Right now, the political climate in America is like trying to live on Venus–unbearable for most humans. In this highly-polarized, overheated atmosphere, we daily suffocate on sound bytes while trying to breathe in the facts and figure out what we believe to be true. The crushing gravity of “us vs. them” echoes through every broadcast and article produced by either side. “Our” side is always obviously right and true. “Their” side is always corrupt and hypocritical.
In light of this, George Washington’s counsel against political parties in his farewell address rings bitterly true. With all this pointless bickering between political parties, we have done a better job dividing ourselves up than any other conquering nation could ever do. The reason most countries aren’t picking an open fight against us these days is because we are like an animal mutilating itself, tearing at its own feathers and skin, trying to scratch out its own eyes. Seems like impossible imagery, I know, but that is what is happening. We lose all respect for our fellow Americans when they tell us they are part of the “other” political party–instead, we stop listening to them and stop seeing them as an actual human being, because they happen to disagree with us politically.
My Personal Experience with Political Divisions
Take my situation, for instance. I’m a registered Democrat, which is about like saying I’m a registered Satanist where I live in the Southeast United States. I am a speck of blue in a sea of red; I cannot share my political opinions as “Democratic” beliefs anywhere I go, because it will immediately start a firestorm. I, instead, have to be careful to keep the word “Democrat” completely out of it, because as soon as most people from my neck of the woods hear that, they just stop listening.
I have been personally called “baby-killer” because of the pro-choice movement associated with “my” party, even though I actually don’t like abortion at all; I have been accused of supporting illegal immigrants over my own fellow citizens, and contributing to the “nanny state.” Yet I am what most people would call a “bleeding-heart liberal,” because I support things like welfare, education, and healthcare. (At least, I think “bleeding-heart” is the proper term. I’m not even sure which derogatory label fits me anymore.)
But We ALL Have Trouble with Divisiveness–Even Me!
My negative experiences, however, do not make me the greatest listener when a conservative point of view is expressed. Some such opinions are expressed with such caustic verbal acid that I can only take so much before my ear canals begin to burn. Other opinions strike me as so horribly wrong that I can’t even begin to comprehend what logic produced them.
Around here, for instance, I’m usually hearing nasty racial epithets about President Obama, or endless whining about either the “socialist” healthcare system, or how much deficit the government has run up in passing stimulus bills. Meanwhile, I sit there and silently fume that George W. Bush ran up just as much deficit ordering the Middle East wars, and that my own father, who’s worked hard all his life, has also benefited greatly from that “socialist” healthcare. My mind is utterly closed to these people while all this is going on–I hear nothing of what they’re saying after a while, and it’s hard to even view them as people of sound mind. Thus, I’m no better than the people I’m trying to listen to, because while I’m trying to be an “objective listener,” the rage is bubbling up the back of my throat, just waiting for a weak moment to burst forth from my lips and say something I can never take back.
Divided = Defeat!
This is exactly the kind of atmosphere I’m talking about, and it can’t go on. “United we stand, divided we fall” isn’t just a pretty platitude–we’re doing a great job of defeating ourselves as long as we continue not listening to each other and not supporting each other. American conservatives and liberals actually need each other, in my opinion. The conservative party is generally a party of doers, our military might, our sword. The liberal party is generally a party of thinkers, our social conscience, our shield. Liberals need conservatives to shake us out of our reverie and remind them of what needs doing rather than what needs thinking about. Conservatives need liberals to restrain their might and remind them of what needs more thought rather than action. (It’s not that there aren’t some thoughtful conservatives and some strong-willed liberals–this dynamic I describe simply seems to be the current general attitude of each party.)
If we tilt too far to either side, or only listen to one side’s arguments, we will be weakened, as we are right now. If we, however, start listening to each other’s ideas and stop name-calling like first-graders, we might actually get something positive accomplished.