It started with “Freedom Fries.” That’s about when this older millennial remembers our mucky slide into over-politicization beginning. An otherwise inanimate piece of fried potato went from perfectly yum, nutrition-free side dish to indelible symbol of French betrayal.
How many fast food workers took orders for Freedom Fries during the early Bush years? I’d love a peer-reviewed study. I do know that on a 2003 trip to Calais, France, when I was studying abroad and broke as hell, a French fast food worker scooped up a basket of skinny frites and basically spit whilst declaring me a stupid “Ameri-kenne.” I don’t know what I did. Probably something stupid.
We forget now, because it’s been the right’s turn to demonize every single Obama move, but that inclination really started with Bush. For my liberal professors and liberal friends in college (read: all of them), those were horrifying times of unparalleled danger and embarrassment, and it was really hard to tell which was the worse to endure.
Bush’s chuckle: so stupid. His military intervention: so bloody.
I remember holding up a copy of the New York Times during my senior year in college and realizing that, based on the cover, if you’d just arrived from a nice ten-year jaunt in outer space, you’d be forgiven for believing that the apocalypse had arrived.
I’m going to call this the “knee-jerk no.” We’re familiar with it now, because Sean Hannity has pretty much patented the move over the last eight years.
Anything the other side says or does is immediately, without question or thought, given the slash and burn treatment.
It got so bad during the Bush years that Best of the Web, a humorous column on the Wall Street Journal’s Op-Ed page, ran a regular ironic bit “We Blame George W. Bush.” You wouldn’t think the WSJ really allowed much humor, but James Taranto snuck it in on the grounds he kept most of the column centered on logical fallacies. #nerdhumor
What else has gone political? Well, toys. I mean, for certain folks on the left, if your daughter wants a doll, you’re kind of obligated to coerce her out of that domesticated choice. If your son wants a gun, get the anti-NRA speech at the ready.
But they’re not totally off-base. Anyone seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens? Then you know Rey is the main character. She’s the protagonist. She’s the center and driving force of the movie, being some kind of Jedi leftover and whatnot. And in the original toy offerings, Rey wasn’t even a side item. She just wasn’t there at all.
I have a toddler daughter who loves dolls, and who also became verifiably obsessed with Star Wars over the past two months. Were we supposed to just write Rey out of the movie during play time? (And yes, I know she’s too young to watch Star Wars. It was a mistake, but it’s done now. #ReyForever)
On a more serious note, there are real policy problems confronting all of us. And after sixteen years of one side mindlessly bashing the other, we are way too comfortable with reacting like partisan hacks.
No one should have to cover for Trump’s disturbing love of a thug like Vladimir Putin just because they register as a Republican. No one should feel they must ignore the genocide in Syria just because they like most of what Obama does as president, and don’t want to point out the catastrophic human cost of playing nice with Assad.
Russia is not some inconsequential country that we can afford to make temporarily fashionable because it suits political purposes. Putin is clever, he’s ruthless, and he doesn’t think twice about lying and manipulating. He’s even killed his own citizens. You think he’s got America’s interests at heart? Oh, sweetheart.
Syria’s genocide did not spring up in a vacuum. That civil war has been raging for six years, and America’s policy has been to basically do nothing. Tens of thousands of children are dead. They can’t be brought back, their lost lives cannot be unlost. If you don’t think you should care about that kind of negligent, tragic foreign policy, then reexamine and come back at it later. I trust you’ll change your mind.
Here’s a slightly less devastating, but still enormously impactful example. Obamacare. Republicans spent six years promising to undo it, declaring it a disaster, predicting it would all but bring about the total collapse of the nation.
And now? They’re going to keep the popular provisions, like mandating that insurers offer coverage to people with preexisting conditions and letting parents keep their kids on their plans up to the age of 26. Trump has basically promised healthcare for all, and no Republican has done much to push back on him. (Oh Freedom Caucus, where are you guys now?)
Over at NPR, Alison Kodjak observed, “Some health policy analysts say it looks a bit like Obamacare light.” Hm. Well, why not have spent the past six years just fixing these problems, anyway? If we’re all in for universal healthcare, someone really needs to alert the 2010 version of the Tea Party.
Obamacare by any other name…
And by the way, passing classified information to WikiLeaks is not terrible when it hurts Democrats, but wonderful when committed by someone who later identifies as transgender. Nor is Julian Assange a hero for derailing Clinton, but Chelsea Manning a traitor for a document dump. The inconsistency across party lines here is astounding.
Knee-jerk no. See the trend?
What foods you eat? That’s political. Want to march in the streets? Now you’re accused of being too political. Want to point out the lack of brown colored emojis? You’re also told you’re being too political. Want to argue that God is not gendered, as ancient and current theology teaches is the case? You’re being too political. In every single case, reactions break down along pre-ordained partisan lines. A peaceful protest march – since when is that illegitimate? Why shouldn’t emojis represent the wonderful diversity of Americans? And just because someone isn’t into identity politics doesn’t mean that students of Christianity can’t decide referring to God exclusively as “he” does a disservice to their understanding of the God concept.
I’m sure at some point, how we sleep will be politicized. Oh, wait.
All of this is magnified and exacerbated by the curated echo chambers the Internet allows us to hide in. If I don’t want to see any opinions that don’t already line up with my own, I don’t have to – ever. That’s how Facebook has made it, along with our apps & preferred websites.
Insularity breeds ever-growing distrust of the other side.
And that’s why the knee-jerk no dominates both sides of the political aisle. It’s also why our politics have become so entrenched, predictable, and tedious.