On the other side
Cathy Morris, an Arm & Hammer quality supervisor, had worked alongside Bill for every one of those years without ever speaking to him about politics. She had overheard enough of his conversations to know: “He’s way over on the other side,” she said — and she preferred to associate only with her own side whenever possible.
She picked out an elliptical machine at the gym farthest from the TVs, because they were always tuned to Fox News. She deleted conservative friends from her Facebook page. She went on Snopes.com to investigate rumors about Obama and then shared her findings mostly with other liberals — the mechanic at work whom she spotted at a rally for Vice President Biden, her union Democrat father or her two daughters who had graduated from liberal arts colleges. In what increasingly felt like a fight over basic American principles, she decided her role was to reinforce the stakes with liberals already on her side.
“Why waste my breath talking about the president to somebody who is always going to hate him?” Morris said. “If they can’t understand what he’s accomplished, it is already a lost cause.”
How, she wondered, could anyone not see the proof? The local unemployment rate had dropped from 13 percent to just more than 6 percent. The nearby National Machinery Plant, which had nearly closed its doors a few years earlier, now had trucks lining up at the loading docks like floats awaiting the start of a victory parade. The two colleges in town had become more diverse, and Arm & Hammer had begun offering benefits to same-sex domestic partners. Because of health-care reform, Morris’s youngest daughter, 22, has been able to stay on her mother’s health insurance plan. Morris decided to repay the president by doing something she had never done: making regular donations to Obama’s reelection campaign.
In this county of 50-50, she had decided there was no more room for ambivalence. “You are all in for him or against him, and you have to commit,” Morris said.
Local membership had risen for both the tea party and the Democratic Women’s Club, and one disagreement on election night had resulted in an assault charge. Even the area’s once-tranquil town hall meetings had devolved into a shouting match, with one woman suggesting that liberals in Washington should be “shot in the head,” prompting local Democrats to demand a police investigation. Ever since, local politics had all but come to a standstill.
But the line at Arm & Hammer had to keep moving, 270 cartons a minute, so employees had decided to guard the peace by talking sparingly about Obama or his second inauguration.
“I only confide in people who think like I think,” Herr said.
“Smile and stick to your side,” Morris said.
So they stood together in polite silence and watched baking soda roll down the manufacturing line and onto the trucks, where it would be delivered into an economy that was improving or combusting, in a country where life was getting better or worse.