A marriage cannot work if one or both people are constantly questioning whether the other is cheating. That’s what our current political climate feels like to me.
We have a two-party system in a marriage of democracy. We have had infidelities, and now we are struggling to make the marriage work to keep the American family together. There’s just no trust to be found.
But this is bigger than the hurts of two people. This is about the family. Children matter. Stability matters. In a national marriage, the family is actually way more important than the fragile egos of our politicians. If our family of democracy breaks down, then our nation will go the way of countless other countries who don’t have a solid system of determining power. When the system breaks, force determines power. I think we have a large contingent of people in this country who are hopeful for such an occurrence, who fantasize about war or revolution to establish a one-team rule, their team. There would surely be some people who would thrive and enjoy the chaos of social breakdown, but most of us aren’t in that group.
We are interested in having life, not war, of having society function, not collapse.
Obviously, we have one party with the upper hand for a time, then the other. This happens through our electoral system. We may be pleased or dismayed. But we have long seen that things will switch back and forth over time.
But so much of today’s conflict seems to rest outside of policy and more on the issue of identity and the idea of absolute triumph of one identity over another. Our defining traits once seemed more rooted in our local ties, but more and more, it feels like what you like — food, beverage, clothes, vehicle, what you listen to or watch, etc. — is not just a preference, but some tipped hand of red or blue. Oh, you must be a Republican if you like X or a Democrat if you like Y. This is in part because our lives are more online than we need. The local community was once all a person really had in terms of connection. Now, that local connection can be completely ignored as people find communities of like-minded people who may not be geographically close.
Obviously, this is not everyone. This may not be you at all. But these sharp divisions are real. And this is what could be called a silo culture. As a culture, we seem too ready to section ourselves off from one another.
Both parties have increasingly moved toward purity tests. I absolutely agree that racism is a systemic issue, not just a hateful feeling you have or don’t. The weight of our history cannot be erased. When it comes to race, we need truth, not avoidance. I agree that sexism is wrong. I also want to believe in love as more powerful than hate and so much of my politics is in line with that desire.
All that said, I can still be really disturbed by the purity tests I see becoming increasingly rigid on the left. Liberal-mindedness means being open to ideas and embracing debate. Both liberal-mindedness, in the traditional sense, and the embrace of debate seem on the decline. It’s been replaced by a gleeful punitive element that seems out of hand. There are many examples.
For instance, Apple hired Antonio García Martínez as an advertising product technology employee, then fired him after 2,000 Apple employees signed a petition criticizing the company for hiring him because of a passage in his 2016 memoir, Chaos Monkeys, which received positive reviews at the time, in which he described “most women” in the San Francisco Bay Area as “soft and weak, cosseted and naive despite their claims of worldliness, and generally full of (expletive).” This was one man’s perception of the people he encountered. I don’t think a woman should be fired for saying exactly the same sort of thing about men she encounters. Honesty matters. And honestly, this sort of hypersensitivity feels more like a power play than actual moral outrage. If moral outrage is shouted at every opportunity, then it loses its effect when it’s really needed.
But the left is certainly not alone in tribal purity tests these days. The Republican Party’s absolute allegiance to Donald Trump will be studied for decades to come. Trump has lied constantly. This was evident from the start, such as when he claimed it didn’t rain on his inauguration day (it did) or that his inauguration crowd was the biggest ever (it wasn’t). The dishonesty, hatefulness and selfishness in this person are constantly on display. And this radical behavior is itself a loyalty test. If someone is lying to us, then they force us to make a choice. Do I accept this? Half of this country is utterly disgusted by how degraded everything has become as a result of his behavior. I am one of them. I just can’t hold my nose and say, well, it’s OK. I find him to be the most selfish, mean and dishonest person I have ever seen in public life. I try not to say this very often, but it seems like moral cowardice to avoid saying this in this space from time to time. Our terrible partisan divide was already there, but he pushed it into a truly dangerous territory. And that will be his legacy.
But much of our country has made the choice that he is our answer. And I think this is rooted in the notion that he is bad, but he is working against a greater evil. I can’t get on board with such thinking. It has led us into truly bad places. The fact that we can’t even have a bipartisan investigation into the Jan. 6 assault onto the Capitol is just more evidence that we are absolutely broken.
I honestly feel kind of hopeless about our national politics, as if we’re destined for a big collapse of some sort. I feel like the tribal loyalty tests we witness right now feed off each other and drive us to silo ourselves off more and more.
My only hope is that we can think locally as much as possible. I know many of you probably read this and feel annoyed, or perhaps hateful, toward me for saying these things. If so, it is not mutual. We are in stressful times. We muddle through mentally and emotionally as best we can. Each of us deserves a little dignity. And “teams” don’t change that fact. This is what I try to hold onto. This is where my hope lives, because I know I’m not alone in that desire. That’s how our national family ultimately sticks together.