I remember a time when I was in the eighth grade and my entire class was called together because the teachers and the principal of the school were displeased with our general behavior. I was honestly a very good girl, a student who always wanted to be respectful, obedient and pleasing to my elders. I did not understand why I was being subjected to what amounted to a harangue about how bad my peers and I were. About five minutes into the all encompassing lecture I stopped listening. The tongue lashing continued for quite some time, but I was not interested in hearing any of it because I did not believe that it applied to me. Furthermore I left that assembly feeling intensely angry over the insults that had been hurled at me and my classmates, and I felt more attached to my fellow students than ever, including those whom I knew had created the furor with their less than sterling actions. Lumping an entire group into one basket of stereotyping does that. It creates unified tribes that might otherwise not exist.
We humans are funny. We don’t like the idea of being misunderstood and viewed negatively by anyone who makes sweeping assumptions about us. When those things happen we get as angry as I did when the teachers subjected me to a lecture that I knew was unfair. Such situations all too often push people to react negatively or emotionally and to ally themselves with groups in which they might otherwise have had no interest. Thus it is with the political climate in the United States today. We can’t get anything done because we are too busy thoughtlessly bashing one another. Far too many people are no longer interested in the least in listening to what the other side might have to say, because they feel that they have been insulted one time too many. Thus we find ourselves deadlocked, divided to the point of hatefulness. The situation is so bad that I sometimes find myself wondering if we will ever again be able to work together for the common good of our nation. Things look very bleak as of now, and those who lead us are not helping with the matter. No side is innocent in this war of words and ideas that more closely resembles the battle between the Hatfields and McCoys than rational political discourse. Until the yelling, accusatory and self righteous behaviors cease or at least subside we are in deep trouble.
At first glance we appear to have a vast gulf of disagreement between Republicans and Democrats, but that is an over simplification of the problem that contributes to much of the rancor. Within the Republican party there are multiple layers of thinking that range from the far right to stances that are much more liberal. The Democrats also have their differences, and battles for the heart of the party ensue between those on the far left and those who trend more toward the middle of the road. Unfortunately there is a tendency to simplify reality by assuming that there is one set of identical Republicans and one set of matching Democrats. So we find far too many people posing arguments that are filled with fixed images about each of the parties.
So how does this look in the real world? Well, if someone is thought to be a Republican they may be subject to taunts from progressives that classify them as rednecks, bigots, mean spirited, ignorant, racist, homophobic, religious zealots, gun toters, abominable, haters and so on. The people who so easily toss around these highly charged labels then wonder why individuals who tend to be more conservative are often unwilling to listen to them. It is actually human nature that they would be defensive, and ready to pick a fight at the first utterance of such words.
On the other side we have Democrats who are accused of being snowflakes, enablers, communists, overly sensitive, emotional, liars, unpatriotic, lazy, rude, too politically correct, overly liberal, bad hombres, bimbos, and other pejoratives too inflammatory to print. Again, why would someone who has had to endure such wrath be the slightest bit interested in hearing what the other side has to say? Thus we reach the present state of impasse on so many issues that are important to the American people. With the “my way or the highway” attitude that is so persistent there is little chance that anything will be resolved. Sadly there are large numbers of people who demand all or nothing. Thus we are expected to join one side or another or be totally ostracized by almost everyone.
We have a health insurance system that is a mess. We know for a fact that the Affordable Care Act is riddled with problems, but there are solutions if only all interested parties were willing to sit at a bargaining table and consider the issues one by one. Our immigration system is broken and desperately needs fixing but the combatants on each extreme have planted their flags in the ground and seem unwilling to consider alternatives. We are expected to either cheer for a wall or open the borders without exceptions, when there are possibilities in the middle. We are concerned with gun violence in this country, but again little changes because neither side is willing to budge even a tiny bit. Instead we rant and rave and shout out slogans and soundbites. We either want to leave the country or desire to push people who disagree out. We are playing a zero sum game when what we need is a plan for win/win. In truth we are caught in the web of power grabs, victims of propaganda all the way around. We seem to be self righteously convinced that we are right and everyone else is wrong. We close our minds to any discussions that deviate from our own points of view and defend our stances with insults that only drive the other side farther and farther away.
It should be a given that we are all concerned with gun violence in our country. We all feel emotional about the unnecessary deaths of so many innocents. We all want the same thing which is to curb the trend of mass murder that only seems to grow. Our only differences are in how we think it is best to solve the problem. We never quite get started with any positive solutions because we would rather continue at a stalemate than consider the possibility that we might need a combination of the various ideas woven together by compromise. God forbid that we would actually have constructive bipartisan discussions. Those who even think of doing such things these days are deemed to be weak, traitors to some nebulous cause. We would rather do nothing than incrementally move toward agreement.
I hear good ideas from many points of view but they are being drowned out by the clatter of insults. I’ve been regularly attacked by both conservatives and liberals simply because I am willing to consider alternative solutions. I’ve been called wishy washy and naive for believing that we need to cool down long enough to just listen without thinking of what arguments we are going to present as soon as the other person is finished speaking. I’ve been on the receiving end of hateful retorts on many occasions when I have suggested gathering facts and then considering how they impact particular problems. I’d love to be able to brainstorm, but instead I constantly hear people voicing slogans rather than practical ideas for resolving our conflicts.
Ironically and perhaps thankfully I have heard some of the best analyses of our national problems from the young. They have not yet calcified their thinking. They are often far more open than their elders. They are willing to explore new possibilities. It gives me hope when I hear them very logically and accurately assessing the political landscape, but I’d hate to think that we will have to wait for them to become the leaders of the future for things to change.
I suspect that there are far more people who think like me than I have found of late. The squeaky wheels are getting the grease for now, but one day perhaps those of us who have grown weary of the gladiator fights will finally rise up and take the reigns of responsibility. I long for the day when we are once again willing to work together. We have to be a team and family, for if we aren’t our problems will only grow as will our rancor at one another. That would be a terrible shame because it was long ago predicted that the very nature of democracy itself would ultimately destroy it. In other words there have always been those who believe that mankind is not capable of being fully unselfish and willing to compromise to insure equality and justice for all. I pray that the naysayers are wrong. Let’s begin to create a no gladiator zone for resolving our differences. We have too much to lose to keep fighting.