Everyone knows that you can’t talk politics in the U.S. without an argument. Republican vs, Democrat. Progressive vs. conservative. Urban vs. rural. Small state vs. big state. Tradition vs. new-and-better. You’re either opinionated or apathetic.
In reality, there’s probably no issue we can’t come up with a compromise solution for that everyone will hate equally. The Founding Fathers managed to pull it off. What’s changed? IMO, it’s not the problems that are intractable, it’s our attitudes towards our adversaries, our fellow citizens.
We were told in the 1950s that it was impolite to discuss politics or religion. Now we can’t talk about either without fighting.
How did it get this way? We blame Nixon for his enemies list, or Gingrich for his battles with Clinton, or McConnell with Obama, or Pelosi with Trump. And those conflicts may have started the divisions, but that’s not why they have persisted and intensified. I think there’s a different reason. WE are the reason.
Here’s what happens:
- A person develops a perspective on an issue, sometimes benign sometimes not.
- The person is supported by others with the same perspective leading to good feelings of inclusion.
- The person is also bullied by others with a different perspective leading to bad feelings of vulnerability.
- The person experiences continued association with supporters and critics. The person usually then seeks out supporters for affirmation but may seek out opponents for debate.
- After a while the original position is less important than the hate of the bullies.
For example, a youngster is taught to hunt by a parent. He (or she) grows up with firearms in the home. He makes friends with others who also hunt. They join hunting clubs and firing ranges where they hear that the government is going to take their guns away. They watch commentators and protesters on the news talking about gun control after the most recent school shooting. They develop a hatred for everyone who favors gun control. They transfer that hatred to all liberals even though many conservatives also favor some forms of gun control. Then they oppose everything liberals favor even if they know nothing about the issue, for no other reason than liberals favor it.
It works the same way in the other direction too. Urban youths grow up with friends of many other races, ethnicities, and cultures. They play and go to school together. They see on the news and IRL how people of color are brutalized by police. They learn to hate the police. They see on the news and IRL how immigrants are mistreated. They learn to hate isolationists. They transfer their hatred to conservatives, who tend to support police and disapprove of immigration. Then they oppose everything conservatives favor even if they know nothing about the issue, for no other reason than conservatives favor it.
This is why people often vote against own interests. For example, Kentucky is one of the states most dependent on federal money and yet Kentuckians consistently reelect politicians who are trying to eliminate Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid, the ACA, and other social support programs. They hate socialism even though they don’t know what it is, they just hate the people who support it.
As a consequence, fixing the divide is problematical. It’s not just voting out a few office-holders. Joe Biden and Mitch McConnell can’t fix it alone. It has to come from the efforts of many individuals. We have to develop a herd immunity to intolerance and hatred.
The most damaging pandemic we have to fight isn’t Covid-19, it’s intolerance and hatred.
Minimizing the political divide would require many individuals to take four steps:
- Recognize what is really happening. This is a difficult first step. It’s not just a difference of opinion on some issue, it’s the hatred of any other person who might disagree. Don’t let intolerance rule your life.
- Seek out unbiased facts from reliable sources. Don’t use anecdotes from friends or social media sites as evidence for your beliefs.
- Think critically. Evaluate information with as little bias as possible. Avoid logical fallacies.
- Be open-minded. Don’t bully others; that is how intolerance propagates. Don’t engage with provocateurs or make provocative statements.
And that is why the political divide will never go away.