Dominique looked like he was going to start crying as he walked into the pastor’s office at the Poplar Park Community Church last Thursday.
Pastor Walter Mitty wasn’t accustomed to seeing one of his favorite parishioners in such a state. Dominique was the kind of African American man that Republicans like to hold up as testimony to how conservative policies benefit everyone.
The great, great grandson of a slave and raised in the Robert Taylor Homes on the South Side, Dominique had played by the rules and earned an MBA from the University of Chicago. After getting a job at what was then the First Chicago Bank, he had worked hard, proved his competence and now had an office on the 52nd floor of a sky scraper in the Loop.
Mitty’s only problem with the man in the Brooks Brothers suit was that he was a Sox fan.
“You look really upset,” said Pastor Mitty after the two shook hands and sat down.
After collecting his thoughts for a moment, Dominique began, “You’d call me a conservative, right Pastor?”
“What hurts is that sometimes I feel like I’m the only one that thinks the way I do,” he said. “I feel so alone, so isolated. Like no one understands or even wants to understand me. They hear the word Republican, see red and jump to conclusions—’Oh he’s one of those angry Trump voters who demonizes liberals and is responsible for the polarization in this country.'”
“You know that I know that’s not true,” was all Pastor Mitty could manage to say.
The two men who had grown up in very different worlds had developed a comfort with each other that wasn’t threatened by long pauses in a conversation.
Dominique broke the silence, saying, “Donald Trump calls himself a Republican but he stands for something very different than the Republican Party I joined when I was in college. Ronald Reagan was president then. Most of the bankers I talk to agree that his trickle-down theory doesn’t hold water, but for me that’s not the main thing. What made me want to be a Republican was Reagan’s character.”
Dominique couldn’t help but laugh. “Me and Reagan. Strange bedfellows, right?”
Mitty laughed as well and said, “Sort of like you and me, when you think of it.”
“One of my Republican heroes is Colin Powell,” Dominique added, no longer searching for words. “Powell respected authority. That’s a big conservative value. Starting out his career in the Army as a second lieutenant he understood the importance of having superior officers he could look up to, and as a four star general he commanded, if you will, everyone’s respect…because of his character.”
Mitty wouldn’t label himself as a conservative, but he was hearing what his parishioner was saying.
“I feel like our current president has betrayed me and the values the Republican Party used to stand for. Like, loyalty, for example. Loyalty is a big conservative value, but Trump tries to gain loyalty out of fear. That’s not how General Powell viewed authority.”
Dominique added: “Or take another conservative value. Let me put it this way. I made the mistake of telling some of my co-workers that I was committed to not having sex until I got married. When I said that, they laughed at me, Pastor. One of them actually has a bumper sticker on his BMW that says, ‘Your body may be a temple but mine is a recreation area.”
“Last week I went back to the old neighborhood to check in on some old friends, and one of them was wearing a t-shirt that declared ‘Real Men Respect Women,'” Dominique said. “I just hugged the brother. Our bodies really are sacred.”
After Dominique excused himself to go to the washroom, Mitty remembered a heated “debate” at a coffee hour about a month ago between Dominique and Sharissa Hawkins, who had sparked the exchange by accusing all Republicans of lacking compassion. What set her off was what she was seeing on TV about the separation of children at the border from their undocumented parents.
Mitty will always remember Dominique’s response. He had agreed that the whole situation at the border revealed a lack of compassion but then explained what compassion looks like to a real conservative. He used the income gap between the rich and the poor as an example, and said that, on the one hand, if you acquire a skill which society needs through education and work hard, you should have the right to keep what you have earned. That’s just fair.
At the same time, he said, the kind of conservatism he stood for included philanthropy. He asked Sharissa to notice the list of donors who make her beloved PBS News Hour possible. The conservatism he valued, he continued, included corporations hiring people with disabilities, and requiring recipients of welfare to work.
“The work requirement,” Dominique had explained, “comes from a profound compassion rooted in the belief that most people want to work. They want the dignity that comes from earning a paycheck.”
And then, what Mitty considered a miracle, happened. Those two people, who had been verbal combatants for a few minutes, looked at each other and realized that their friendship and respect for each—which had developed over many years of going to church together—outweighed a need to win an argument. Without saying it in so many words, it was like they agreed not only to disagree but to ponder what the other had been saying in the belief that they might have something to learn from each other.
When Dominique returned wearing a smile, he responded to Mitty’s raised eyebrows by saying, “You know, Pastor, while I was in the washroom I got to thinking about Sharissa and me, and I decided that I don’t have to feel like everybody thinks like I do in order to feel connected.”