me to think that after all I have written on the subject of immigration, angering my alleged “base” and causing one reader to call me an “ISIS-loving liberal,” someone would ask me to argue in favor of closed borders and hypothetical walls paid by someone else.
In these times, we’ve become all too accustomed to shoving people into philosophical ghettos, assigning them values and opinions based upon what we think they believe because of their political labels. Conservatives have a reputation for being anti-immigration, anti-abortion, homophobic, narrow-minded, affluent, white, and blinded by religion. If I had a dime for every time someone wrote to tell me I hated “gays” because my church had me brainwashed, I’d be able to buy a lifetime’s worth of wedding cakes for that same-sex couple in Colorado.
Liberals, on the other hand, are supposed to support open borders, be accepting of all sexual identities and the pronouns that come with them — fiercely tolerant, financially struggling, multi-ethnic, and atheistic.
It is maddening to think that in America, a country built on freedom of all kinds, we constrain people by these political labels that are not one-size-fits-all.
One of my favorite Facebook friends is a liberal who has regularly contributed to the Huffington Post and strongly criticized President Bush’s handling of the war on terror. And when he wasn’t writing powerful essays about the mistakes we made in Iraq, he was serving there in combat. Yes, my friend is a proud veteran of the U.S. Army, a man who loves this country and used his experience and his conviction to try to make it a better place for his daughter.
I have another friend, who has spent his life in service to God and who has been quite vocal on social issues and is the perfect embodiment of traditional Catholic values that respect and defend life, from the moment of conception to the point of natural death. I first became acquainted with him through his writings when he was the archbishop of Denver, and was delighted when they sent him here to Philadelphia. Archbishop Charles Chaput is probably not on anyone’s list of outspoken liberal clerics, and yet he has been one of the fiercest, most outspoken advocates for immigrants. I was honored when he asked me to be part of a committee that dealt with immigration issues for the World Meeting of Families in 2015. Chaput’s Facebook page is frequently filled with prayers for the “least of these,” whether they be the disabled, the unborn, or refugees.
Human beings are complicated. We don’t fit into a single mold. But the increasingly toxic political environment forces us to take sides because the middle ground where problems are generally solved no longer exists. It’s as if we were standing along either side of the San Andreas Fault, and if we moved too close to the center we would fall into the breach and be swallowed up. So we gravitate toward the safe confines of our extreme fellow travelers. And we lose touch with our humanity.
I’m a conservative woman who happens to think that the policy of ripping children from their parents’ arms is cruel. I’m an immigration lawyer who applauds President Trump for trying to fix the problem with his executive order.
And I’m not the kind of person who can be defined by only a one-word label. Neither, I hope, are you.
Christine M. Flowers is a lawyer and columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News. Readers may send her email at firstname.lastname@example.org.