Two years ago, Shawn put a sticker on his guitar that read, “kick out the GOP 2018.”
Shawn was a Democrat, and after working at the Department of Defense and the White House for President Obama, he was hopeful for another Democratic win in 2016. It didn’t happen.
Shawn was frustrated, yes, and like many Democrats he had strong opinions about the direction the country headed throughout 2017. He wrote articles and went on TV and radio to argue his point of view. He felt frustrated by much of the tenor of politics throughout the last year of his life.
But Shawn also loved being an American, and he believed in the goodness of our people. Yes, he had strong opinions, but he could listen to those who disagreed with him. He loved talking to people from the other side of the aisle. I think that’s obvious when you see that it wasn’t just Democrats who’ve written glowingly about him since his death. And isn’t it the measure of a man that he was able to draw the admiration of people from every walk of life?
He didn’t just engage people in Washington. He also talked to every member of my family, Democrat, Republican and Independent alike. I know they respected him for how he engaged with different points of view. One of my more conservative uncles once said to him, “Shawn, you’re my favorite liberal.” Shawn got a kick out of that.
Of course, Shawn and I both felt strongly that there are some things – like intolerance towards people who don’t pray like you or look like you – that were never, ever okay to debate. Shawn didn’t engage with others who promoted racist or other hateful views. But that wasn’t my family and that didn’t characterize the people we knew here in Washington. Shawn knew that people could have different viewpoints on things like tax policy and abortion and still be good people.
He believed in civility, in caring for those less fortunate, and in common sense. He and I disagreed at times, but he never just wanted me to blindly follow his ideas. I remember one discussion we had with our friends where he said, “on that topic, Marjorie and I disagree quite a bit,” and then went on to cogently outline how we differed. He didn’t want me to change my mind, and I also knew that on some points, I couldn’t change his.
In fact, maybe what was so interesting was how fully Shawn would engage with others, yet always still maintain the core of his beliefs. I think it helped that he was more widely read than anyone I’d ever met, so he could often understand issues with a historical lens. In this way, he was able to keep from being overly emotional about emotional topics – something I think helped him to talk with others who held different beliefs.
Shawn wasn’t perfect. Sometimes, he’d get in a debate with a friend and later wonder if he had said something that could have been misconstrued. But while I was likely to disengage with people I disagreed with, I often saw Shawn do the opposite. Maybe it was his Canadian upbringing, as he didn’t grow up in either a Democratic or a Republican house. Maybe it was his love of people, as he thought that there were so many good people in this country. Or maybe it was just him. Maybe it was because he believed in humanity and our ability to connect with each other even when the political environment seemed so divisive.
Shawn was a Democrat, and a liberal one on many issues. But more important, he saw himself as an American. He believed in fairness, opportunity, patriotism…and health care for everyone. But what he also knew was that we needed to listen to each other. We didn’t have to agree, and we could argue. Importantly, we could say that some things were never okay, no matter what your political viewpoints were. But we could engage with each other on all of the other stuff. How else could he get someone to change his or her mind?
Ultimately, Shawn believed in humanity’s ability to do better.
I’m pretty sure I know what Shawn would say about the politics of this midterm election. But I also know what he’d say about being American and working – imperfectly – toward a more perfect union.
Tomorrow, I’ll vote. I’m going to do it with my values in mind. But I’m also going to remember that there are plenty of people who don’t vote exactly like me who loved my husband and who have continued to love my family throughout this year. I think that’s a great example of the beauty – and promise – of America.