Divided States of America

This election makes me sick.  I feel as though I have a front row seat to…finger-pointing and scapegoating.  Each candidate seems to be telling me that America’s problems are the other person’s fault and they are the answer to those problems.

I have blamed the candidates, the parties, and, even, the structure of our election process for this polarized political landscape (and there is enough blame to go around), but I’ve come to consider that the blame also rests with the citizenry.  The citizens of this nation have become incredibly entrenched in their views, overall.  Rather than civil discourse there are raised voices, hate speech, and violence.  Our politicians sometimes even get themselves into trouble if they are willing to work on a bi-partisan project or vote for a bill that doesn’t perfectly conform to their party’s platform.  From where does this entrenchment come?

Unfortunately, most people turn to television news that suits their existing worldview (yes, I’m talking about you, MSNBC & Fox News).  Instead of turning on the radio or television to have assumptions challenged: existing worldviews are reinforced.  Yet, one cannot solely blame television or, even, talk radio (although I like to try).

The advent of social media and internet news technologies allows a user to choose the news sources and information they want and much of it happens without us even knowing.  I share views with some of my Facebook friends but I am also connected with people who view the world in an opposing manner.  Though some of those opposing views pop up in my newsfeed (usually because of a heated argument in the comment section) most of the posts in my feed reflect the views of people with whom I already agree.  Facebook sees that I “like” and view posts by certain friends (that have shared points-of-view) and Facebook shows me more of what I want….

Most of our media is designed to reflect the world we want to see, rather than the complex challenging world that exists.  When a person sees the world as they want it is easy to become entrenched in a view.  As citizens of this great country we must seek out views that challenge us (and this is getting more difficult).  We cannot build relationships with people we do not understand and we cannot have a working government without understanding one another! We must work to understand the people who oppose us and have civil discourse on the issues that plague our civilization.  Here are three thoughts:

  1. Listening to opposing views will not betray one’s own beliefs, so listen to/read what other people have to say reserving judgement until you’ve heard/read it all!.
  2. Do not immediately comment or repudiate another person’s claims, especially on-line.  If the person is not standing in front of you, there is not a hurry to respond.  Taking a moment to consider another viewpoint may even help you to develop a response that is more persuasive.
  3. Remind yourself, when on-line, that each person owns their own posts and comment.  Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that your response will undo a post. In fact, responding in anger one is likely to only deepen another’s entrenchment.  Presenting oneself in a respectful way (even if the other person is not being respectful) and looking for commonalities will further your own causes.


United We Stand.

Not long ago I went away for the day and met a friend in Springfield for a tour of the Lincoln Museum.  One of the movies perfectly captured the polarization of America during that time and the tense and fractured political landscape of the country at the time of Lincoln’s election.  My friend looked at me as the movie ended and exclaimed, “…it’s like history has repeated itself! That’s like when Obama was elected!”

A few weeks later I sit on the other side of yet another election.  This election has left the country polarized in a way that is only rivaled by 1860, I fear.  Just as then, it isn’t about any one issue.  It isn’t just slavery or gay rights.  It isn’t just liberal versus conservative.  It isn’t just about state’s rights or the debt ceiling.

The polarized political climate reaches beyond national advertisements, party platforms, and speeches.  Polarization happens over the “water cooler” in the workplace, across the dinner table, in the comments on youtube, and in timelines on facebook.  The polarized political landscape is as personal as it is national.

Yesterday after I voted, I sat at the Bone Student Center (Illinois State University) doing church work.  At the table behind me I overheard a student asking another student who he had voted for.  The second student replied that he voted for Obama.  Before storming off, the first student exclaimed, “What?! Are you an f-ing idiot? You know you’re either an American or a democrat!’”

Wow. I feel as though we have come to a time in American politics that we must be very, very careful.  It isn’t that the issues before us aren’t personal, they are.  Yet, this country and, therefore, politics is, in the end, about people.  We disagree.  We have different perspectives.  We may even stand completely opposed to one another.  We cannot, however, forget that we are brothers and sisters.  We cannot forget that we have a mandate from history (and our constitution) to stand united and we have a Biblical and moral mandate to love those who are our neighbors, even our opponents.

I don’t have a political answer for this divided country.  I know not how to bring all of this nation together through some program, initiative, or (God forbid) war, but I think that much of the solution starts in learning, again, a thing called civil discourse.  I think that we must learn to recognize the goodwill of the person across the aisle (or table) and remember that any mess (political or otherwise): we are in it together.

Today is not about gloating or finger-pointing.  Today is not about who won or who lost. And, most importantly, today is not about right or wrong, righteous or unrighteous.  Today is about healing and moving forward.  Let us pledge to look for injustice in the world and, hand-in-hand with the people around us (Dem, GOP, Green, or other), let us find ways to work to make this world better than when we found it.


cover image from: http://www.bizjournals.com/triad/blog/morning-edition/2012/10/ways-to-avoid-political-divisiveness.html