A couple days ago, I participated in an internet poll. I know such polls aren’t accurate reflections of the population, but this one really struck me. The question was: Would you rather be represented in Congress by a smart person who disagrees with you, or a stupid person who agrees with you? I clicked on my answer of choice and saw that the majority of participants disagreed with me. With a few hundred responses, 57% said they’d prefer the “stupid person who agrees with (them).”
I have thought a lot about this. It seems that we are living in a period where adherence to a chosen political alignment far outweighs any other consideration, and that this demand for absolute homogeneity is tearing the nation apart.
Throughout history, false narratives about opponents have served as one of the most important tools in both political and military campaigns. The current effort to spread misinformation is nothing new. What is new is that these false narratives are harming more than just political opponents; they are causing “the hearts of men to wax cold” and shredding the thin threads of civility that are necessary for a free republic. Political disagreements have become personal. Angry mobs are getting in the faces of strangers and demanding fealty to their cause. Anger, hatred and the refusal to trust one another is destroying relationships within families, neighborhoods, workplaces, churches and the community at large.
The other day, a friend said, “I’m really worried about (and named a mutual friend).” I asked why and was told that it was because some of his Facebook posts proved he was becoming a tool of the “Marxists in Congress.” I suggested that this friend had always been a slightly left-of-center moderate and that those posts merely aligned with that viewpoint, but I was told that they really showed he had gone “full Pelosi.” Pelosi, she said, “is a complete socialist who wants to destroy America.” I could not convince my friend otherwise.
A few days earlier, another friend had argued that “everyone who votes for Trump is a racist.” I argued that I know many people, also concerned about racial justice, who are voting for the president’s reelection on other grounds. I wasn’t believed. Every political disagreement, it seems, is now phrased in the starkest terms.
Assigning motivations to the actions of others and judging them based on those assumptions is a lazy way to view the world. What progress could we make in solving our pressing problems if, instead of demonizing opponents, we looked for common ground? What if we assumed good motivations in others and tried seeing things from their perspective?
Listening and caring about the perspectives and needs of others, not applying ideological purity tests, is what will heal us.
What if we stopped believing that liberals are socialists, communists or Marxists, or conversely, that conservatives are like unto Hitler? What if we believed that protesters (as opposed to violent rioters) have legitimate issues and deserve to be listened to? What if we quit classifying pro-choice advocates as baby killers, or pro-lifers as misogynistic women haters? What would happen if we didn’t view those seeking universal health care as socialists, or if we quit assuming those favoring a market-based approach to health care cared only for the rich? What if we looked at LGBTQ members of society with humanity instead of as a group seeking the downfall of the country? What if …
This nation has serious issues that need to be addressed and solved. That won’t happen in the current climate of hyperbolic caricatures. This is a critical election, a veritable fight for the heart and soul of America. That battle, however, isn’t about who sits in the seats of power, but in what sits in the hearts and minds of the individual citizens. Disagreements are good, for that is how the most inclusive policies are formed.
Our national motto, E Pluribus Unum (out of many, one), should enshrine the value of differences in the American soul. We must not let those disagreements rip apart how we view and interact with one another. To fear one another and their beliefs is to sow the seeds of hatred. Listening and caring about the perspectives and needs of others, not applying ideological purity tests, is what will heal us. We need individuals, smart enough to know the difference, serving all of “we, the people.”
Jonia Broderick is the United Utah Party candidate for Utah’s 4th Congressional District.