We hear a lot about how divisive and polarized our political climate is. It seems political leadership in Washington would often rather shut down the government than cross the aisle and cooperate with their opponent. And anyone with a social media account can attest to the fact that this stifling and toxic treatment of political issues is not some isolated Washington phenomenon, but is rather quite representative of the nation’s feelings at large.
This can leave us feeling pessimistic at best and apathetic at worst when it comes to our collective ability to handle political issues effectively. I am taking a Civil War history class, and that has only compounded my fears and doubts about our ability to truly achieve a functional democracy. What happens when civil political discourse fails? Is democratic theory still a reasonable idea to embrace?
I’ll admit: The current state of our democracy does not look great, but it is not like we haven’t been here before. In fact, we have had it much worse than it is now. At least the SEC and Big 10 are competing on football fields and not battlefields. At least Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz are just taking shots at each on Twitter and not clubbing each other half to death on the Senate floor. Of course, our current situation is dire, nonetheless.
In this context of political strife, I think it is important for all Americans to ask themselves a very important question: Who is your enemy? Too many people accept the lie that “they” are the enemy. “They” are the real problem in this country. If “they” weren’t so wrong about everything, we wouldn’t be having all these problems! Hey everybody, come look at how stupid “they” are!
This type of thinking only perpetuates our divisiveness. When we pit each other as enemies, we are doomed to fail. We must resist this temptation. We are not each other’s enemy. Do you believe that? Think of the people you disagree with the most. Now think about Jesus’ parable on the Good Samaritan. Let me know if you still think you would be justified in treating those people with hatred and contempt.
Our real enemy is the presence of evil in the world: The infectious lie that tells people to hate others who are different from them, the burning desire to draw generalized conclusions about others and lash out in anger instead of practicing patience and responding to new ideas with humility and thoughtfulness, the need to win instead of compromise — these forces represent our real foe.
Committing ourselves to unity is the first step to healing our political wounds. If we can learn to trust the better angels of our nature, then we can begin to defeat our societal ills, instead of each other. In this spirit, I propose the following two principles as fundamental understandings that should guide our political philosophy.
First, we should care about addressing societal issues. Climate change, income inequality, gun violence, cyclical poverty and institutional discrimination (to name a few issues at hand) exist whether we admit it or not. Does anyone really think that it is better for our future to ignore these issues entirely? If you are sick, shouldn’t you take the prescribed medicine?
Secondly, we must approach these issues with a mature sense of character and decency. A spirit of humility, a respect for those with whom we disagree, and a united desire to seek action over selfish gain will do wonders to clear obstacles for improvement.
A combination of these two principles, when applied to political discourse, will help lead to compromise. The solution to our current political gridlock is not some savior politician or a vengeful triumph over opposing forces; it is a fundamental change of character. And this solution starts with you.