Okay, I’ve avoided it all season, but I have to say something about politics.
Hold on tight.
The polarization in this country is really out of control, folks. This morning, I logged onto Facebook only to find two competing rants by friends of mine, each promoting one of the two major candidates for President. Each rant made claims about their candidate’s opponent that are patently ridiculous and easily disproven: If he wins, the economy will fall apart! He doesn’t care about the country! He has an evil agenda! Did you know that he supports a bill to kidnap babies and feed them to trolls?
Both of these friends are smart, reasonable people. They should know better. It would only take a few minutes of fact-checking on non-partisan websites to learn that many of their claims aren’t true, but in both cases, they were so blinded by party loyalty and hatred for the opposition that they were willing to believe almost anything. Nor did the scores of commenters on their rants seem to notice the major errors of fact and logic; they all consisted of either “Yeah! Right on! You tell ’em!” or “How can you support that guy?! Don’t you know…” followed by rants of their own.
Then there are the posts by people who are so fed up with the noise that they’ve decided to remove themselves from the political discourse altogether and simply not vote. But—with all due respect to my beloved friends who have made that decision—I don’t find that very helpful. The candidates are different, and while I don’t agree with either candidate about everything and I don’t like the limitations of the two-party system we’ve got, I do think it makes a difference who we vote for, and I have already gone to the polls to cast a vote for the candidate I think will be best for the country.
You might not like the same candidate I like. I’m okay with that. We may disagree on a number of the issues. I’m okay with that too. And some people may feel that they don’t know enough to make an educated decision about who to vote for. I’m also okay with that.
Here’s what I’m not okay with: Our political discourse in this country has gotten so polarized that it feels like 90% of folks have planted their flag on one side of the aisle or the other, and now we’re just looking for anything bad we can say about the other side (even if it’s not entirely true) while we happily go along with everything our side says (even if we ought to be asking more questions). And so we end up battling as if this election were Jesus vs. Voldemort and it starts to look more like the ultimate sporting event than a real conversation about the issues that actually affect us.
Yes, most of us will agree more with one candidate/party than with the other. But neither candidate/party is perfect, and it’s about time that all of us spend some time holding our own candidates and parties accountable—not only challenging them to do better on issues where we disagree with them, but also challenging them to be willing to compromise when the folks on the other side of the aisle have a good idea. But to do that, we have to stop treating this as a clash between Good Guys and Bad Guys and start recognizing it for what it is: a lot of flawed human beings with different ideas about how to best run the country, all of whom want to see the country do well and all of whom are concerned about things like getting re-elected and helping their party succeed.
I think there are three major things we need to do as individuals:
- We need to educate ourselves about the issues. And that means that all of us need to listen to what those we disagree with say, so that we can understand both sides of the issues that divide us. Every day, I hear people telling me how they agree/disagree with Obama’s health care law, or Romney’s tax plan, or whatever the case may be. Fine, but how much do you actually know about this plan/bill/position you agree/disagree with? When I ask them for details, the majority of them can’t give me much beyond a few talking points they heard from others on their side. If we’re going to hold our candidates accountable, we need to know what we’re talking about.
- We need to insist on compromise where it makes sense. Both parties like to block their opponents from scoring any political points, and as a result, we see a lot of situations where one side has a good idea, but the other side blocks the discussion and/or immediately takes the contrary position. Look, on some issues, there’s no compromise. But on many issues, we share the same goals: we all want to reduce poverty, improve the economy, and have less violence in our world. We just disagree on how to accomplish those goals. And every election, our politicians tell us that they’ll reach across the aisle, but it rarely if ever happens—and when it does, those on the other side of the aisle aren’t usually receptive anyway. Personally, I’d love to see an independent body start ranking politicians according to how often they try to work with those who disagree with them and find compromise. I’d totally use that in making my voting decisions.
- And finally, we’ve got to start listening to each other and not just shouting at each other. Quit with the Facebook rants and let’s have a calm, reasonable conversation about the issues we disagree on. We might not end up agreeing, but at least I’ll end up with a better understanding of why you think what you do. That way, after the votes are cast and the campaigning is over, you and I will have a stronger relationship, not a weaker one divided by politics.
And yes, I think all of this is relevant to the gay/Christian debate I discuss in my new book. The polarization we see in the Presidential race is just as evident in the culture war over homosexuality. It’s become “Gays vs. Christians,” splitting our families and churches, when it never should have been. Does it matter what we believe? Yes. Will we all agree anytime in the near future? No. But if I stop seeing you as the opponent and start learning to see the world the way you see it, then together, we can change everything.
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