The Napa Valley often feels like a bubble. In the same way that many rural locations across the country feel far removed from the glass fish bowl that is Washington, DC, we, too, feel as though we operate autonomously from this center of governance. Nearly 3,000 miles separate us from the nation’s capital; one would have to drive through more than a dozen states to reach the final destination. Geography, alone, though is not the only alienating factor.
An oft-heard adage during our time back East was, “As California goes, so does the country.” In this sense, California often – but not always – is a test market for policy and advocacy. As such, what often feels “normal” or “commonplace” to Californians is far beyond the comfort of much of the rest of the country. This disconnect can, at times, be palpable.
Given our respective backgrounds in and around the American political system, it was only a matter of time before one of us suggested that we write about this year’s presidential election. However, considering the current climate and rhetoric, writing comfortably about this is a tenuous and delicate process. This, after all, is intended as a lifestyle blog, with zero misconceptions of being anything else.
It would be naïve, though, to not address the existing cultural and political landscape. Or at least how polarizing the dialog has become. Of particular interest is how the current climate inhibits authentic conversation and discourse. Sound bites, always an easy and quick default for any campaign, have become the norm and, for most people, the basis from which they derive all decision making. Has it always been like this?
One of America’s longstanding claims is our breadth of diversity. The beauty of this country is that we are infused with a wide variety of backgrounds and interests. Tolerance, at least in principle, has been a crowning achievement of this society. However, it is this very strength that is now being confronted. Fear and anger dominate the news cycle, without much attention to research and analysis.
How do you govern a country that is comprised of so many distinct cultural and socioeconomic varieties? We are far from homogenous, thus our country’s needs vary significantly based upon location. The ideologies and needs of – say – Alabama vary dramatically from the needs and wants of Oregon. Reconciling these differences is the root of our current state.
On two separate occasions, Michael and I have driven across the country together. In full disclosure, we are both California kids. We both identify with the coastal, urban mentality. We approach the world through the eyes of new-ish immigrant descendants whose families advocated education, hard work and economic growth as the American dream. Our peer group mirrors this image. Through our progression in higher education, we have gravitated toward a professional group of individuals who, to be entirely direct, are not an honest snapshot of the socioeconomics of this country.
Considering this, it is far too easy for those of us who live on the Western and Eastern seaboards to overlook the middle states and their corresponding concerns (regardless of how much we might disagree with their messaging). It is almost second nature to dismiss them for one reason or another. However, having taken the time to drive through these communities and to meet many of their residents, one learns a lot.
Ultimately, what we’ve discovered (and trust us, this is all anecdotal, with zero influence from statistical modeling) is that Americans are yearning for connection. They want to feel safe. They want to feel as though they are part of something bigger. They want to feel heard. And, we are certain, a psychologist could break it down to the most basic of all emotions: they want to feel loved.
A significant part of what is different now is the silos in which we find ourselves. We typically live, work and socialize around people who think/do/act/reflect on the world in strikingly similar ways. The “other” is often a distant concept; a funny uncle or a disgruntled cousin with whom we have limited interaction and no meaningful connection. Compound this with the fact that people feel safe behind their screens and keyboards. There is a sanitary separation there. Real faces and names are obscured, so name calling and baiting flourishes.
One might ask what any of this has to do with a blog called Life and Wine. The simple answer lies in the fact that the entire premise of this project centers on connection. Community and a sense of place are our core guiding principles. When we see a fracture through our country (and, to be honest, through our world), it becomes necessary to address the elephant in the room.
Given our departure from any political or pseudo-political professional endeavors, the best way that we can address this is through interpersonal connection. We can choose to have those awkward conversations. Ask pointed questions. Respectfully disagree. Dig deeper. Push for an understanding behind the boilerplate assumptions. We can do this over a meal, with wine (see what we did there; we came full circle!). But really, conversation, food, and wine are the oldest tricks in the book.
Particularly today, on the first two-party presidential debate of 2017, we urge everyone to pursue exactly this. Take the time to speak with others. Go beyond the catchphrases. Share a meal. Break some bread. Share some wine. And listen. The best diplomacy happens over a shared experience; be your own ambassador.