In America, we could all unite politically, but only if we all decided to be Republicans. That is what happened, briefly, after 9/11. It could never have gone the other way; there is no way we could all put down our differences and become Democrats for a while. That is by design. For as long as I have been alive, Republicans have defined what Democrats are. To them, Democrats are many horrible things, but they are primarily unpatriotic, ineffectual, and toxic. (To be honest, there are also racist and homophobic stereotypes thrown in, too.) Many Republicans would gladly vote for a dog over a Democrat, mainly because right-wing messaging has tarnished the party label completely and relentlessly in a large portion of the country for decades.

I have been a Democrat all my life. Even I find it incredibly hard to define what a Democrat is without relying on terms and caricatures invented my Republicans. I don’t think most people understand that they have the same blind spot. I see it all the time in news articles, opinion essays, blog posts and tweets. I see most people using the language of Republicans defining what Democrats are. I see some people who are disheartened with Republican politicians or policies refuse on principle to see Democrats as sensible alternatives. I want to say to those authors: You don’t really know what a Democrat is because it has been defined by the opposing party for its own benefit.

I think Democrats—even most Democratic politicians—believe in their own bad press, too, because it has been so pervasive over my lifetime that it is part of American culture and ideology. I want to say to these people: You are not how others perceive you; you are what you do.