It’s been said over and over this election cycle that strange bedfellows and alliances have formed that would’ve seemed completely insane just a year ago. “Strange new respect” is uttered a lot by lefties about Glenn Beck and by righties about Bill Maher.
What caused all of these new friendships was the climactic explosion of a problem that had been building for years. A problem that was so pervasive and all-encompassing that while we knew it existed, we were too buried in it to understand how much damage it was causing.
The problem was hyper-partisanship.
It’s not gone away, not by any means. If anything it’s increased ten-fold. Left-leaning protestors are marching in the streets calling Republicans the rise of the Nazis and Trump supporters are assembling “traitor lists” and trolling their friends & family declaring that Trump is going to destroy liberalism.
Things are way out of control but what created the circumstances allowing for the strange bedfellows to find each other is not something that should be forgotten so quickly.
As a loud voice among #NeverTrump republicans, I am taking a lot of heat in the wake of his victory. Lots of “I told ya so” tweets and emails. But, as disappointing as it may be to my detractors, I’m not the least bit swayed in how I believe things should be moving.
I said throughout the election cycle that politics as a team sport must die. That hyper-partisanship is an unsustainable path that both requires its evangelists to keep upping the hyperbole each cycle while simultaneously laying the groundwork for the embodiment of that hyperbole to rise up and become real.
It’s like everyone accusing the other side of being Hitler for so long that if a Hitler were to actually rise up, no one would be able to tell the difference in the coverage.
This is partly what happened with Trump. I certainly don’t consider him Hitler-esque but I do consider him dangerous. But after years of portraying everyone from boring John Kerry to dorky dad Barack Obama as the second coming of Joseph Stalin, I suppose my claims that Trump was dangerous seemed like the same old team sport nonsense. The only difference being I had essentially switched teams this season.
The left obviously is guilty of this as well. Both Bill Maher and Seth McFarlane are notable examples of ultra-liberals acknowledging this fact.
Now obviously we could all easily be accused of simply extending the hyperbolic nonsense and this “introspective” path is simply another avenue to do the same old fear mongering that we all always do.
Fine. Trump is president, he will now have the opportunity to prove it all was more crying wolf and I hope he does.
But even if turns out Trump isn’t so bad (an outcome I seriously doubt) this election still highlighted a terrible and exploitable weakness by showing the impact that hyper-partisanship has on our ability as a nation to make real educated decisions about the most powerful jobholder in the world.
A recent conversation has made me realize exactly how the problem can be fixed.
I recently found myself in a social setting with various friends of mine in the political world, and for the first time I met Meghan McCain. This is someone I had blasted on twitter and elsewhere as being completely out of touch with conservatism and entirely incapable of offering anything valuable to our movement. Someone whose father I had blasted more times than I can count.
But through this election, I kept finding myself agreeing with her (the strange bedfellows effect) and when we finally talked in person, I was better able to identify what the problem was in the first place.
All of us, conservatives, liberals, moderates, whatever part of the spectrum you come from, we all do the same thing: we measure commitment to belief by comparing it to our personal strategy.
For example, during this election I said I would vote for Hillary if it came down to it, because I considered Trump too dangerous as a president but also because I believed he would destroy the conservative movement’s ability to persuade. And so I reasoned that an injured conservative movement under Hillary was superior to a dead conservative movement under Trump.
Time will tell if I was right, but the fact is that my entire idea was based on salvaging conservatism. My strategy for how to do this should not have been any reflection on what my actual beliefs were and yet the thing I heard most was “You’re not a conservative if you’re going to vote for Hillary.”
Well, I’m sorry. You can disagree with me on my rationale, but my beliefs should not ever have been in question.
In fact, through all of my insult hurling and condescension aimed at Trump supporters, I never said they didn’t believe the same things I do about core conservative issues. I simply thought they were going about making those changes in the stupidest possible way.
So at the center of this issue with tying beliefs to people or strategies as opposed to simply accepting that someone believes what they believe, is the problem of assuming motivations.
To many on the left, it seems impossible that I or another conservative could be in favor of tax cuts because of our own personal measurement of equitable and fair tax code. It always has to be that we want to reward the wealthy while stomping on the lives of the poor.
They seemingly never consider that while we have differing views on how to accomplish the goal of fair tax code, both of us are in search of the same ultimate solution.
Conversely, to many on the right, it seems impossible that someone could support Obamacare because they simply want people to have insurance. It's almost always the socialist dreams of a Karl Marx sycophant.
And while we argue over our motives instead of our ideas, nothing gets done or broken versions of solutions hobble their way over the finish line of an ultra-partisan battle.
This is even true of much more controversial issues like abortion. Perhaps a pro-choice person could consider for a moment that the core issue is that we believe the baby is alive. And no one should be demonized for wanting to save a life. On the flip side, perhaps prolife people could consider that wanting to protect the autonomy of the human body is not inherently evil and in fact, something most of us would fight tooth and nail for in almost any other situation.
The problem really is that the pro-life people are arguing to save lives and the pro-choice people are arguing to prevent the government from controlling bodies.
And don't mishear me, I'm not expecting that either side will or should give in on their position. But can they at least be having the same argument and discussing the same material?
To put it in a more trivial way it reminds me of when I worked in restaurant fresh out of high school and saw our two dishwashers trying to exchange shifts. One was deaf and had severely impaired speech, the other was hispanic and didn't speak a word of English.
There may have been potential solutions to what they were trying to work out but they literally weren't speaking the same language.
So in the coming months and years, I will make this my primary goal: ending the assumption of motivation. Expressing empathy for a position that I disagree with, and demanding that any debate be rooted in a common language with an agreed upon premise as opposed to continuing to bang my head against the partisan wall trying to convince someone of something while neglecting to do any actual persuading.
Persuasion is the key. It's what we've lost.
Evangelicals in large measure seem to have opted for the government to handle societal morality through rule of law, allowing the church to exist under a form of moral welfare where they focus on pulling in a weekly tithe as opposed to going out and witnessing.
Liberals, as opposed to trying to find a way to empathize with those who seemingly have no empathy, have for the last decade thrown up their hands in disgust at racial insensitivities, declaring instead that "people should know better" which is the least persuasive way to solve things that I can imagine.
Conservatives have become content preaching to 50% of the country about how the other 50% sucks while going out of their way to stoke divisive flames in hopes that it will motivate and ever-decreasing demographic majority to get out and vote. This is always justified with the anti-persuasive rationale "people will thank us when they see how well the ideas work."
It seems the party of the Bible didn't read the numerous passages on pride.
Overall, this election taught me that we are doomed. That no matter who wins, we all continue to lose. That no matter what progress is made it is always undone. No matter what injustices end it is always undermined.
And the reason is so simple and straightforward, it's embarrassing to say it. It's so childlike in its innocence but so obviously and completely true.
We stopped loving each other. We stopped caring about each other. We started looking at ourselves and our neighbors as the enemy.
There are many ways that an empire can die. Of them all, destruction from the inside will always be the most complete.
Let's stop it. Let's start today.