In the early days, while the mid-March shadows began their determinedly slow strangle across this city, I matched on Bumble with a famous face. A face I’d seen countless times on TV, a face that I’d listened to and daydreamed of being able to debate in person. But it’s Bumble, and it’s New York City, so you really never know what’s actually on the other end. I wasn’t getting my hopes up just yet.
A conversation ensued, and whomever was on the other end was funny, intelligent, empathetic and interesting…traits that are hard to find on their own, let alone combined. So the conversation thickened, deepened and effortlessly trailed deep into the nights. Those were the early days, before the masks and the mandatory lockdowns, when the talk was about ventilators and hospital-crushing peaks. When hospital tent cities were being erected in Central Park, when fear was even more contagious than the disease.
She used to joke about ours’ being a “covid love.” Maybe it was. We talked about everything, from working from home (she’s the one who taught me how to maximize the comedic value of Zoom backgrounds), to the healing scars of our pasts – isolation is fertile ground for unaddressed ghosts. We laughed about the latest Netflix hits, traded notes on the daily Cuomo briefings and talked a lot about how we’d both found our way to this point in our lives. She was genuine, real and could feel the fit of others’ shoes.
Eventually she told me “who” she was, and talked about her role on Fox News. I told her I recognized her, which led right into her asking about my political beliefs. Once I admitted I hadn’t voted for Hillary it started. Intense judgment at first, but I’ll admit – she listened and was open to what I had to say. I think she quickly realized she wasn’t conversing with one of those simpletons “clinging to his bible and gun.”
As I explained my basic Jeffersonian roots, and my core belief that absolute power corrupts absolutely, I mentioned several SCOTUS cases that I disagreed with fundamentally on their, what I considered, overuse of the Commerce Clause to insert themselves in state cases where they didn’t belong.
To my astonishment, she didn’t know what the Commerce Clause was.
I didn’t say anything, but it struck me. Most people don’t know what the Commerce Clause is, and I wouldn’t expect them to. But in this instance, talking to a national political commentator, and an ardent supporter of Roe v Wade…I was stunned when she didn’t know what I was talking about. The Commerce Clause, though obscure to the general public, is an important piece of our constitution that grants the court jurisdiction over what would otherwise be decisions enumerated to the states by the 10th amendment. There has been much discussion, and debate, around the Commerce Clause and whether it affords the Supreme Court the power to rule over a litany of what-should-be state issues – including abortion.
Nevertheless, our conversation continued into the night, until 5am to be exact, and as she pointed out 12 hours of straight texting was “a record for her,” we made plans to meet.
This was in the beginning, when everything was shut down. We’d decided to meet in Union Square, and even as I stood on the corner of 14th and University Place I wasn’t completely certain she was actually who she said she was…
I recognized her face immediately. It was in fact her. We hugged awkwardly (were we supposed to do that in these times of Covid?), laughed about it and seamlessly our in-person conversation picked up where our texts had left off. We walked for hours, through a city shutting down – through an empty Washington Square, she showed me the brownstone in Tribeca where she’d grown up, carelessly traversing the carless cobblestone streets.
As we got closer to her apartment, and the end of our walk, she warned me of her quirky habits, what living with her would be like and about our future. First, as a proud Sagittarius, talk like this gives me literal panic attacks. But second, it couldn’t be all good, so I asked, “Is there anything about me that gives you pause?”
“Well, I am worried about your politics,” and then jested, “but I’m going to turn you into a Democrat.”
I responded, “funny, I’ve always preferred to be with someone who intelligently disagrees, from whom I can learn from. And we’re more than our political beliefs, they don’t define us.”
“But Trump,” she said. “I question the morals of anyone who would vote for that man. Carville and Matalin are a wonderful story, but I don’t know if couples like that can make it in today’s climate.”
My face gave away nothing. Night crept quickly, and I still had to make my way back through the street level dystopia to my apartment. So I accompanied her to her building, gave her a warm hug and told her goodnight.
Texts continued, but the clutches of the pandemic tightened quickly. People became despondent, our texts faded away and a few weeks later she texted me out of the blue:
“Deleted our Bumble chat?! Brutal!”
“Lol,” I responded, “no I got rid of Bumble, deleted it.”
The pandemic continued its strangle, and our texts faded off once again…for good….
Our experience stuck with me. It was revealing to meet her, after having lost my temper listening to her position so many times on TV, and get to know her as a person beneath that. She comes off hard, but she’s not. She’s deeply emotional, harbors insecurities like us all, has a whimsical humor and genuinely thinks about how she affects others.
But while I came to know, and genuinely appreciate, the parts of her that weren’t politics – she was struggling to remember all those parts of me she’d appreciated but now couldn’t see beyond my own, opposing, politics.
That was even more revealing.
In the months since, this country has devolved into a schismatic absurdity. People scream “scientific method” as justification for quashing dissent. Simple objective realities have been drowned by the shameless cacophony of baaing Tik Tok sheep. Eyes who have only seen headlines from a far try to explain events to eyes who have seen them firsthand. The definition of words have become changeable, and 1 + 1 no longer equals 2.
Subjective morality has murdered objective rationality.
The most important lesson I learned from my brief covid love with a national political commentator: it is true that disagreeing or being wrong does not make a person morally compromised. They are more than their politics. Much, much more.
But it is also true that there are many in this country who don’t believe that, many who think that those who don’t agree with them, those who don’t do what they say…are evil. And in that world, the ends always justify the means.
Never ever forget that.
Once you understand that simple fact – you won’t find everything so absurd anymore. You’ll begin to see we’re actually living the logical consequences…