I had good reason for switching my major with my minor in college, away from political science, and it wasn’t just because I didn’t want to be a lawyer, as my mom briefly wanted me to be. (She got over it.)
Politics makes my eyes roll, and as it is practiced now, it quite often nauseates me (it can’t all be blamed on the IBS). But more often, it just infuriates me.
Not because someone doesn’t believe what I believe; I couldn’t care less as long as they’re not harming anyone. It’s because not only has politics departed from reality, it’s infected everything. You can’t eat pizza or order a hamburger with Dijon mustard (I’m a ranch girl, myself, and on a chicken burger) without it being political, or give a kid a Barbie doll. God forbid you use Keurig brewers, wear New Balance or Nike, or eat at Chick-fil-A (I don’t, but that’s more because I’m anti-pickle with chicken; come to think of it, I don’t patronize any of these companies). And buying the products just so you can destroy them does nothing to hurt the companies, by the way.
If a relative or friend is well-known politically, rest assured you will be tagged as having the same beliefs. And if you’re a woman, your thoughts don’t even matter to a too-large segment of the population.
I wouldn’t be surprised if my choice of plants for my yard (dogwood, hydrangea, mock orange, flowering quince, etc.) causes people to make political judgments about me. I’ve been accused of being everything on the political spectrum more than once. But as I told a reader recently, parties don’t matter to me, it’s truth that does (it’s not my fault that so many GOP politicians tell so many tall tales) … and so do pretty flowering plants, some of which are reminders of my childhood. Sometimes a flowering quince is just a flowering quince. It and the lilac at our old house always bloomed about this time, usually in time for Decoration Day at the cemetery.
My prime interest in politics has nothing to do with parties, but with the behavior exhibited by the hyperpartisan. I’m coming at it from a sociological view, and their behavior inspires both fear and fascination, often at the same time.
And for the hyper-hyperpartisan (oh, yeah, they’re out there), well, I just have to laugh. And hope I don’t live anywhere near them.
Most of us fall in the center politically, and lean certain ways, sometimes wholly, but sometimes dependent on the issue, which is why more people identify as independent (44 percent, as of the last Gallup poll on party affiliation) than with either major party, neither of which would be able to get a plurality of votes without help from independent voters.
But the middle is quiet (we’re thinking, ya know), especially compared with the extremists on either side, who are very small, and very vocal.
As my childhood dentist explained to my mom on why my wisdom teeth needed to come out once they started erupting (because my mouth was too small): Don’t be fooled by size, because it’s not the same as volume. She still couldn’t stop laughing at the idea that I didn’t have a big mouth. My voice tends to carry.
But in this new un-reality we’re in the middle of, some are being fooled. James Kierstead wrote last month in the online Areo Magazine: “For centuries, theorists have worried about the potential of unrestrained democracy to lead to a tyranny of the majority, in which majority groups ride roughshod over the rights of minorities. What we often see today is instead a kind of tyranny of the minority: a system in which a particularly extreme and motivated fraction of the populace can wield outsized power in the face of a majority which is either too indifferent or too scared to oppose it.” (Sounds a bit like the NRA, doesn’t it?)
Part of that power comes from the assumption that the activists represent the majority. However, as Kierstead noted, it’s mostly the volume (intensity, persistence, etc.) that carries the weight, not the actual number of people holding those views, and that is dangerous to the rights of all. “In our democratic societies,” he wrote, “politics and culture should be shaped by what all of us want, not by the whims of a few particularly riled-up activists. The tyranny of the minority has made too many inroads already. Allowing it to continue would constitute a serious erosion of our democratic culture.” In short, we should be sure of what the people truly want, not just the minority yelling the loudest, generally with pre-prepared talking points … which they too often seem to think are original.
As I’ve often said, talking points seldom reflect reality, but people keep using them because they’ve heard them so many times they think they’re true. It’s also one of the reasons real debate is so hard, what with all the “liberalism is a mental disorder” and “not all Republicans are racist, but all racists are Republicans” cracks. And of course, complaining that polls and news are fake unless you agree with them. Sigh.
Past presidents have warned of the dangers of excessive partnership, perhaps most famously George Washington in his farewell address, saying parties “are likely, in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people, and to usurp for themselves the reins of government; destroying afterwards the very engines, which have lifted them to unjust dominion. … The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism.”
In the last century, Dwight Eisenhower warned of the “emergence of a new extremism in our land” in the last essay he wrote before his death, published in Reader’s Digest. Writing in late 1968 in Walter Reed Medical Center, he urged centrism, seeing danger at both ends of the spectrum. “The effect of these voices, few in number but strong in decibels, is to create the impression that our country no longer heeds the rule of reason and tolerance.”
Compromise wasn’t weak and verboten to Ike, and he believed the “Middle Way,” as he called it, was far braver than the extremes: “It often takes more courage to occupy the Center than any other position in the political arena, for you are then subject to attack from both flanks.”
Derek Chollet, executive vice president of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, wrote in The Washington Post that Ike’s appeal to pragmatism could help our deeply divided country: “It may not win the news cycle. Yet other presidents have found success by following this tradition—by steering a middle course between the extremes with a combination of ambition and humility, recognizing that there are rarely perfect answers or absolute wins. They pursue the politics of the possible over the politics of purity.”
Would that the guy currently in the Oval Office thought this way.
So how do we tackle this? I wish I had a good answer. Some might say we could keep the sides apart to prevent battles, but as Abraham Lincoln said in his first inaugural address, “Physically speaking, we cannot separate. We cannot remove our respective sections from each other nor build an impassable wall between them. A husband and wife may be divorced and go out of the presence and beyond the reach of each other; but the different parts of our country cannot do this.”
What would we do with the families that are split up? Would we need completely different governments? Would people who change their minds be exiled? And don’t we suffer enough already from echo-chamber politics?
The best advice I can offer is for the many to take back power from the whiny. Seek truth instead of what makes you feel good. Work together for what serves the most people with the least harm, and make sure that’s what people really want.
And earplugs. You can’t go wrong with earplugs. There will be a lot more whining.