Since the election in November, I have found myself doing a lot of reflecting, both inward and on the nation around me. Reflection is necessary for everyone, especially at a time like we are facing. The problem seems to be that very few of us are doing, or even have the faculties to do so.
There is an enormous amount of anger in our country, and there has been for a long time. I believe the catalyst for this growing carbuncle was the 2000 election. Any time a group feels cheated, particularly out of something as significant as the presidency, the groundwork for decades of hard feelings is cemented.
Conversely, when another group finds itself on the defense, accused of cheating, the foundation is laid for decades of resentment and viewing the other side as sore losers. Spending more time than is healthy convincing everyone and even yourself that you didn’t do anything wrong.
In the infancy of the modern Tea-Party movement, there was a common theme that people of all backgrounds could at least respect. Lower taxes and reigning in an out of control government. These early events didn’t focus specifically on supporting individual candidates or parties. While the majority of the attendees were more conservative and Republican, the message was right. I attended some of these events and personally witnessed the great lengths the original leaders went through to make sure they remained non-partisan.
The election of Barack Obama in 2008 marked another change in the American temperament. Radical elements of both parties began to get footholds, not only in Congress but their local groups including the Tea-Party. It didn’t take very long before the division became clear, there were no longer any true non-partisan groups of any relevance. Groups on the left were solidly Democrat and groups like the Tea-Party became nothing but a mouthpiece for Republican candidates. Idealism and cooperation were dead. Like super dead.
In the first two years of the Obama presidency, the Democratic-controlled Congress ramrodded all it could through without much debate. Nancy Pelosi’s famous “we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it, away from the fog of the controversy.” statement was identified by the right as the ultimate in arrogance and an out of control federal government. In 2013 Harry Reid’s nuclear option changes to the Senate filibuster rules, gave more ammunition to the GOP to say that the Democrats were going to do whatever they wanted no matter what the American people desired.
By the time we reached the election cycle for 2016, America was a veritable powder keg and Donald Trump seized upon the lit fuse.
Elections were no longer about electing the right or most qualified person for the job. They hadn’t been that since 2000. Elections were now simple sporting events, about winning and beating the other side. For political parties that had always been the case, but now it was the only goal of an angry, disenfranchised electorate. You had to pick a side, and you had to fight to the death to make sure that your chosen side won. It didn’t matter if the candidate you supported was less than ideal and somehow you easily convinced yourself they were perfect because they had to win. The opposition needed to be left prostrate on the floor, bleeding from the ears.
Nearly two decades without constructive conversations or flexibility of any kind left us unempathetic and simply unable to relate to the other side. Years of seeking only information that confirmed our biases, and tuning out any and all alternative ideas had turned into cancer that had destroyed our ability to reason even with ourselves.
A Gallup poll conducted right after the election in November revealed that a record high number of Americans felt the country was divided, that’s 77%. Interesting enough the second highest total was 69% after the 2012 elections. So obviously when we lose the automatic response is to declare the world is ending.
That is not to discredit or dismiss genuine anxiety or fear of what may come from this presidency, and how it may impact individual lives and our national security as a whole. We have already seen some disturbing moves, and he hasn’t taken office yet. But we honestly won’t see the full causatum of his actions for some time.
What I am saying is that the losing side, at least in the last 17 years, always seems to see things much worse than they actually are. I certainly hope that is the case this time.
The question remains, however, has the ship sailed forever on us being able to regain a semblance of diplomacy? Will we ever again be able to constructively debate and talk about issues? Social media has made that incredibly difficult in some ways. While we are exposed to a greater array of ideas and opinions, the delivery method of those new concepts are often partially anonymous. Even more frequently they are applied in situations, styles, and attitudes that don’t lend themselves to better understanding.
The election highlighted this so brightly. Trump supporters couldn’t understand how anyone could consider voting for Clinton. They had heard the rumors, read the salacious headlines and fallen victim to the monster of partisan hyperbole about her for nearly thirty years. Conversely, Clinton supporters couldn’t fathom how anyone could support someone like Trump. The things he said publicly, the conversations recorded privately, his lack of experience and reckless attitude concerning his view of the presidency. So when debates began between everyday Americans, they simply turned into low-level pissing contests and name calling tournaments.
Each side sought out articles and videos that confirmed their narratives. They, after all, had been listening to “news” organizations for years that were only interested in playing to a certain demographic instead of equally balancing fact from fiction. So they easily found the words, and stories to comfort their minds. That is still happening. Unfortunately, people are just unwilling to listen to alternative viewpoints.
Until we start seeking the truth, and not just settling on the first piece of confirmation bias fluff piece that Google pops up, to our completely one-sided search request, we will never be able to adequately understand each other. What I mean is, if you type in something like “Why is Trump a fraud.” or “How many people has Clinton killed.” into a search engine you are not looking for answers, you are looking for ammunition to sooth your fears and hammer someone over the head.
So in the coming years and decades, I hope we are able to again understand our responsibility. To know all the facts, or at least as many as we can obtain. I hope we are willing to teach our children to think and observe rather than parrot our own political and ideological beliefs. Maybe we will one day be able to get to the point where between everyday Americans, we can again have meaningful, thought out, educated, philosophical discussions.
If we don’t, this election is just the tip of the iceberg of what we face.
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