But we don’t have to be such jerks about it!
Worst. Election. Ever. Probably the only thing that Americans of all political persuasions can agree on. And it’s not just that so many people think both candidates are particularly disappointing this time around (though this certainly is one very huge contributing factor), it’s also the polarization and divisiveness of this election that’s causing nationwide depression.
I feel like 2016 for America is that moment in a troubled marriage when the couple realizes that there’s no salvaging the relationship. Soon liberals are going to start sleeping in the basement guest room while conservatives spend more time at their sister’s place. And we’ve certainly given up on the notion of keeping up appearances, of pretending to be one happily united nation, content instead to air our dirty laundry, screaming and yelling at each other in full view of the neighbors, prompting poor Mexico and Canada to lower their blinds and turn up the TV.
I’ve always been the annoying guy who, in the midst of conflict, whines about how we all need to try and get along. But I’ve learned that getting along isn’t always possible, and at times isn’t even desirable. Many of the issues that divide us these days go beyond politics; they involve diverging moral and ethical world views. And I can’t imagine that it’d be healthy to sweep such conflicts under the rug to sit and fester in silence. Better that we talk, shout, fight, protest, disrupt, etc. until we can figure this shit out and find a way forward, if that’s possible.
I get that we can’t all get along. I really do. But do we have to be so horrible in how we go about not getting along?
When I read conservative articles, blogs, posts, comments, etc., I expect to hear about how wrong, ridiculous, and calamitous my liberal beliefs are. That’s just the nature of conflicts over politics and morals. But what surprises me nowadays is reading about how I don’t actually believe and support what I claim to believe and support. Apparently, my political and moral convictions, wrong as they are, are really just a front for something even more sinister.
I’ve discovered that my support for (and participation in) same-sex marriage isn’t about my and others’ ability to marry the person we love; no, that sort of talk is just theater. My real goal is to weaken the institution of marriage and society’s sense of the importance of family, to make it easier for the liberal elite to manipulate the population for our own perverse purposes. My support for social welfare programs like Obamacare? Not really about caring for the poor, I just want people dependent on the liberal-controlled government. Environmental regulation? Not all that concerned about climate change, I just want more government (i.e. liberal) control over business and industry. LGBTQ+ anti-discrimination laws? Not really interested in protecting LGBTQ+ access to jobs, housing, and services, I just want to coerce conservative Christians into believing what we leftists tell them to believe.
These sorts of revelations are a bit panic inducing. Did I miss something? Is this all true? I can see how a lot of this might be inferred from the rhetoric coming from some of the more irritating talking heads of the liberal movement. But if this is what being a liberal is about, then I, and most liberals I know, are the worst liberals around. I actually really do love my marriage, and I’m not interested in weakening it or anyone else’s. I really am concerned about marginalized groups in society, and I do believe the government has a role to play (though not the only role), in protecting marginalized groups and endeavoring to un-marginalize them. And as much as my conservative friends frustrate me with some of their beliefs, I have no interest in forcing them to believe or behave in any certain way. I value the freedom that allows them to speak and act according to their consciences.
And I really have no interest in a liberal plot to take over society. I think political diversity in the running of our government is a good thing. Also, I watch Game of Thrones; I know what plotting entails. That shit looks exhausting, and pretty dangerous, actually. I have a family, I have a job, I have friends, I have social commitments. How the hell do I also fit in planning for a new liberal world order?
To make sure I really am doing this liberal thing correctly, I turn to liberal articles, blogs, posts, and comments where I’m relieved to find out that I actually am on the right track – no evil ulterior motives required. But I also learn that, as it turns out, it’s really the conservatives who aren’t who they say they are. Surprise twist – they’re the ones with the evil ulterior motives!
Their opposition to same-sex marriage doesn’t stem from a concern about the family and society. Really, they just see the LGBTQ+ community as a threat to the traditional dominance of white Christians that needs to squashed. Their opposition to government regulation? Not about free markets, but about their ability to take advantage of marginalized groups without government interference. And their concern for religious freedom, not really about religious freedom at all, but rather about tightening the now-weakening grip that Christianity has on society.
Well now that’s super helpful. No more hand-wringing over how individuals I thought to be good, decent people could have such wrong beliefs. It turns out that none of them are good and decent. Problem solved – I can enjoy brunch with a mind untroubled by moral ambiguity.
Except, unfortunately, as much as all of that seems to ring true for so many big-name conservative leaders I read and hear about, none of it jives with what I know of the conservatives who are my friends and family. First of all, if Facebook is any indication, in general they seem a lot more interested in and concerned about things like raising their kids, doing their jobs, church functions, and the like, than they are in reestablishing Christian hegemony over American society. And in the occasional instances where they do get political, I’m pretty sure they’re quite sincere in their concern for family, religious freedom, and government overreach. As much as I believe them to be so very wrong about so very many things, I also believe that they are quite sincere and good intentioned in their convictions.
