A couple of weeks ago, one of the blogs I read linked to a conservative blogger named Cassy Fiano in order to argue with some of her extremely tenuous points. After following the link, I found another piece of hers that I wanted to write something about, and left the blog open in a tab for a while until finally finding the time to write said something. As I was scrolling through her recent posts trying to find the one I wanted to comment on, I felt that familiar tension and frustration with internet discourse, which I used to respond to with outrage and sarcasm, and in which it is so incredibly difficult to deal with in any other way, at least for me.
Despite all that, I still can’t quite this particular post go. I confess that, having been spending far less time following political news than reading for school (and, frankly, slacking off and watching hockey), I haven’t seen that much commentary on the Gore separation. That said, even if I were only looking at Ms. Fiano’s analysis on its own terms, without any input from other media sources, a few points are striking to me. The first is the not unusual tone of gloating when people on the ‘other side’, politically, experience difficulty in their lives. This, I think, happens in online political discourse in general, rather than just being the product of right or left writers. The bravado, the keeping score (with reference to the Bushes’ marriage, as though somehow this one-on-one match can or should be judged on every life criteria and inevitably reveal the superiority of the Bush side), the gloating in victory. Frankly, Ms. Fiano strikes me as a very bad writer, so perhaps it’s unfair to use her to exemplify this phenomenon, but to me it just seems a particularly strong example of a disturbingly ubiquitous tendency.
The other points are more specific to the content of her article, rather than the tone. Based on the quotes she includes, I am absolutely amazed at her interpretation that the Gores or their public relations people are in any way suggesting that “Bush should have given up his presidential victory to save the Gore marriage”. I don’t see anyone saying any such thing. What I see is the suggestion that this extremely stressful, extremely difficult event in the lives of these two people had an ongoing, and insurmountable, negative effect on their relationship. That claim is not really about politics, even though it’s played out as a result of a political context. Why I want to make note of that is because it points towards an extremely immature refusal to see these politicians as anything but political game-players engaged in a zero-sum winner/loser game. Literally everything must be about sour grapes and about the desire to change the past. There’s a lack of humanity to this interpretation, and yes, a total lack of empathy. Because regardless of one’s political position on the rightness of wrongness of the 2000 Supreme Court decision that gave Bush the presidency, I find it difficult to imagine how the loser in a case that had such an undeniably enormous impact not only on his own life, but on his country and beyond, would not struggle to move on from that event and how those closest to him (also deeply affected in their own right) would not find it difficult to learn how to engage with him in this new reality.
But after that extraordinarily long addressing what were originally side points I intended to make, the main point that struck me was her belief that the Gores’ separation means that their healthy marriage has been “revealed to be fake”. Again, this is an extreme manifestation of the gloating and the bravado, but it’s also invoking an underlying (if immature) “common sense” idea that relationships are only ‘real’ if they end. As though years and even decades of happiness, mutual support, and partnership must have been fraudulent. Without even getting into the intentionality implied by using the word ‘fake’ (much stronger, I think, than something like a ‘mistake’, though not quite going all the way into emphasizing the marriage as a pretense or performance), this belief again requires the assumption that life operates as a zero-sum game of binaries.
When I separated from my ex, I thought of myself as having had a ‘failed marriage’. That’s really the only common expression with any kind of lexical force, and I still don’t really know what else to call it. At the same time, though, I wonder at what point a relationship becomes a ‘success’. By these common sense understandings, I wonder if it’s only when one partner dies, and if that’s the case, if it only counts after a certain number of years together. Failure is easy to mark and delineate. In something like this, success only happens and can only be known with certainty when everything is all over and no more eventualities and circumstances and twists in the story could come into play. The ‘yeah but’ in the ‘happily ever after’ that deconstructionist fairy tales tend to play with is a literary device that works on one level, but that hasn’t necessarily embedded itself in the narrative of ‘failure’ in the same way that it has of ‘closure and success’. My extremely brief marriage is perhaps a bad example of how I’m trying to see this, but my parents’ marriage, which ended after nearly three decades together, might be a better one. To call that a ‘failure’ strikes me as not just unsympathetic, but anti-sympathetic…it wasn’t, in the end, ‘permanent’, I guess, because it became untenable to continue within it. But it produced many things in their lives, in their children’s lives, in their friends’ and families’ lives. Thinking of a marriage as a concrete noun, an entity that lasts and endures, denies that it’s also an abstract force that does stuff. It’s a relationship between lives and in lives, and its ending doesn’t erase the years and decades in which it existed or all the extensions of relationships that it produced.
I’ve gone on far longer than I intended and am heading for progressively more abstract territory far far away from where I started, so I’ll just stop now and note that though I’m using my old “lessons in not being an asshole” category, my more recent phrase of choice has been an imitation of Jon Stewart admonishing various pundits to just “Be a Fucking Person”. Humanity is so hard sometimes.