A Presidential election seems less a policy battle these days than a from-the-gut tribal identity statement.
People make a statement about themselves and their own identity whenever they cast their ballot. And in such a divided time, people are passionately saying, “Well, I am definitely not that!” It seems the primary motivator in modern democracy is disdain.
I feel that, too, straight disgusted so much of the time. But I also just want to be me, not tied to team thinking and all the blanket expectations that seem to come with membership. I want to pay attention to my own conscience and vote accordingly. I think our greatest peril right now is our complete collapse of mutually respectful debate. These past four years have felt like a final surrender of civil discourse to pure brute force and the politics of belittlement. I want no part of that. I cannot support such a thing. And the celebration of cruelty, whatever the politician, whatever the team, that is a loser for me, not a winner.
I don’t believe in political saviors whatsoever. I think this country’s extreme political savior complex is part of our broader social sickness. It’s the quick-fix political ideology. It leaves too much untended. Our political attention should include much more than simply who’s in the Oval Office. There’s so much more at stake than just the presidency. Here’s what I see at stake right now: Can we live with each other in this shared house, our country? Or will we tear each others’ throats out? Seriously. We’re creeping towards that. It’s horrifying.
We must save ourselves, but we must do so with our care, our study of issues and our empathy for those who disagree, not our certitude that fellow citizens are devils. It’s easy to hate each other. It’s much harder to be humane to each other when hate is all around us and perhaps within us. I think terrible problems will persist no matter who is in office, but I cannot support anyone — Republican or Democrat — who encourages or cheers on violence or physical intimidation as a political answer. This is morally wrong and the path to all of us going down.
I think the country is sick with selfishness. We all are self absorbed, but is this a fact to celebrate or do we have to fight this selfish instinct at some level? Society only functions when enough people break out of complete self interest to realize that when society gets weaker, then we are weaker by extension. And if society collapses, we are not immune to its fall. None of us. So we each are invested in its health, even if we don’t want to think about it.
When we fail to recognize that this world is not simply about getting mine, we invite awful corruption by those only focused on getting theirs. When we are OK with pure self interest as the only motivator in life, then how can we be surprised when we have leaders who use political office to fatten their wallets at the expense of others? The fact that we have such gross corruption in this country is evidence that our nation has grown way too comfortable with greed as a primary motivator in life. Corruption needs to be prosecuted no matter the party. And we need to remember, monetary value is one form of value, but it is far from the only value system. Dignity, decency, justice, fairness, love, respect — there is value in these things, too, but no dollar figure for such words.
Our individual values need to include other people, not just ourselves. And our systems have to work: our election, education, health, food, infrastructure, legal and information systems all need our sincere attention no matter our politics. There are so many improvements we desperately need to make in so many areas of life. However, our political fracture undermines any progress toward making life better. This has to change! And no leader will do this for us. It has to be us, each of us, finding something better in ourselves than our hate.
This political age will be studied for years to come. So will 2020. I wonder about the 2020s though. Will the decade bend toward awfulness and violence or toward a nation healing itself? That story has yet to be written. And everybody has a part in writing it no matter the outcome Tuesday (I’m writing this on Sunday). How we choose to live with each other in this weird time is our real identity statement. It can be rooted in either love or hate. And this choice goes way deeper than any ballot.
Zach Mitcham is editor of The Madison County Journal. He can be reached at email@example.com.