The problem hasn’t been solved, only postponed.
The news about Trump is reaching a fever pitch. With retired Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn — who twice pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI before being pardoned by Trump — making the case for imposing martial law and using the military to re-run elections, things are getting weird.
But, assuming none of these antics work out in Trump’s favor, then what?
If you’re a Democrat, isn’t Biden becoming president like putting a band-aid on a severed artery? Sure, it might relieve some of your anxiety, but it doesn’t exactly solve the problem, does it?
So, what is the problem?
In the United States, and many other Western democracies, we are witnessing the rapid fracturing of society. Unfortunately, the divide seems to only be growing. In the United States, many on the Left point to the “racist, sexist, homophobic bigots” on the Right as the cause. Meanwhile, many on the Right point to the “morally-bankrupt and economically naive” on the Left as the cause.
And we all know what happens when you put someone from the Left in the same room as someone from the Right. The tense conversation quickly devolves into an embarrassing shouting match that amounts to barely more than name-calling. The worst part? We think this is normal.
Whether you’re on the Left or the Right, what do you think the solution is here? We’re all tired of things going nowhere and feeling more and more desperate for change, yet there are too few brave enough to try anything different. As they say, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
If you’re on the Left, what do you want from the 74 million people who voted for Trump? Do you want them to just sit down and shut up? Do you want them to become the slaves of your opinions and decisions? Do you want them to leave your country? Do you want to coerce them to think as you do through a civil war?
If you’re on the Right, what do you want from the 81 million people who voted for Biden? Ask yourself the same questions.
There is only one solution to this problem — one reasonable solution, anyway. But, you’re not going to like it.
What can we do?
Don’t you ever wonder why it’s so easy to vilify the people who don’t support your political party or ideals? Why it’s so easy to hate them? To despise them? To wish they’d all just go away?
Ask yourself, are they all bad people?
No, of course, they’re not. But, sadly, our in-group favoring monkey-brains kick into high gear whenever our side is threatened. We blindly defend our “team” because when our team is attacked it feels like we are attacked.
Then, we stop caring about reality because it no longer matters. What matters is the team. This causes us to hand out free passes for the moral blunders of ourselves and our preferred leaders while condemning our political “enemies” for the same blunders.
It’s hypocrisy. Plain and simple. And none of us escape it.
We want to believe that our side is the “good” side and the other side is the “bad” side because that makes life easier. No one wants to deal with the ugly grey area in between where few things are certain and answers are hard to come by. So, we label those who don’t agree with us “enemy” and then continue on our day, satisfied that we’ve slotted half of the country into a nice, tidy box.
Both sides do this and both sides think they’re the “good guys”. Everyone makes up stories to convince themselves of this truth because God knows there aren’t many of us having productive conversations with members of the other side. I mean, that’s impossible, right?
No, it’s not impossible, it’s just hard. Bill Doherty, the co-founder of an organization called Braver Angels, runs workshops that help people with opposing political perspectives to learn about each other from each other. He structures the conversations to make it possible for people to express their perspectives without fear of reprisal.
According to Doherty, much of the anger we see in politics comes from stereotyping. Each side “dumbs down” the other side and in the process misrepresents it. Doherty’s workshops allow people to break the stereotypes by getting people to talk about their values, which helps the other side understand where they’re coming from.
There are times when people still disagree with each other, but Doherty calls this accurate disagreement because both sides feel like they’ve been heard and understood. What happens is that people see they have far more in common with the other side than they realized, and this makes them feel optimistic for the future.
Your responsibility as a citizen
What no one likes about democracy is that it forces upon us a weighty responsibility. What is that responsibility? To educate ourselves on what’s best for society and to have difficult conversations with people with whom we disagree.
If you’re not doing this, you’re a free-rider. You’re depending on others to do the dirty work for you.
Today, it seems we are hitting a critical point. Too few people are having these tough conversations, and our societies are falling apart as a result.
There’s no nice way to put this:
- If you’re naming-calling online or in person, you’re part of the problem.
- If you’re sharing partisan rhetoric on social media designed to enrage the “opposition”, you’re part of the problem.
- If you’re not trying to understand why the other side believes what they believe, you’re part of the problem.
- If you think your side’s perspectives are infallible, you’re part of the problem.
Obviously, the list goes on. The thing to recognize here is that we are part of the problem just as much as we are part of the solution. We have a responsibility to ourselves and each other, and if we continue to willfully ignore that responsibility we will increasingly look to demagogues for our salvation.
If we do, democracy will die. And future generations will shake their heads at our stupidity.
Thanks for reading!