I try not to be dogmatic about my political positions, and they don’t collectively fit neatly within either of the two major US political parties. Recently, I’ve found myself looking more at the humanity of our issues and the people struggling with them in an effort to find practical solutions. Unfortunately, our politics don’t seem to be moving in that direction. I see a growing need to balance communal well-being and individual rights. It’s a “both/and” situation rather than an “either/or”. We need both collective action and individual responsibility. And the only open path in that direction is kindness and a willingness to see the humanity in the “other”.
Members of both political parties rally around their principles even as they demonize the opposition. It might be more accurate to say that they have weaponized their principles. They behave like ruthless players in the game of Monopoly attempting to destroy their opponents. It has become us vs. them rather than simply us working together to find mutually agreed upon ways to address our collective issues.
We need to recognize that we are all members of one family, US citizens. And like all families, we won’t always agree. But how we choose to disagree is critical to us continuing to behave like a family and move forward together. Politicians set up issues in false pairs, implying that we cannot address the challenges presented by refugees at our southern border while at the same time improving the lot of our underemployed and working poor in our own country. We can do both, but that requires us to be willing to listen to and learn from our political rivals. This is the lesson we need to learn from our modern divided politics.
The election of Donald Trump as president was the result of our unwillingness to listen rather than its cause. Because ideological purity had become so much a part of modern politics, rural America felt isolated and unheard, even unrepresented. Trump tapped into that and made them feel seen and heard. But the way he did it has divided the country even further. Trump encouraged supporters who chanted “Lock her up!” while Clinton referred to half of his supporters as a “basket of deplorables”.
The answer to this dilemma is neither the blustering hyperbole of the president nor the self-righteous indignation of his opposition. Instead all of us on both sides need to see that our opposition has a perspective that we are lacking. We need to learn from each other what we are missing from our political evaluations. We need to “seek first to understand, then to be understood“. And the first step in this direction is to see the humanity in our rivals and to treat them with kindness. Like all good things in life, this will be difficult, requiring action with no guarantee of reciprocity. But if no one is willing to go first, the only direction we are heading is more divided politics.