Growing up as a conservative, I had a few good friends who were liberals. We routinely discussed political issues. While some of the conversations got passionate, they usually ended with an agreement to disagree and a belief that we ultimately wanted what was best for America. We typically left the conversations feeling intellectually challenged and with a respect for the other person’s views. With the Civil War as evidence, there have been times where political tension was worse than it is today. However, in my lifetime I have seen a pronounced evolution in the way the Right and Left treat each other. Disagreement has turned into assumption of bad intentions. Conversation has turned into name-calling. The substance of issues has been avoided in favor of scoring political points with a clever meme or one-liner on social media.
Recently, a presidential candidate made a claim that wanting pro-life judges is the same as wanting pro-racism judges – the ones that allowed slavery and segregation. Pursuing rights for the unborn and reinstating slavery have no reasonable connection. It is insulting to the memory of those who had to endure slavery and the Jim Crowe South. It is also insulting to the intelligence of the American people. Claims like this have found their way into the political mainstream because the environment has become hyper-partisan. There are consequences to this.
First, we end up supporting things we don’t agree with. Do you really think every conservative supports 100% of the Republican party platform and every liberal supports 100% of the Democratic party platform? The chances of that are statistically zero. How can all Republican lawmakers be convinced that Justice Kavanaugh is innocent and all Democratic lawmakers are convinced he is guilty of sexual assault? The evidence (or lack thereof) is unchanging, yet lawmakers have divided sharply over party lines. Instead of critically assessing a situation like this with an independent mind, the groupthink mob beats the door in and forces everyone to immediately take a side or face the consequences. This is often true for both lawmakers and supporters.
Secondly, there are rarely good-faith efforts to work with the other side. In the current environment, every political issue is treated as if failure to win will usher in Armageddon. Prominent figures on the Left repeatedly compare the Trump administration to the Third Reich, while counterparts on the Right insist we are being invaded on our southern border. Who wants to work together with Nazis? Who wants to be caught being bi-partisan and enabling a hostile invasion? Hyperbolic language ruins our chance to work together in good faith. Most efforts to cross the aisle now have ulterior motives to expose the other side as evil. The American people have grown weary in disbelief and mistrust, like villagers when a young boy cries wolf.
Finally, our hyper-partisan environment threatens our collective identity as Americans. My outlook on our nation is still optimistic because I believe that most people are reasonable. I have had a few people assault my character because I am a conservative – particularly on social media. They will always exist and are often the loudest, but in my experience most people are willing to have a healthy and honest discussion. I believe that conservatives have a better and more practical political philosophy, but no moderate individual will hear it if we are just adding to the noise. If we provide common courtesy to those we disagree with, maybe we could find some allies and even refine our own ideology. My challenge to everyone is to resist the impulse to post that meme or one-liner that you think will once and for all destroy the other side. Instead, ask someone you disagree with to get coffee with you for 30 minutes. Have an honest discussion as an American brother or sister. I think this hyper-partisan environment would benefit from that.
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