America Goes Tribal

The other day I read an article, originally published two weeks ago, titled “No, We Don’t Have To Be Friends With Trump Supporters”. It was, well, a bit shocking. The article calls for an end of civility with Trump supporters, stating that “when they go low, stomp them on the head.” But this article does not exist in a vacuum. The past two years have seen an explosion of such articles, and tweets, and public statements steadily ramping up the public’s vitriol. And with this, we also see an increasing dehumanization of our opposition. More and more the public discourse is defined as Republicans vs Democrats, and liberals vs conservatives. We are grouped into tribes and encouraged to see each other through these lenses, and not for the people we truly are.

All sides of this debate are engaging in such behavior mind you, no one has the moral high ground. President Donald Trump so frequently belittles and mocks his opposition, using derogatory language, that I do not even feel the need to cite examples. We have all seen it, we all know about it. But it’s not just Trump. Everyone engaged in political debate is steadily racing to the bottom. Both liberal and conservative activists, along with the mainstream news media, are embracing the Trump style. They attach patronizing nicknames to their opponents, such as ‘snowflake’ or ‘libtards,’ and paint all their opponents as ignorant children. Matt Lewis, writing for The Daily Beast, calls this cycle the “Uncivil War”. America is increasingly at odds with itself, and we are nearing each other’s throats. But Lewis puts all of his hope in the idea that someone in the political sphere will rise above this, and pull us from the brink.

But we cannot wait for some ‘savior’ to appear. Change begins with us. It is us who elected these people to office. It is us who share and spread these articles around. Indeed, we already had alternatives in 2016 who offered a more civil path such as Jeb Bush or Bernie Sanders. We rejected them, and we must live with the consequences. We must remember that the people on the other side of the aisle are just that, people. We all want the same thing: for America to be the best that it can be. We may have different ideas about what that entails, but the vast majority of us are simply doing what we feel is right. We must also remember that civility does not mean weakness. You can stage protests, call out public figures for their behavior, speak out for what you feel is right and against what you feel is wrong, and you can do all these things without resorting to harassment and disparaging attacks. If we feed into hate, it will continue to grow and we confirm its validity as a path for political success.

Think about the articles you share online. Is it encouraging this tribalism? Does it lump all Republicans and Democrats together, and what’s more, does it treat the names of these parties as derogatory terms in and of themselves? Are these the articles you want to share? Is this the kind of atmosphere you wish to promote? Think about who you vote for, especially in primaries. You want politicians to change? Vote for different politicians. Don’t vote for people who engage in this kind of divisiveness. Above all, don’t be passive. Civility does not mean keeping quiet. It means fighting for what you believe in rather than fighting to stop those you disagree with.  Civility is the politics of conviction, not opposition. No matter who wins the election, we all have to share this country.