Right now, I’m not particularly optimistic about democracy and political discourse in the United States. There are so many things to love about our country, but She has been quite broken for most of my politically aware lifetime, and I have trouble imagining a nearby future in which this changes meaningfully.
I left a long comment tonight on a Facebook post made by a friend about a hotly debated issue in American politics. The post referenced a popular but not recent, oversimplified news story that was only tangentially related to the issue.
The comment thread on Facebook quickly latched onto the tangential story instead of the more current and much more important issue itself, and commenters fell back to lazily repeating polarized talking points from the side they happened to agree with. In this specific case the more polarized comments happened to be the right-leaning ones, but both sides are guilty of this behavior depending on the issue.
Instead of ignoring the post or jumping into the fray to argue with people whose minds I’m nearly certain I had no chance of changing, I thought (probably naively) that I might do more good by attempting to elevate the level of discourse.
The rest of this post is that comment…
I won’t bother with jumping in on the “man-who” fallacies, except to say that the real truth in all of it is almost certainly somewhere in the middle, and is more complex than most are willing to bother to think too deeply about. Stories like [this] are like the UV bait light in the center of a bug-zapper. We see the glow, and can’t resist flying straight in.
The older I get, the more certain I am that polarization (even radicalization) of opinion in this country on LGBT issues, guns, political speech, size of government, healthcare, religious freedom, immigration, and on and on and on…, is deeply hurting our country through a lost sense of shared values and community, and has been for decades.
We as a nation of individual citizens have to start to realize that we have so much more in common than not. We have to find ways to allow ourselves be more tolerant and understanding. We need to be able to communicate – even disagree and debate – with sensitivity to those with different opinions than our own. If we can’t do this we will continue to spend our money, time, and energy on fear-based, straw-man, defensive, 24-hour-news-cycle bullshit, with no real hope to change anything for the better. We keep on doing this instead of seeking out and implementing real pragmatic improvements, based instead on the common ground and understanding that are the highest aspects of our shared cultural heritage and our core values as Americans.
I still hope we believe in democracy, but these days it’s sometimes hard to believe we even know what it is.
Policy and politics should not be an “us vs them”, winner-take-all activity. It’s ALL US! It’s our own responsibility as individuals to respect each other and ourselves enough to tackle real issues and work to resolve our differences, rather than attack people we’ve never met just because someone said something about them that we find disagreeable.
The political class and the media (mainstream or otherwise) are reflections of our own attitudes and actions. If we want better government and less biased reporting, we have to invest ourselves into the future of our culture, our government and our community.
On the other hand, we could just keep screaming at each other and not listening to anyone who disagrees with us.
I know which path I prefer.