We all know that American political dialogue has totally shut down. We bemoan Congressional gridlock. We as a country now see “the government” itself as the top problem facing us. American politicians don’t just fight, they fight over who is responsible for all the fighting.
Who’s to blame for this miserable state of affairs?
If you tell me your political party, I can guess with reasonable accuracy what your answer is: “It’s the other party.”
Not only do we have less inter-party opinion overlap than any time in the past 20 years, but more than any time before, conservatives and liberals are prone to see those who disagree with them as threats to the well-being of the nation. Let me repeat that: there is a plurality of Americans in both parties that believe that our opposition is out to make the country a worse place.
Let’s Turn the Lens Back On Ourselves
If we take a step back, we can see just how absurd this begins to sound. A Democrat might say, “the gridlock in DC is awful—if only the Republicans were more reasonable!” Meanwhile, Republicans will say the same of Democrats. We all know that national political dialogue would get right back on track if everyone just stopped disagreeing with us.
Between such lamentations of the state of American politics, we’ll forward along inflammatory memes on Facebook attacking the sheer, incredible stupidity of anyone foolish enough to belong to a party that’s not ours—and we’ll “like” posts from others that do the same. We’ll make sure we fit in at our next party by taking a swing at the politician our friend group has decided to vilify. Keep an eye open for it next time you’re online or at a gathering: it’s happening, and you’re part of it.
And to make sure we don’t have to waste our time listening to anyone that might help us get a new perspective, we build insular groups on social media and de-friend people that disagree. We select our news media to tell us the biases we already believe.
We love hashtags and protests—not because we want to actually convince anyone to change their minds, but because we love showing off that we “take a stand.”
When we do run into people we disagree with, do we ask genuine, curious questions to understand their point of view and where it came from? Of course not. But even if we have the arrogance to assume that people that disagree with us have nothing to teach us: whose mind was ever changed by being yelled at? If we don’t want to learn or convince, why are we even talking?
We’ve become awful.
We’re what’s wrong with America. It’s not politicians, immigrants, big banks, kids-these-days, conservatives, liberals, or anyone else. It’s us.
How Our Behavior Wrecked D.C.
Let’s consider: when a politician’s constituency is full of people that punish their own friends for sympathizing with another party, how can they imagine being elected by doing the same? To win elections, politicians have to pander to us, and that means grandstanding, attacking, and refusing to compromise. That’s what works.
And that translates into how they act once they get to D.C. Because of what we’ve demanded, inter-party dialogue and work are vanishing. Compromise is tantamount to total defeat in the minds of the electorate, so it doesn’t happen.
We’ve recognized that our own government has become the biggest problem facing our country. But we keep voting these governments in, and as a country we have failed to make the link between our politicians and ourselves. If our own government is our biggest problem, then we’re to blame.
Moving Forward: Start With Yourself
It takes a lot of courage and humility to really look at oneself and see how we’re contributing to the broken state of politics in America. You’re probably resisting the idea right now. You vote for reasonable people; you only call people idiots who actually are idiots; your opinions are all actually well-founded on research and deep consideration, and that those tens of millions of people who disagree are definitely wrong.
I get it. This is hard stuff. What I’m asking you to do—to be deeply self-critical in the light of the rest of the world encouraging us to rage blindly—is incredibly difficult.
But I’m asking you to change. We can’t demand! that DC fix gridlock for us—they’re acting in ways that will get them re-elected. We can’t demand! that the opposing political party be reasonable—we have to create space to have a dialogue and find shared ground.
Fixing American politics is an intimidating task. It won’t be fixed by protests or by hashtags. It’s fixed by each of us deciding we’re going to change: to be the first ones to step out of the trenches and extend our hands, to be the first ones to create a safe space for people to talk about their beliefs, to be the first ones to admit when we’re wrong or we don’t know.
And that takes a lot of inner strength.
But if you’re ready—when you’re ready—there’s a movement growing, called Something to Consider, for those ready to fix American politics, starting with themselves. Come take a look.