Editor’s Note: For an alternative viewpoint, please see: Point: Identity Politics — Racist or Necessary?
At its core, politics should be about policy. Determining what is best for the whole, debating the details, and implementing tools for successful outcomes.
Unfortunately, politics is far more often a divisive power play masked as policy.
Division is not new. Americans have been passionately debating the details of policy since before the nation was officially founded. At times it has been ugly, racist, sexist and damaging. However, the passionate differences that were once debated and navigated for the common good have devolved into hostility and isolation.
The dawn of the internet age has only accelerated this. It is far too easy to disseminate hateful, biased, inaccurate or downright false information these days. It is far too easy to delete, filter, ignore or dismiss genuine information. And, it is far too easy to simply hide among those people and ideas with whom we already agree. All this easy division has created an insulated bubble of incomplete, at best, and completely false, at worst, realities for most Americans.
Politics of division feeds on our most basic, often irrational and ill-informed, fears and prejudices leading to tactics and language that are often elitist, sexist or even racist. No political party or personal ideology is immune at this point.
Perhaps candidate Donald Trump, the official and unofficial campaign, exhibited the worst of a trend two decades in the making. His exhibited sexism and spoken racism paired with a general tone of anti-elitism culminated in an Electoral College victory marked by geographic and cultural division never seen before.
Democrats are not innocent in this, though. By running campaigns that largely ignored or simply failed to connect with non-urban voters, Democrats divided themselves having the effect of validating many of the divisive messages coming from the Republican camp. While not as brazen or disruptive, this segregation of thought and connection has the same consequences.
The result is that the two major parties are genuinely in disarray. All but the most blindly loyal partisans are up in arms or steadily becoming so. And, our policymaking bodies can only lay claim to rhetorical “victories” born of more division and not actual legislation with any chance of solving the real problems Americans face.
Health care, education, jobs, secure retirement? These are merely tools sharpened with partisan whetstones to cut us into pieces for perceived political gain. Whether you consider yourself conservative, moderate or liberal … this is no path forward.
You’ll find very few people who will say they don’t want quality health care, a good education, a solid and fruitful job, and the security and means to retire gracefully. Yet, instead of sitting down in our living rooms or coffee shops or in legislative committee rooms to iron out our views on how we provide these essentials, we have chosen to allow ourselves to be divided by our differences rather than strengthened by our common goals.
The only people winning in this strategy are life’s day traders who just care how much money they can make today without concern for how it’s made, who it hurts, or what damage it does tomorrow.
How do the rest of us, who are not day trading in political and profit driven power, stop allowing ourselves and our lives to be traded back and forth in the scheme? How do we regain some sanity, shared interest and success?
We must talk to each other, listen to our differences, share our views, consider what common ground we share, and debate the details of how we achieve our common goals together. Not as people of one skin color or another, not as conservative or liberal, not as people of one religious faith or another, not as immigrant or female or LGBT or rural but as people seeking health care, seeking education, seeking good jobs and seeking security together.
This simply cannot be done within the current campaign context bent on division. It simply cannot be done over the internet in memes and the sharing of tilted articles. It simply cannot be done in a week, a month, or even a year.
Destroying divisiveness, developing understanding, achieving common goals even out of our differences must be done face to face over time. Bruised egos gotten from extending ourselves beyond our comfort zones can and will heal but continuing to make deep cuts through our current political discourse may forever divide us.