Both of Sayers’s children are adopted, and Kenan is black. Sayers, who is white, says now that if it weren’t for the “Black Lives Matter” sign, she might have removed the signs temporarily for the sake of keeping the peace with her family. But she could see no way to explain to her son why the “Black Lives Matter” poster should be put away because his grandparents and aunt were coming to the house.
Before the trip, Sayers got a text from her sister, Terryn Owens, asking her to take down any political signs displayed in her yard for fear they would upset their conservative parents. “I texted her, ‘If you can tell me appropriate language to tell my son why we have to take the Black Lives Matter sign down, I will do it,’” Sayers says. Her sister’s response was one of shock and dismay. “You have a Black Lives Matter sign?”
Sayers was so distressed by her sister’s response that she felt unable to engage other than to reply that the signs would stay where they were. The exchange also upset Owens, who said that Sayers’s decision to call the family meeting over the sign left her children “with the vision that their grandparents and aunt are racist,” and that she had already told Sayers it was fine for the signs to be left in place.
Sayers told me that she originally put up the “Black Lives Matter” sign because she was drawn to the movement’s principles of “diversity, inclusion, and restorative justice.” Soon after she bought the sign, a neighbor left a postcard on her front stoop thanking her for displaying it.
“My family loves my kids … They would never intentionally hurt my kids,” Sayers says. “But I think they have no idea how much that [removing the sign] would have hurt my son.”
The story of America in 2018 is really two stories. For so many events in political life, two unreconcilable accounts unfurl in parallel, and which story you trust seems to say more about your identity than it ever has before. These dueling narratives can make it feel impossible to have a productive conversation with anyone who believes the other story—and that includes members of your own family. In the lead-up to the 2016 election, a survey conducted by ABC News found that 37 percent of Americans had experienced increased tension with relatives or friends because of the campaign. The fracturing of the country at large finds expression on a personal level at birthday parties and barbecues and holiday dinners. How do you sit at the table with someone you love but with whom you cannot agree on even the most fundamental facts? Should you try to change their minds? Should you sit at the table with them at all?
How left-leaning Margaret Sayers and her right-leaning family view Brett Kavanaugh’s emotionally charged confirmation process is illustrative of the two stories: Was Christine Blasey Ford a heroic witness for the truth, sacrificing her well-being on a national stage for the greater good? Or was she a political pawn, being manipulated by the Democrats in order to torpedo a qualified candidate for the Supreme Court? Was Kavanaugh an unhinged and possibly predatory villain? Or was he a decent man who may have had a beer-drinking problem as a teenager?
Sayers is a clinical psychologist and told me she thought her experience had informed her reading of Ford’s testimony. “I believe her I’m sure in part because I have a mental-health background, and I know about trauma and I know what it looks like and how it can affect people for years and years,” she says. Sayers thought Ford’s inability to remember some details of the incident made her more credible. “That is an incredibly common thing,” she said, for someone who has survived trauma to have trouble remembering the aftermath of an incident. They are more likely to remember specifics like the smell of cigarette smoke or the color of the skirt they were wearing that night—or, in Ford’s case, the sound of her attackers’ laughter. Sayers says she can’t imagine that Ford could have fabricated the story or that she would have put herself through the spectacle of the hearing if she wasn’t telling the truth. Ultimately, though, what convinced Sayers that Kavanaugh was unfit to serve on the Supreme Court was not Ford’s testimony but Kavanaugh’s. His “partisanship,” combined with a lack of a thorough investigation into the allegations against him, was disqualifying, she thought.