Ambivalence might be the desired stance

As I was lamenting the departure of the Chicago Tribune columnists who took Tribune owner Alden Global Capital’s buyout offer, my favorite New York Times columnist published his last column.

Frank Bruni’s June 20 piece was a gem. Reflecting on 10 years as a columnist, Bruni wondered whether the dogmatism of political commentators had contributed to the country’s polarization. He said that he wouldn’t want to return to “the stodginess” and “insistence on evenhandedness” of the journalism of his early career, but he regretted the lack of ambivalence, ambiguity, and nuance today.

“Ambivalence and ambiguity . . . can be apt responses to events that we don’t yet understand, with outcomes that we can’t predict,” he wrote.

I usually don’t feel qualified to write about politics. (I made an exception about Donald Trump because I did not doubt my judgment of him.) Inspired by Bruni’s blessing of ambivalence, I’m admitting my unsure thoughts about two longtime hot-button issues: abortion and immigration. 

I support a woman’s right to choose at the same time that I’m bothered by looking at images of fetal development. Thankfully, about three-quarters of abortions in the United States are performed within the first 9 weeks of pregnancy, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A fetus already looks human by 12 weeks but isn’t able to survive outside the womb for at least another 10. Viability, however, has changed as medical science got better at saving premies; a shifting point can’t be the standard for when a fetus becomes a human person. What is? If everyone agreed on that, abortion would be a lot less contentious. My one certainty is that I’m glad that I never had to face a decision about abortion. 

Deporting undocumented immigrants who contribute to our society seems cruel as well as impossible, but does amnesty encourage more to come? It was upsetting to hear Vice President Kamala Harris tell people fleeing horrible conditions in their homelands, “Do not come,” but a country has the right to control its borders. What would a humane immigration policy look like? While saying that the lack of progress on immigration reform is a shame, I avoid thinking about the issue.

Avoidance is not what Bruni was advocating. He said that certainty was often the result of too little thinking. His final column encouraged us to be open to new information and different viewpoints, no matter how certain we think we are. To that end, I recently subscribed to a blog called The Flip Side that, in a five-minute daily read, distills the viewpoints of opposing sides of an issue. Following Bruni’s logic, I may become better informed and more ambivalent — a not undesirable outcome.

*****

CREDIT CARD BENEFIT: FREE MUSEUM ADMISSION

Although I wouldn’t want to discourage people from becoming members of museums, Bank of America’s Museums on Us program looks too good to be quiet about. It’s more than 20 years old, but I just found out about it.

Holders of Bank of America Visa cards get free admission to select museums around the country on the first full weekend of the month. Guest admission and entry to special exhibits aren’t included, as they are with many museum memberships. 

Participating museums in Chicago are the Art Institute, the Chicago History Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Adler Planetarium. 

The card is useful at home and away, provided one plans to travel on the right days. In New York City, for example, it is good on first weekends at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Whitney Museum.

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  • Thanks, Marianne, for filling me in on a column I'd have missed. The ambivalence you describe is something I think the country could use. With ever fewer people remembering the days of the Fairness Doctrine and "editorial replies" from TV viewers, as well as search results we can set ourselves, too many people wind up thinking "How can you possibly think that?" We need more opposing views in print and broadcast opinions -- ambivalence in action.

  • Amen, Margaret.

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