But wait …
If there’s one thing this election has taught us, it’s that there really are groups of people out there using extremely questionable (or rather, completely illegitimate) policy concerns as an excuse to inflict harm on other groups of people in order to assert or regain some sort of power and control they feel belongs to them. Something about this campaign season has brought them all out of the woodwork. So yeah, there’s definitely a moral responsibility there, to not only oppose and expose the policies they propose for the horrors that they are, but to also question their stated motives, and challenge them to consider the bigotry and prejudice that is driving their politics.
But the fact that these groups (and the candidates they back) exist doesn’t mean that everyone on the other side of the political divide from us has some covert malicious motive for every single one of the policies they support and the morals they claim to hold. And really, assessing motives is a tricky business. I don’t think anyone can claim their motives for any belief or action, no matter how altruistic, are 100% pure good. So it is probably healthy for each side to challenge the other side’s motives on certain issues; a lot of growth and insight can result from self-examination of the reasons we believe and act the way we do. But “challenging motives” is a far cry from proclaiming that the other side is an abomination whose every belief originates from the depths of hell.
It’s so very simple, comfortable, and self-satisfying to just assume that those who disagree with us on important issues believe the way they do because they are bad people with bad motives. After all, the alternative is quite messy. To accept that someone who we believe holds wrong beliefs, even harmful and hurtful beliefs, is, at least in part, well-meaning in those beliefs, that someone can have all the wrong beliefs for right reasons, requires that we let go of any sort of “good guy vs. bad guy” world view. It forces us to recognize that sometimes good people believe and do wrong things and that separating humanity into “good” and “bad” isn’t really as straightforward as we’d like (if it’s possible at all).
Yes, so much easier to just conclude that everyone who believes differently than us does so because they are corrupt and wicked. This kind of thinking provides a very appealing sort of Star Wars-ification of our political struggle. The “good” side becomes the plucky Rebel Alliance fighting against the all-powerful evil Empire, who must be stopped at all costs. The problem is that it also dehumanizes those on the “bad” side. They’re no longer a group of individuals who, though misguided (or even a bit selfish) in their politics, are still capable of love, kindness, and other human emotions. Instead they become a malevolent force, only capable of hate and anger. Something to be feared and defeated.
With this view of the other political party in mind, we can say or do anything we want to them without worrying about inflicting emotional harm; after all, they have no emotions. We can call them all sorts of names – libtards, deplorables – it doesn’t matter, they’re unfeeling beasts. And of course the name-calling is quite justified because the stakes are so high – we’re fighting the most unspeakable evil in the universe. Actually, we’re justified in doing pretty much whatever it takes to stop this horrible menace. So go ahead and call for the execution of the other party’s candidate, bomb campaign offices, actively work to prevent the “wrong people” from voting, these means are all justified if the end result is defeat of the menacing plague that is the other party.
And this is what I mean about being so horrible in how we don’t get along. This election seems to have so skewed our thinking about our political opponents that we sometimes don’t see or treat them as human beings anymore. And that’s obviously troubling.
Sometimes I almost think it’s unfortunate that divorce isn’t an option for America. It seems like it might be easier if each side could go live in its own part of the country and generally do its own thing. We’d run into each other from time to time, conservatives and liberals, and have some fairly superficial chit chat about how things are going, carefully avoiding any sensitive subjects, and maybe even laugh about some of the good times we had together, before things got bad. But generally we’d be happier living out our separate lives.
Of course, divorce isn’t an option, and would probably be much more problematic than how I imagine it. So instead we have to learn to live with each other, despite our differences, and despite our sometimes radically conflicting morals and ethics. And that’s going to involve a lot of continued fighting and “not getting along.” But to make all this conflict bearable, or at least non-lethal, we should maybe try to keep in mind that our struggle is with actual human beings, not Darth Vader and an army of brainwashed clones.
Nearing the end of this horrible election, my Facebook feed is swamped with mostly political posts. I’ve noticed that the only non-political posts that seem to stick out in the sea of partisan yammerings are posts about significant life events, both good and bad. Friends and family celebrating new jobs, weddings, and births, or struggling with disease, divorce, and the loss of loved ones. Whether that’s intentional on the part of Facebook or not, it seems appropriate that these events, at least, rise above politics. I find that in my most politically frustrated, totally fed up moments, reading about these events, especially as they are experienced by friends and family with politics completely different from my own, always provides perspective, reminding me that those on the other side of the political divide are still just people. I’m hoping that I, and the rest of everybody, can keep this perspective, even after this long, horrific election.