Another positive thing I'd like to say about the elections is how reasonable it all was. I don't just mean the subdued campaigns - nary a screaming siren political truck drove my by house and posters and flags were sedate and much fewer in number than in previous elections - but Taiwan as a whole.
Here is my dark secret: I have friends who are blue (shhh, don't tell anyone)*. I disagree quite strongly with them. With most, we just don't talk about it. I have my strong beliefs, they have theirs, and I'll express mine but stop short of insisting that others must agree (even if I think they should, because of course I believe I'm right - I wouldn't have a belief if I didn't think it was the right one, but they could say the same).
With some - one especially - well, we do talk about it. We disagree strongly. Well, in some ways not so strongly: the main difference is that she's focused on what the election means for the economy and stock market, and while I agree that's important, my ideological beliefs about Taiwan as a nation and my feelings of under the surface rage at any political group that has not apologized for mass murders it engaged in trump that (plus, I don't really think the KMT is all that great for the economy, but that's a different debate). As an Armenian whose ancestors survived a genocide that the Turkish government still has not apologized for, that's not something I can forgive or ignore in any group. You could say it's in my blood.
What matters, though, is not that we disagree. It's that we disagree, and we can talk about it - even heatedly, but never insultingly - and we can still be friends.
I can't do that back home. I'm actually not against "conservatives" in the classic small-government, fiscally conservative sense, although I'm not convinced of their economic arguments. The position itself does not offend me and I am happy to discuss it. Although I disagree with libertarian economic platforms, again the idea doesn't offend me.
What I can't condone is what a vote for the Republicans also stands for: a vote for homophobia, to some extent for racism (although that's an issue that is hidden deep inside Republican economic platforms and is too intangible to prove fundamentally without wading into a political correctness landmine), and for restriction of women's rights. A vote for basing American laws on "Christian"** morals that not every American shares. I certainly don't. I feel this way to such an extent that I really can't have a civil discussion about these issues with a non-moderate Republican. I can't respect someone who endorses homophobia or says "America is a Christian nation" when it isn't, or who uses perfectly good words such as "liberal", "socialist" and "feminist" as insults. I just can't. Those views are abhorrent to me. Even if a person votes Republican based on economic principles, they're still casting a vote for the party that holds all the disgusting views above.***
To the same extent, I can't condone what a vote for the KMT stands for ("it's OK to commit crimes against humanity and not apologize for them!"). The difference is that in Taiwan, I can talk about it. People can talk about it...mostly. I see more green-blue dialogue than Republican-Democrat. I see more green-blue friendships and relationships (I couldn't possibly date a Republican back home, but I know plenty of green-leaning Taiwanese who have blue-leaning partners). I see people mostly getting along. The flashpoints are the exceptions, and society as a whole can mostly deal with them.
And I can talk about this. As someone who is fairly deep green, to someone who is fairly deep blue. We know not to insult each other: I may dislike the KMT, but I don't dislike her. I may not respect Ma Ying-jiu, but I do respect her. It can't, and shouldn't, ever be personal (although the White Terror thing really hits a nerve with me due to aforementioned family history).
The difference, I believe, is the fact that the US has increasingly veered towards social issues in its civil discourse, even though polls show that people care about the economy and vote on that rather than social issues. I do vote based on social issues, but I do so as a reasonably successful and very lucky, privileged American who had most of the right breaks. I don't know if I'd feel the same way if I'd grown up at the ass end of the system. Deep down we Democrats and those Republicans hate each other because it's all about worldviews and morals - gay rights, women's rights, religion, what makes a real family, when does life begin and how is it that all men are created equal but don't have an equal shot at life?
There is some of that in KMT-DPP political discourse but it doesn't cut quite so deeply. A Taiwanese feminist activist could vote for either party and feel she did the right thing (although I personally feel that the DPP is a better bet for women). A proponent of gay rights could do the same. Religion doesn't even come into it, as I believe is right. The debates aren't about these issues. The one social issue that gets play is national identity, and even that seems to have reached a "let's agree to disagree" sort of detente.
A very intelligent friend of mine said that Taiwan is much better now: "four years ago you would hear something like 外省豬回中國 or 無知南部人****. It's better this time indeed." And I agree - it is better. Things are improving. The two sides ran a reasonably civilized campaign - as much as can be expected from politics - and the overall outcome was one of a mature society, not two angry sides growling at each other. I admire that.
These days, if you throw out either of the above insults you'll get shushed, not cheered on. You can state your views but few will encourage you to just hurl invective with no underlying message. Which is as it should be.
Of course, there are always outliers. There are always a few shouters rather than talkers, in any society. The difference is that in America they seem to have taken over our discourse, whereas in Taiwan they're being told to shoosh so people can get on with the business of electing a leader. They can say what they want, but few will them seriously. Even within the campaign - attacks against Tsai Ying-wen didn't seem to stick ("she's not really Hakka" got shouted down, so did "she's a lesbian!") and while people joke about Ma Ying-jiu, generally the underlying message is that he's weak and ineffective.
So I look at my home country and I see "elitist", "liberal", "lamestream media", "feminist", "socialist", "terrorist" all used as though they carry the same register. Since when is a "liberal" the same as a "terrorist"? Since a bunch of angry people decided it was. I hear personal insults, attacks, people who believe things like 'if you don't see it my way, then you're just an idiot'. This is not shushed. This is not put in its proper place at the extreme ends. This is what makes it on TV or gets talked about online. And this is sad.
Back to Taiwan, and sure, people disagree strongly. Someone might think another person's opinion is wrong, but the insults don't come. It would be rare to actually believe that because someone disagrees with you, that they're an idiot. I disagree strongly with my dark blue friend, but she is certainly not an idiot.
I don't feel we Americans grant each other the same respect.
I admire that in Taiwan, people seem to be able to see the difference between a belief and a whole person.
I wish I saw more of that back home. Then again, I also wish the beliefs we were debating weren't ones that are tied so strongly to social values. I wish we could all agree that gay people are people too and deserve equal rights, or that women are, indeed, able to make decisions about their bodies, and get on with the business of debating the economy and foreign policy.
In this way, I could say that America has a lot to learn from Taiwan.
*I am joking, but you knew that
**As someone who is not Christian but was raised Protestant, I don't actually think that a lot of what these guys say is "Christian" really is at all. I don't think Jesus would have condoned banning gay marriage or contraception, or possibly even abortion, and definitely not tax breaks on the wealthy while the poor went without. But, that's what they say. A different debate, again.
***I know, I know, I should respect all views but I just can't do that when someone makes up a bunch of lies about the "sacred bond of marriage" to disguise homophobia or thinks he knows better than I do what I should do with my own body. NO.
**** translation: "Foreign-born (Chinese) pigs go back to China" and "Ignorant southerners".