The state of modern American political discourse has deteriorated to such a wretched point that there are times where I will hear or read something and feel as if blood is actually going to begin shooting from my eyes.
Even in trying to sit down and type this piece, deciding where to begin, in what direction to take it, the problems are so many and deep that it almost makes me want to stop and just throw up my hands in surrender.
I have said it myself, and I heard it from someone else this morning: American partisan politics have deteriorated to a state of bitterness, rancor, and stalemate. Our nation has reached a point not seen since the Civil War era. We are angry as a people. Mad at the politicians, mad at the media, mad at each other.
There are many culprits, and we can blame those politicians and that media. We can blame lobbyists and special interest groups. We can blame whomever else we choose. But there is another guilty party in this situation. We have reached a point where all of us need to take a look in the mirror and realize that we ourselves have become a big part of the problem.
We all have basic moral, spiritual, and political values developed over the course of a lifetime based on personal experiences. Our internal compass leads us to make the important decisions in our lives, including decisions at the ballot box. We vote for candidates who we believe will best reflect our values. We choose those who we believe will support those values with specific programs and initiatives to further those values.
There is just one problem with our entire line of thinking: it is completely selfish.
Let’s get simplistic for a moment, because tremendously complex problems such as those we are now facing often require getting down to simple basics in order to find some solutions.
We live in a place called “The Village” and we enjoy eating apples. We believe that not only are apples good for us, but they are good for everyone. If more people ate apples, The Village would be a better, happier, more fair place.
Not only that, but we think that oranges are horrible. Furthermore, oranges are at the root of most problems. There seems to us a very simple solution: The Village will grow and eat only apples, and will not grow or consume oranges. All problems in The Village are thus fixed!
But, alas, there is a stumbling block. Some of the people in The Village actually believe to their very core (pun intended) that apples actually are the root of all evil. Apples should be minimized, or done away with.
These people believe that oranges are excellent. Oranges are the answer to a better, happier, more fair existence for The Village.
Huh, imagine that. We all live here in The Village. We’ve all grown up here, been educated here. How did this happen? How could we possibly think and believe so differently?
Well, in any event, we need to try to fix this problem. So we decide to get a couple of the brightest, fairest, nicest leaders in the “orangers” and “applers” camps here at The Village together at a main table and work it out.
So down the leaders sit at the main table. But problems begin to surface early in the talks. Orangers think apples cause all the problems. Applers think oranges cause all the problems. Orangers want no apples grown, or just a small amount. Applers want no oranges grown, or just a small amount.
Gridlock. Welcome to modern American political discourse.
Maybe we applers can just ignore those darned orangers. After all, there are more of us than them. We know that apples are good and oranges are bad. We know it! They are simply wrong. They are, in fact, crazy people for liking and wanting oranges over apples. We’ll simplyl ignore them, do what we want, what we know is right, and the hell with them!
But then someone in our little appler community points something important out: sure, there are more of us than there are of them. But it’s pretty darned close. Anything could tip the scales the other way in a hurry. A little disease outbreak on our side of the camp. Maybe a few applers move away. Maybe the orangers have more children than we do over the next few years. They begin to outnumber us. What do we do then?
It’s happened before in The Village’s past, after all. Those demographic shifts. So it likely will happen again. If we ignore them today, they will ignore us tomorrow, and we’ll be forced to live in an “orange” world. That would be unacceptable to us. We cannot let it happen. What to do? Where do we go from here?
The answer is as simple for the people of “The Village” as it is for we the people of the United States of America today. We need to stop being selfish.
We need to stop demonizing one another. We need to stop thinking of ourselves as simply “applers” and “orangers”, as “Democrats” and “Republicans”, as “Liberals and “Conservatives”, and begin to accept that we are all Americans.
You will not think like me at all times. You will not believe in all of the same ideals that I believe. I will not feel as you do on many issues. That does not make you evil. It does not make me crazy. It simply makes us different.
You must get some of the things that you want. I must get some of the things that I want. You will have to give up, or delay, some of the things you want. I will have to give up, or delay, some of the things that I want.
So where do we go from here? It’s up to us. It’s completely up to the people. Who do you like and support in the political world? Who don’t you like in politics today? Barack Obama? John Boehner? Harry Reid? Eric Cantor? Nancy Pelosi? Pat Toomey? Bob Casey?
Who cares? They are not nearly as important as you are! Those politicians only have the power that you give them. Pick up the phone, pick up a pen, tap on your keyboard. Tell all of them, including those on “your side” that you demand compromise for America.
American politics cannot be allowed to continue on as a ‘zero sum game’, a competition with winners and losers. If we are not all winners in some substantive way, then America is not working properly.
That doesn’t mean our government should give to everyone every single thing that they want. It means that all of us need to be concerned for, and substantively work to ensure, the rights of every single American citizen, regardless of political backgrounds.
Where do we go from here? Every society in the history of the world has been forced to answer that question at one point or another. Every democracy or monarchy, every socialist or communist or religious state.
Most of those societies reacted to those points in their history, including right here in America, with civil war or some other bloodshed as the catalyst for movement or change. I pray that our nation can avoid that most inhumane, illogical, deadly of choices this time.
The great American writer and thinker Walter Lippmann believed, and I happen to agree, that a major problem with people’s participation in political issues is that they make up their minds before they define the facts.
They do so rather than gathering information and analyzing those facts before reaching their conclusions. We need to be more educated as individuals. That is one area that we certainly need to go: inside ourselves, to our own education, and our own moderation of expression until we are so educated.
If we fail to become more educated, fail to embrace the humanity of our fellow Americans, and continue to allow ourselves to be played as puppets, then we will end up as Lippmann warned:
“The private citizen, beset by partisan appeals for the loan of his public opinion, will soon see, perhaps, that these appeals are not a compliment to his intelligence, but an imposition on his good nature and an insult to his sense of evidence.”
We are being insulted, and we are insulting one another. Let’s begin here, by stopping those things.