Before we board this roller coaster of emotions…
Six months ago a President-elect Trump was an impossibility to many of us on the right. He was and is such a laughably-bad candidate, how could he win? (Yes, I know Hillary is awful too, but she at least is better at hiding it.) Now, six months later, that previous impossibility has become a reality; and I can safely say political polarization only has gotten worse. The left attacks everything Donald Trump does, while the right defends everything he does. There is no other way to explain a poll showing Republican support for Putin shifting dramatically in the last several months.
I made a blog post back in June when a President Trump was simply an impossibility. At the time, I felt very strongly that both sides of the political spectrum had become so polarized that candidates like Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton became possible. How else do you explain two candidates by both major parties who were so disliked by the other side that each side attacked those of us in the middle who refused to vote for either? (I.e.: Not voting for *insert candidate you like* is a vote for *insert candidate you don’t like*.)
I think that blog post is highly relevant today, even after the election, as we enter a new era of politics. For better or worse, this election did not end on election night when Donald Trump was declared president-elect. So sit back, relax, and grab some popcorn or candy (I personally like cookie dough when I go to the movies) and enjoy. If you come away from this article learning anything, please at least meditate on your own views and where they fall in this whole mad, mad, mad, mad world. (Or at least watch the movie I just linked to.)
Political Polarization Poisons Politics
(Author’s note: Alliteration is fun!)
This morning, while I took my usual breakfast of Columbian coffee (or orange juice), cinnamon raisin English muffins with peanut butter, and Nature Valley’s chocolate oat clusters (shameless product placement: I really do recommend them), I listened to Glenn Beck’s podcast. Whoa, wait, before you exit this article because you think Glenn Beck is x, y, and z, (oh no, and he is a Mormon!) let me make my point.
Thanks for staying. I would make you some coffee, but unfortunately this is the Internet. And I guarantee you this will get a little weird and possibly uncomfortable at times, but I assure you I am actually building to a point. But we should get back to the subject at hand.
In this particular podcast, Beck talked about the polarization in politics today, not just in America but abroad, e.g.: other events like Brexit. He explains political parties increasingly regard the other party with fear or as “evil,” citing a statistic showing seventy percent (70% for those of you just cruising for numbers) of Democrats are afraid of Republicans/the Republican Party. Wait, what?
Are we really afraid of each other?
I could not really believe what I heard. So, I did something I feel more of us should do when we hear a “fact” or a “statistic.” I looked it up. Whoa, novel concept, I know! And there is this thing called Google where you can check these things rather than just accept a “fact” because you agree with it. Anyway… I managed to find a website that confirmed what Beck cited — Pew Research Center.
Those darn Republicans/Democrats sure are scary!
Whoa, that is a pretty crazy-looking, sideways bar graph. What does it even mean? Apparently, Democrats and Republicans now regard each other with fear. “WHAT?! But I thought *insert party here* is responsible for *insert candidate here* and the world blowing up! This cannot be true!” (My caricature of an actual reader’s response.)
I am so sorry, dear reader, but it would seem that all of us (or most of us for you stubborn independents out there) have helped contribute to where we are right now. By that, I mean how we had to choose between two of the most unlikeable people in the history of politics. And for those Democrats who say to themselves, “No way, there is no one more racist, xenophobic, and fascist than Donald Trump,” and to you Republicans who cry out, “But Hillary Clinton is the most corrupt, dishonest statist ever,” I offer yet another picture to (hopefully) inject a bit of perspective:
Holy cow! Both parties view Trump and Clinton at about the same levels? (Interestingly, Republicans have a slightly cooler view of Trump than Democrats do of Clinton, which says a lot about the current Republican Party, but that is an entirely different article.) But wait, this shows the other side is simply misguided and evil because they support an evil candidate, right? No, silly. Stop trying to prove how dumb and/or evil those who disagree with you are. Geez.
Cool, but what do we actually think of each other?
Okay, so, I do not want to be that guy, but it really does not get much better in terms of how each party views members of the other party. In fact, it gets right down into ridiculous, even sort of comical, stereotype territory.
Let me pose a question to you, beloved reader: Do you honestly believe someone who thinks differently than you is closed-minded, immoral, dishonest, lazy, and/or unintelligent? Do you, Republicans, truly think Democrats want the worst for the country and have absolutely no substantive concerns about anything? Similarly, do you, Democrats, actually want to claim Republicans are simply stuck in the past and have no good ideas? If you answer yes to either of these questions, please get away from people; maybe go on a hike or a cross-country journey (whatever does the trick), and commit to some honest reflection.
Here is where it gets personal and philosophical (oh no!)
Up until now I have bombarded you with statistics and semi-rational thinking (my morning coffee might be affecting my brain at this point), but this is the point of the article where I bring in my own personal experience and wrap up things with a nice bow on top. (But one of those stick-on bows; I cannot tie a bow to save my life.) So, if you are just going to point at me and say I am a bleeding-heart, liberal sympathizer or my white privilege prevents me from having any substantive experience, I again implore you to go for a drive and do some real soul-searching.
