It’s disheartening sometimes to read letters with seething hostility and questionable “facts” (usually straight from party talking points). Then you go online and read partisan shibboleths which usually have little basis in reality, and insults galore of “the other side” (because our side, whichever one it is, is perfect and never wrong; it’s also absolutely adorable and is lots of fun at parties).
Is it any wonder so many more people consider themselves independent rather than a Republican or Democrat? According to the March 1-10 running Gallup poll on party affiliation (the last available at presstime), 42 percent consider themselves independent voters, compared with 26 percent Republican and 30 percent Democrat. In the past five years, it’s gone as high as 46 percent independent.
Gosh, it couldn’t possibly be all the sniping, insults and accusations going on that caused this growth of independent/unaffiliated voters. Nah … that’s crazy talk!
Tuesday we ran a letter on the Voices page about the Better Angels movement, which on its website states, “We try to understand the other side’s point of view, even if we don’t agree with it. We engage those we disagree with, looking for common ground and ways to work together. We support principles that bring us together rather than divide us.”
That is what I would love to see happening, but all the inter- and intraparty chaos doesn’t give me much hope, and bringing back Dale Bumpers and John Paul Hammerschmidt as zombies to teach Congress how to work together seems problematic. Still, they’d probably get more accomplished than is currently being done, though there might be a starvation issue for them.
In the spirit of the real-life Bumpers and Hammerschmidt, a few reminders for our elected officials:
You were elected to serve all the people in the country, your state, your district, your county, or your city, not just the people who voted for you.
You should be doing your due diligence on legislation (reading, researching, etc.) rather than simply taking the lead from the whims of the party head.
People who don’t vote with the rest of the party aren’t necessarily doing it out of spite or for nefarious purposes or because they’re idiots (they might have just done their due diligence, ya know), nor is it likely that those who criticize elected officials are in on some conspiracy to undermine them or to take over the world. Remember Occam’s Razor, for God’s sake; is it more likely that the Mueller investigation was based on reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing and that the multitude of media outlets that carried negative news about the president were truthful, or that the president is lying?
Those in Congress and the Oval Office would do well to remember these things, but so would we, starting with remembering that we are not our party affiliations. Well, most of us aren’t.
The more involved people are in politics, studies show, the more likely it is that they will hold extreme views, and boy, do they hold tightly to them, especially when challenged. (I’ve never seen so many angry “happy” people … and they’ll be angry that I described them as angry … can’t I see that they’re positively beaming?.) Jocelyn Kiley, Pew Research Center’s associate research director, told The Associated Press last year: “We’re just seeing the two coalitions move farther and farther apart. There are actually fewer people now who hold a mix of liberal and conservative views.”
Those factions within the parties have the unfortunate tendency to insist that their views are the true views of the party, and that those who don’t hew strictly to their beliefs are party members in name only; centrism is verboten … there is no middle ground or room to compromise. Probably even chocolate-vanilla swirl soft serve wouldn’t be allowed, and that’s just wrong because it’s delicious. Especially in a waffle cone with chocolate sauce.
Pete Weichlein wrote in Better Angels Magazine in February, in explaining the decline in people turning to public service: “What has changed over the years is the rise of an extremist partisanship that takes no prisoners, turns bumper stickers into policy, and seeks to continuously malign the other side. With that mindset, a reasonable debate over the size of government has become a rallying cry to blow up Washington and get rid of all the bureaucrats within it. A conversation we should be having about over-regulation has morphed into the goal of eliminating entire agencies. And constructive partisan back-and-forth, encouraging a clash of ideas so that the best path forward emerges, is reduced to governing through 30-second soundbites labeling all who disagree as stupid losers.”
This is one of the reasons I’m no fan of politics. I left the playground long ago, but it seems hyperpartisans live there.
Who wants to tell them recess is over?
So how do we solve this? Hell if I know, but as far as I’m concerned, we should start by accepting reality—not continue to believe in things that are demonstrably false and/or engage in conspiracy theories.
We should consume news from across the political spectrum with an open mind, and be willing to put in the research instead of blindly accepting what we’re told. (Please don’t make me break out the 1984 quotes. You know I’m not a fan of Orwell’s fiction.)
We should stop treating each other as the enemy and toss out all those broad, mostly inaccurate stereotypes that only drive wedges deeper. We should understand that insults are at best cheap humor and aren’t helpful in politics or everyday life. We should be willing to listen without judgment to the other side, and see where there are areas of agreement (there are more than you might think).
Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, we should be able to laugh at ourselves when we do something stupid. Which we do. A lot.
Really. I mean, have you seen YouTube lately?