Better than That

I spend a lot of time reading and communicating with people on disparate ends of the political spectrum. I have voted Democrat, Independent and Republican in my life. I know where I stand on many (not all) positions, but my views have evolved over the years. No one party or generalization ever has represented where I stand. And that seems to be increasingly the case as time goes on.

I know that I am not alone in that.

But, we all have leanings, and we all tend to identify with one “side” or the other.  Actually, we tend to think in terms of sides, but the reality is that we all identify with certain ways of thinking, and those ways of thinking, which are varied, tend to fall on one side or the other of the political divide.

We tend to think that all the people who fall on “our side” think like we do…. But, they don’t. And we tend to think that all people who disagree with us are uninformed, lacking in intelligence and/or just plain “evil”.

I’m constantly amazed at the ways of thinking of the people who tend to “side” with me on some issue or another, but they don’t think anything like me!

For all of the communication channels that we have today with social media, I don’t think we understand each other very well. I was reading a long (very long) thread of posts on Facebook of a group of like-minded people who like to wax eloquent in the way that only people in the know can. They don’t tend toward my side of that political divide, but I have had many exchanges with them and people like them. I try to find common ground, and I try to listen (and understand) where they are coming from.

Not that I’m very good at it, but I try.

Sometimes I learn something or gain some insight, and sometimes I even change my views. Not that I have changed to think like them. I don’t think I could, but they have helped me to refine my conclusions based on my worldview. I value the interaction.

Iron sharpens iron.

As I was reading the thread tonight, these folks were trying to get into the minds of “the other side” and speculate how the election season will unfold from here. They were concerned (shocked) that race is as tight as it is.

These folks are intellectuals. They pride themselves on being on top of things and having political, social and cultural acumen.  They assume that the people on the other side are less politically, socially and culturally intelligent. They are constantly surprised, in a knowing sort of way, that other people don’t think like they do and chalk it up to a difference in intelligence and sophistication. Or they assume that those others are just plain bad people.

They aren’t the only group of people who think like this of course. As with other like groups, they feed off of each other. They reinforce how smart they are, and how right they are, and they seem to believe it thoroughly.

They are intelligent people to be sure, but they aren’t the only ones, and they don’t seem to realize that equally smart people on “the other side” legitimately think differently than they do. They don’t seem to have room in their thinking for contrary ideas.

We all tend to think like this. We all tend to hang with people like us who reinforce how smart and how right we think we are.

So, the reason for this attempt at understanding is that that these folks couldn’t have been more shallow and ignorant of what “the other side” really thinks. They generalized and stereotyped shallowly painted the caricatures without any nuance or the least bit of understanding.

It’s hard to go further without revealing that these people are anti-Trump. I am no Trump supporter. I have stated my reasons why I don’t support him, but the people who do support Trump have legitimate, thoughtful reasons why they support him (if you take the time to listen to them).

Based on my consideration of these things, it primarily comes down to the lesser of two evils. What a lousy position we are in! But I digress.

I read another thread on social media that reinforces the apparent fact that we don’t understand each other (and maybe don’t want to).  A teacher (who I respect) was asked about Trump in his classroom, and proceeded to state, passionately, why he will not vote for Trump. A parent complained to the administration, and he was censored for that indiscretion.

He felt, passionately, that he was right. He was being honest and sincere. He could not, in good conscience, support Trump. He believed he did the right thing by urging his students to reach the same conclusion. (I don’t mean to point a finger at him. We all might be tempted to do the same thing if we were teachers in a classroom.)

Most people on the thread praised him for what he did and expressed strong support. They were clearly like-minded in their distaste for Trump. They felt the rightness of his position justified him advocating to the students for one of the candidates over the other.

The trouble, of course, is that he is a teacher in a classroom of impressionable students. It isn’t his job to be a political advocate. He is the government actor here, and he became the government actor telling the students how they should think and what they believe. The “government” should never do that – even if they are “right”.

The people who lauded him did so because they agreed with his position, but many people don’t. These same supporters would have been shocked and dismayed if another teacher did the same thing to advocate for Donald Trump in the classroom.

Comments were made suggesting that no reasonable person could think differently then they, and that justified what he did. But therein lies the problem. Reasonable people do disagree!

People don’t seem to understand that. They don’t seem to want to understand that.

We vilify people who don’t think like us, and we praise each other for doing so. But that attitude is close-minded and bigoted – the very attitudes we claim to be opposing. Instead of prejudice on the basis of race, or gender or sexual orientation, we now have prejudice on the basis of political persuasion, religious orientation and social values.

And this kind of prejudice, which perpetuates gross generalizations and stereotypes, is not only accepted but expected and encouraged!

It doesn’t help that we have, perhaps, the two most polarizing presidential candidates in history running for president. And, we live in an increasingly polarized society in which the gaps in understanding seem to be growing wider every day.

For every article or video of Donald Trump the liar there is an article or video of Hillary Clinton the liar. For every piece painting Donald Trump as the greatest evil since Hitler there is a piece painting Hillary Clinton as the greatest evil since Hitler. This is political campaigning in the modern world, of course; political campaigns trip over each other to paint the other candidate in the worst possible light.

In this polarizing environment, we are led like sheep to the slaughter to choose one poison or the other. No one wants to think they are supporting evil, so we ignore, dismiss and discard the negatives on one side and accentuate and exaggerate the negatives on the other side.

We seem to be buying into that polarization more and more as time goes on. We see fewer and fewer demonstrations of civility and respect for differing positions. In this age where tolerance has become a buzzword, we are more intolerant than ever.

This is all base human nature, but we are better than that. Aren’t we?

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Postscript

What I see is a pressure to conform in word and creed that is increasingly being institutionalized, and people are resisting that pressure to conform. We might call that pressure political correctness, but it’s more than that. It’s a culture war, a battle for fundamental values and worldview. I can’t imagine why so many people would support Donald Trump other than he represents the backlash to that increasing institutionalized pressure to conform to changing values and worldview. It’s the age old tension between the old and the new, progressiveness and tradition and revolution against the status quo, except that the progressive position is becoming (has become?) the status quo. The Trump phenomenon is evidence of the counter-revolution. The people who fought for freedoms of speech and expression in the 60’s and 70’s, when they were the minority, are finding ways to squelch freedom of speech and expression now that they have gained the superior position. Trigger warnings and the idea of micro-aggressions are some of the tools being used to stifle dialogue and the expression of opposing views. The pendulum has swung, and the arch is swinging back the other way. The uniquely American ideals of freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom from religion (or anti-religion) are being tested in the process. Will they hold? Or will they be marginalized and eroded? They withstood the efforts of conservatives in previous decades to weaken them. Will they withstand the efforts of liberals to weaken them in the present times?

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