NEW YORK – Two unidentified women hold signs calling for civil discourse, decency, and respect in New York City on January 21, 2017. | Shutterstock
When the 2016 presidential election cycle finally concluded, a portion of the country seemed to breathe a collective sigh of relief. Finally, an exhausting, nearly eighteen-month saga was over. A new president had been chosen and the nation could finally move forward.
Even those like myself who didn’t vote for the victor (or even the second place loser) were ready to close the door on what had turned into one of the most divisive campaign seasons in recent memory.
Of course, that idealistic pause didn’t last for too long.
Once Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th president of the United States, The Resistance went into a full panic mode. As in “the apocalypse is just around the corner.” Media types began spouting their journalistic standard of “now, more than ever” in relation to fact-finding and honest delivery of the news, admitting that they had been on auto-pilot for eight years and suddenly woke up to the serious nature of their influence.
At the grassroots, family, friends, and neighbors became even more entrenched in their ways, taking their pre-election sympathies and convictions to the next level. Political disagreements, especially on social media, somehow grew worse and an already powerful strain of partisanship grew stronger.
I guess we shouldn’t be surprised. The campaign season is always a foretaste of the presidency and political atmosphere to come, no matter who ends up in the Oval Office. And in 2016, that sampling was downright brutal.
Now, well into Year Two of Trump, we find that things have further degraded. No, it’s not the policy shifts. The United States hasn’t descended into totalitarianism, though some in the media would have you believe that. No, it’s not the ideological makeup of our land. Despite the constant battle between the coastal privileged and the regulars, we’re fairly evenly split. There is no significant uptick in either a liberal or conservative mentality as a whole.
What is worse? Our discourse.
It is almost impossible to have a reasonable conversation with someone who resides on the other side of the political spectrum. And why? Simple. They’re either a soy boy, Mueller-loving Leftist who wants to see our president impeached or a Kool-aid drinking cult member of the Orange Messiah.
These are the worst kinds of people. Disgusting tribalists. Inhuman. That’s what 2018, a product of its previous years, has told us.
But what if we chose to look at these rivals as people: our fellow Americans who live and breathe next to us, down the street, the next city over, in another state, or on the far side of the country. Is that even possible?
Charlie Skyes said it best.
You know what makes politics so toxic? The refusal to entertain possibility that your opponent might be a decent human being despite being wrong about an issue….
— Charlie Sykes (@SykesCharlie) April 12, 2018
Consider that, just for a moment. The idea that the individual who absolutely despises your politician or positions is a decent person. Yes, even while still holding a belief that you wholeheartedly oppose.
Last week, Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic announced the magazine was parting ways with conservative firebrand Kevin Williamson. The uproar from his hiring, which then quickly led to his firing, stemmed from his stated belief that women who have abortions should be punished. Naturally, this means if abortion were to be made illegal one day, women receiving abortions could be prosecuted under the law.
While I personally disagree with his position, I didn’t find it too controversial given clarifications that had been made. But many who did disagree with him fully believe him to be a bad person. Not just a decent person who holds a different belief, an actual horrible creature.
Unfair? I think so.
Now take Skyes’ statement, turn it around, apply it to a near-unlimited set of circumstances, and put yourself on both sides. Like a high-definition mirror, it becomes a bit uncomfortable.
I have my own hang-ups with this exercise because there are issues I absolutely refuse to budge on. However, that’s not really what is being suggested. Instead, realize that another person who resides far across the political landscape may be a decent person, as imperfect beings go.
- Like that guy who loves the idea of universal healthcare.
- Or that woman who hopes they build a wall to keep those illegals out.
- Don’t forget that young, impressionable skull on a certain West Coast college campus who can’t stand Ben Shapiro.
- Or that Evangelical lady who loves everything Trump says and considers him anointed by God.
Where does all this toxicity come from? Not believing that the aforementioned individuals could just be decent, fellow Americans who hold a different view. Oh, the horror.
Believe me, I am in need of this reminder as anyone else. I share my opinions daily. I get into disagreements and passionate discussions, too. And it is far too easy to paint everyone with a broad brushstroke just because of our differences.
In the big picture, I don’t know how long this cycle of incivility will last. It may never improve as a whole. However, I do know that in our owns little corners of the country this toxic culture can be lessened by choosing to see people as fellow citizens and not just distant foes.
No, I didn’t say you have to go out for a cup of coffee with them. No, I didn’t say you have to dilute your worldview. And please, don’t excuse actual racism, sexism, or threatening speech. That’s common sense.
Just consider that how you look at them is probably the exact way they look at you.
Time to act accordingly.
Follow Kimberly Ross on Twitter: @southernkeeks.