Monday, January 18, 2021

A Much Needed Voice of Reason Regarding America's Toxic Politics

A detached observer who is not a diehard advocate for the Democratic Party or for the Republican Party can see the myriad ways that both political parties have created and contributed to the toxic politics that afflicts our nation. One can argue about which persons or events are most responsible, but both sides have engaged in dangerous rhetoric and harmful actions for a long time, and the situation will not meaningfully improve until both sides behave a lot better.

That paragraph will almost certainly irritate, if not outrage, about 80% of the population--in other words, the people who are strongly committed to consistently voting only for candidates from one of the two major parties. The other 20% of the population is hoping that the majority will stop thinking in purely partisan terms, and start thinking about saving our country.

In the Star Trek episode titled "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield," the last two survivors of the planet Cheron are engaged in a battle to the death. One survivor is black on the left side of his face and white on the right side of his face, while the other survivor is white on the left side of his face and black on the right side of his face. Each one informs Captain Kirk that it is obvious how different they are from each other, while Captain Kirk tries to explain to them that they are clearly members of the same race. 

American politics makes about as much sense as Cheronian politics: two sides each claiming that they alone possess all of the truth and the the other side is purely evil, even though a detached observer can see the folly in both claims.

Not all (or even most) Republicans are racists. The notion that over 70 million racists voted for Donald Trump is offensive, absurd, and demonstrably false: it is easy to examine the voting numbers and figure out that there are a large number of people who voted for Barack Obama, and then voted for Donald Trump when Donald Trump ran against Hillary Clinton. Those voters did not suddenly become racists.

Not all (or even most) Democrats are socialists. The notion that over 70 million socialists voted for Joe Biden is offensive, absurd, and demonstrably false: it is easy to examine the voting numbers and figure out that there are a  large number of people who voted for Donald Trump in 2016 and then voted for Joe Biden in 2020. Those voters did not suddenly become socialists.

Party identification alone does not encompass everything important about a person's identity, beliefs, and values.

People make choices for complex reasons, not all of which are logical or even internally consistent. 

There are Republicans who hold extreme right-wing views, and there are Democrats who hold socialist views. Extremism from either side of the political spectrum is dangerous and poses a threat to the foundations of our country. There are racists within both parties, and racists from both parties have been elected to office. Any media outlet or organization or person who frames the discussion such that all or most of the "bad guys" are from one side of the aisle is engaging in propaganda. There are "bad guys" on both sides of the aisle, and we need to work together to curb the influence of all of them, not just those with whom we may disagree with about other issues. A "bad guy" who wants the same economic or foreign policies that you want is still a "bad guy."

Most Americans hold moderate views, and would like to have a functional government comprised of elected officials who work for the people as opposed to elected officials who are trying to gain more power for themselves and their party.

Steve Scalise, the Republican House minority whip, wrote Politics Has No Place For Violence, an outstanding Op-Ed piece for the January 13, 2021 edition of The Wall Street Journal:

In 2017, I was shot on a baseball field by a politically motivated gunman. The deranged shooter was heavily influenced by the demonization of congressional Republicans by some Democratic politicians, whose statements were amplified by the mainstream media. In the aftermath of my shooting, I made a conscious decision not to hold anybody but the gunman responsible for that day's events.

It would, however, be naive to think the shooter arrived at his decision in a vacuum. It would be equally naive to think that the Capitol rioters arrived at their decisions in a void. Violent rhetoric helps radicalize people. Republicans and Democrats alike must have the moral clarity to call this language out whenever it is spoken, not only when it comes from the other side of the political aisle.

Many Democrats who were rightfully quick to join us in condemning last week's events at the Capitol were noticeably silent over the summer. In those months, Americans watched looters ransack small businesses while cities went up in flames. Radical progressives attacked police precincts and federal courthouses, and leftist protesters clashed repeatedly with police. In Minneapolis, Kenosha, Wis., Seattle's 'Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone,' the District of Columbia and other cities, many elected officials outright enabled a cruel disregard for life, property and the rule of law in the name of social justice. Many in the media cheered the violence. 'Show me where it says protesters are supposed to be polite and peaceful,' CNN's Chris Cuomo said.

Elected officials and media personalities have a responsibility to condemn political violence and violent rhetoric across the board, not only when it's politically convenient. Republicans don't have a perfect record either. They must commit to this ideal alongside Democrats. Selectively condemning political violence sends a message to would-be perpetrators that cruelty and destruction in the name of a political agenda will be celebrated. We must put a stop to this dangerous idea. America settles its differences through debate and democracy, not mob rule and violence.

It is hypocritical to praise last summer's widespread violence but condemn the attack against the Capitol building, and it is hypocritical to praise the attack against the Capitol building but condemn last summer's widespread violence. If you value the rule of law, then you must condemn both, without hesitation or equivocation. Even if you think that "your" violent protesters have the right ideology, it is irresponsible to support their violent actions. Some people on both sides compare "their" violent actions to the actions of our Founding Fathers during the Revolutionary War, but that analogy fails because the Founding Fathers engaged in revolution against a monarchy that denied them their basic rights, including the right to vote. Here in America we have the right to vote, and we have the mechanisms to enact peaceful changes by majority rule. In the past eight years, the majority has alternated between electing a Democratic President (Obama), a Republican President (Trump), and a Democratic President (Biden). Whether or not you like the outcome of a given election, we all have a responsibility to respect each outcome, and to work peacefully within the system to create the changes we seek.

Scalise concludes:

Republicans have a responsibility to put our house in order and focus on ensuring a smooth transition of power. Democrats have that responsibility too. I am committed to pursuing these dual goals, and I invite everyone who cares about America's greatness to join me in learning from the mistakes of the past while building a brighter tomorrow.

If your first thought after reading those words begins with "But the Republicans are worse because..." or "But the Democrats are worse because..." then you have missed the point, and you are part of the problem, not part of the solution. The problem is that there are far too many people on both sides of the aisle who lack faith in the system and thus believe that violence is not only desirable but necessary, and there are far too few people on both sides of the aisle who will unhesitatingly condemn violence regardless of the professed ideologies of those who are committing violence. The solution is working together within the system so that our country lives up to the ideals of its Founders.

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