Make politics great again
How our generation should respond to our polarized dialogue
We ask this all the time. How did politics become so polarized? Is social media to blame? Cable TV? Beyoncé?
A lot of it comes down to basic communication; our desire to look at our political ideology as a sacred truth rather than something largely drawn from our upbringing and our own personal experiences. We look to convert, instead of to learn.
The funny thing is, we don’t have the time to be experts on every issue; it’s just purely impossible. And yet, we hold “informed” opinions and we hold them fiercely. We rarely change our minds and we don’t seek the broader, complicated picture because it’s inconvenient and it’s uncomfortable.
I asked a conservative professor: “has exposure to so many different perspectives ever caused you to think differently about an issue?” He said no, it never had.
I posed a similar question to some conservative students: being in the “minority” view on a college campus: do you think it’s helped you balance your own opinions or reach any new conclusions on issues?
I hate to admit I was hopeful that beneath all our partisanship there would be a point where we’d all bridge our differences and hug it out. Of course the answer was, “no, never, not at all.”
Isn’t the point of college to question our own beliefs and what we’ve always been told? Why isn’t that happening? Was that a myth created to justify nauseating amounts of student debt?
The reality is, most of our forums for political discussion really suck. One hundred and forty characters cannot begin to articulate feelings, facts and the complexity of so many of our issues. Facebook helps in that respect, but we all know first-hand how quickly nastiness escalates from behind a keyboard.
For that reason, we dread political discussion on Facebook and most of us probably dread political debate in real life too. Our current politics are based around defensiveness and hostility, but they should be based on facts, both anecdotal and empirical evidence, weighed, discussed and judged against our experiences and the experiences of others. Those are hard to come by when we don’t seek out conversations with people who disagree with us.
We were all born into families who fed us their best version of the “truth.” Or maybe we get it from John Oliver or Tomi Lahren. Democrats care about poor people and minorities while Republicans care about businesses and the military. Democrats are going to raise taxes and take our guns, Republicans are going to ruin the environment and install a theocracy.
This breakdown in civil discourse is eroding our own democracy and it’s resulted in the worst gridlock in history under President Barack Obama’s administration.
Three weeks ago, I thought of most gun-owners as hicks with an absurd obsession with guns. Then I had a long and interesting conversation with a co-worker. He didn’t condescend to me, but what he told me from his perspective as a proud gun-owner really impacted me. He opened my mind just a little, if only to show me that there was a significant gap in my knowledge and perspective.
The next logical step should then be to assume we all have limits to our knowledge and experiences with certain issues. It’s possible, and probable, that we could come to a lot of compromises on issues that would leave many people better off. It doesn’t have to be winner take all.
Everyone’s saying our generation could be the most liberal and progressive yet. This is encouraging for social justice, but I don’t think it’s enough. I would be much prouder if our generation’s legacy was that we were the most communicative, the most open-minded and the most issue and fact-oriented generation yet. I hope that we someday teach our children to have difficult conversations and not take everything personally. I hope that we all admit when we didn’t know something, or maybe let a bias influence us.
This mindset will allow us to achieve amazing things. With compromise and innovative thinking on both sides, we can address climate change without economically devastating coal-mining communities. It will be the mentality that demilitarizes our police, while restoring our country’s respect for the officers.
President-elect Donald Trump has promised to make America great again. I say, let’s meet him at the finish line.
Sarah Crowley is the assistant news editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org