We came from the same parents, the same families, the same schools, the same towns. How is it that we see things so differently?
One community still reeling from this year’s Thanksgiving week smackdown: the folks from Gonzaga College High School, whose elite alumni produced one of the United States’ most notable clashes.
One of my sons goes to Gonzaga — all the hockey team emails are signed “One Team, One Family” — and the clash was all everyone at our post-Thanksgiving hockey game wanted to talk about.
The fracas in an Irish pub on Thanksgiving eve was a perfectly cast white male rivalry: former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley — Gonzaga Class of 1981, Irish, Democrat, Free State — vs. acting deputy secretary of homeland security Ken Cuccinelli — Class of 1986, Italian (and Irish), Republican, Virginia. Yes, they’re the liberal and the conservative. The Trump foe and the Trump appointee.
But they both spent their formative, educational years learning from the same passionate social ethics teachers, taking the same religion classes, going to the same Catholic Mass and the same religious retreats, volunteering at the same inner-city soup kitchen that is part of Gonzaga’s campus just beyond Capitol Hill.
Yet they took the Jesuit values out of that educational family and are living them in very different ways.
And that all came to a head last week.
O’Malley, 56, was at the Dubliner, the Irish pub that’s filled with the school’s iconic purple gear before every Gonzaga football game, before the Gonzaga Smoker, the annual alumni reunion always held on Thanksgiving eve in the school’s huge gym.
Cuccinelli, 51, walked into the pub a little later, and O’Malley went after him. The two-term governor of Maryland had “veins bulging from his neck, screaming and yelling,” Cuccinelli later told Fox News.
“So, you know, the juvenile behavior like Sarah Sanders suffered and Senator Cruz, we’re not succumbing to that,” Cuccinelli told Fox. “And this is a guy who thought he could be president.”
“I told him very directly that his ripping of refugee children from their [parents’] arms and putting them in cages on our southwest border was shameful and contrary to every value we hold dear, as Americans, as Christians, as Men for Others, and as human beings,” O’Malley told me through emails Monday evening.
But this wasn’t just an attack on a political rival in the era of a divided nation. It wasn’t even about a high school rivalry redux. They graduated five years apart in the 1980s. What gave?
O’Malley, who mounted an unsuccessful campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016, explained why he got so personal in a text to my Washington Post colleague Laura Vozzella:
“We all let him know how we felt about him putting refugee immigrant kids in cages — certainly not what we were taught by the Jesuits at Gonzaga.”
O’Malley also told Cuccinelli that his Italian ancestors would be ashamed of his work on immigration in the United States. Because he believes what’s happening in the United States is about more than politics: It’s about morality. And that was the foundation of their Jesuit education — morality, the respecting of each person as a child of God.
From the same faith and from the same school with the motto “Men for Others,” and yet these two came away with such different views.
Cuccinelli often credits his years at Gonzaga, where he was the kid inside the Eagle mascot costume, where he was assigned Karl Marx readings by a radical social justice professor, where he was required to serve in the soup kitchen, with making him the man he is today.
“I learned [at Gonzaga] that it is not enough to have faith, you must also have the courage to risk action on that faith, to risk failure upon that faith: the faith that one person can make a difference and each of us must try,” O’Malley told the students in his 2002 commencement address at the D.C. school.
Cuccinelli is a hard-line conservative who embraces a tough Trumpian stand on immigrants, suggesting rewriting the Statue of Liberty’s poem to welcome only immigrants who “can stand on their own two feet.”
In 2012, he gave a speech at the Christian Life Summit, where he spoke about churches taking a tough-love stance to breaking dependency and getting “out of the business of serving the poor.”
O’Malley rejects Catholic Church teaching, too, by supporting abortion rights, embryonic stem cell research and same-sex marriage.
“I found the passage of marriage equality actually squares with the most important social teachings of my faith, which is to believe in the dignity of every person and to believe in our own responsibility to advance the common good, ” he told the Des Moines Register in 2015.
So, how could two men who come from the same spiritual family have such divergent world views? This is a school so united, my cynic son now only wears purple and actually uses the word “brotherhood.”
Come on, you know. No one ruins Thanksgiving quite like Donald Trump.