I have lived and visited all sorts of places. I have traveled to Europe (Spain), South America (Mexico), and almost all of the United States (Alaska and Hawaii have yet to be conquered); and I am sure my world travels are far from complete. I grew up in “America’s heartland,” St. Louis, Missouri. (Interesting fact: Missouri was considered a bellwether state from 1904 to 2004, predicting every U.S. presidential election and seemingly every issue in the U.S. Thanks for messing that up, Obama.)
When I graduated high school and had to choose where to study for my undergraduate degree. I purposely chose a school outside of Missouri (Baylor University) and spent four wonderful years in Waco, Texas. Eventually, I had to choose a place for the next chapter of my life, and I settled on Los Angeles, California, due to my chosen career path. (I am a filmmaker in case you are wondering.)
Missouri, as a whole, tends to be more mixed politically. If you doubt that, I refer you to the fact that Missouri elected Jay Nixon (Democrat) and Peter Kinder (Republican) as governor and lieutenant governor, respectively. (Something which, hilariously, mystifies my father to this day.)
Texas, of course, is much more conservative with a few liberal havens (Austin, somewhat Dallas, and Houston). For those of you paying attention, yes, Baylor and Waco tend to be more conservative, but I think you would be surprised how many diverse opinions I encountered there as well. After all, it is still academia.
Finally, as of writing, I ended up in California, a mostly liberal place, especially in Los Angeles and in my line of work. It has been interesting, and I have had plenty of encounters that challenged and shaped my views, but fascinatingly enough, I had those in Missouri and Texas too.
Why do I even bother to tell you all this?
I suppose I tell you all this to demonstrate I have visited and lived in diverse places, so I have experienced a lot of different opinions and beliefs. And make no mistake — I have plenty more to experience. But one thing I have consistently returned to each time, something that has become my mantra:
“People suck, and no political ideology or system can cure that.” – Steven Trebus (Yes, I did in fact just quote myself. I admit to being a terrible human being.)
It does not matter if you are Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal, team Edward or team Jacob (Twilight reference for my many young adult readers), you are most likely wrong or not totally correct on a lot of issues. I admit to falling guilty of that thinking a lot.
The fascinating thing is that both sides view the other as intolerant. Here is where I reveal to you my personal views: I don’t really know. My views are constantly changing. Yes, that does seem rather inconsistent, but while my views on issues change, the principles guiding my thinking do not. The best way I can frame my current views are as a conservative libertarian.
I stand for the the entire Constitution and the principles behind it, the government staying out of marriage and letting people do what they want (see my article on why marriage licenses suck), helping and providing care for the poor, and I am against abortion not because I oppose a woman’s right to choose but because I do not like the idea of deciding who lives and who dies once fertilization has occurred.
My point with all that is this: As someone with really all over views (and those were just a sampling), I have experienced intolerance and marginalization from both sides. I now see holes in arguments from both sides. And, honestly, love is my guiding principle because God loves us and chose to send Christ, His son, to die for iniquities. (Oh no, now I have offended practically everyone. I promise this will not get all “religious” on you. We are almost done.)
Play us out, Keyboard Cat!
(Wow, this has taken a really interesting turn.)
Why did I just embed a video of a cat playing a keyboard? Maybe I did it to redeem myself and diffuse the awkwardness of bringing up Christianity in an article about politics. Or maybe I really just did it to make you smile.
Either way, Christian or non-Christian, I think we can all agree there is simply a lack of love in how we approach each other these days. On November 17, 1957, Martin Luther King, Jr. gave a sermon at the Dexter Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, titled “Loving Your Enemies.” It really is a fantastic sermon with applications not just to Christians, so if you have time to listen or read it, it’s here. But if not, one quote stands out to me:
“Love your enemies. Because if you hate your enemies, you have no way to redeem and transform your enemies.”
How different would the world be if we put this to practice? There was a fascinating phenomenon during the primaries with Donald Trump where, every time a Republican attacked him, his poll numbers only increased. Why? As Martin Luther King, Jr. pointed out more than fifty years ago:
“Men must see that force begets force, hate begets hate, toughness begets toughness.”
I would like to end by circling back around to the political divisiveness and animosity in our country. George Washington, our only president elected unanimously, hated political parties. He famously said:
“However [political parties] may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.”
Rigidness to a party or an ideology, insisting your side is right and their side is wrong, robs us of love and puts us into an atmosphere of hate. If you come away from this long, and perhaps rambling, article with one thing, I hope it is that. Do not hate the other side; love them despite your differences. Listen to them. Ignoring and writing them off only encourages further division. The most difficult thing in life is to love someone who hates or does not “deserve” it. But if you can do it, you will find it the most fulfilling experience.