I kind of can’t believe I’m saying this, but … the post-election development that bothers me most isn’t the threat of an authoritarian regime. I mean, that is deeply troubling, and I’m definitely freaked right the hell out about the rise of fascism in this country, but even so, there’s a problem that worries me more – these days, when Americans talk about politics, we only seem to have two settings: Agree and Asshole.
It’s one thing for us to disagree with each other about the way this country should run. It’s another thing entirely to write each other off before the conversation even begins, as most of us have been guilty of doing at some time or other. Rather than acting as vehicles for finding common ground and mutual understanding, nearly all political discussions in the deeply-polarized Trump era are a fast train to Angrytown. It’s like we’ve forgotten that we all have the same basic needs, and that if we can express them without spewing douchery all over the place, we can potentially meet those needs and coexist without wanting to ”accidentally” drive over each other. Of course, the irony is that when we’re fighting over whose needs should be met first or better, we’re really taking care of nobody.
It’s no surprise that now, to an extreme degree, unbridled hostility has become the new normal for political disagreements, seeing as how our sitting president spent a year and a half running a campaign fueled entirely by rage, hate and fear. I mean, I would need at least an entire ream of paper to list all the ways our current administration has encouraged Americans to be shittier to each other. By suggesting, for example, that refugees are all dangerous, Mexicans are all drug-dealing rapists, Muslims are all potential terrorists, immigrants are taking all the jobs, and lies are the new truth, our government leaders are ensuring constant conflict among the most vulnerable members of society.
When we’re all in conflict with one another, we’re much easier to control. Naturally it wouldn’t bode well for the power-junkies in charge if all the poor people in the country acknowledged that not only are they all getting screwed by the same wealthy people, but also that there are many, many more poor people than wealthy ones, and with some basic cooperation the option of, say, collectively gathering up all those greedy bastards and tossing them straight into jail, would be totally viable.
Unfortunately though, no greedy bastards get victoriously tossed behind bars when the rest of us can’t even agree that all people deserve clean water, food, healthcare and housing. Their greedy-bastard faces stay free as long as we’re all viciously arguing about whether or not it’s okay for the police to shoot unarmed people to protect oil companies, whether women should be allowed to make decisions about our own bodies, whether science is real or the news is fake. If instead we started asking one another how we arrived at our opinions and actually listened to each other’s answers, it wouldn’t be so scary to step out of our trusty comfort bubbles and social-media echo chambers to engage with ideas that don’t already align with our established world view. Before long, we might even find ways to relate to each other, and from there it’s really just a matter of time till we’re all coming together for a good old-fashioned greedy-bastard toss.
It’s all easier said than done, obviously, as long as our nation’s elite are invested in keeping the rest of us at odds with one another to increase their own wealth and power. When somebody is forcefully asserting a stance I find offensive, using the same abusive language as the powers-that-be, it takes a hefty amount of effort to push past my initial, visceral reactions to that person and get to the core of our differing perspectives. If I’m able to successfully make that effort, I usually get to learn something about the other person that helps me at least understand where they’re coming from, regardless of whether I come around to their point of view, or they to mine. I might not like what I’m hearing, but at least I’m hearing it.
In these days of rampant suspicion over which information is true and which is fabricated, it doesn’t make sense to argue various points with one another, each referring to sources that the other mistrusts. We’re all in the process of getting profoundly mindfucked by the complete overload of information the internet provides. At this late stage in the game, after years of cutting off communication or unfriending people, I’ve come to understand that the only way to keep a political conversation moving forward is to ask the other person why they feel the way they do and how they came to their conclusions, and then (here comes the hard part) … listen to their answer.
I’m not suggesting that this is some kind of guaranteed solution to conflict, or that simply listening to one another will inevitably lead to some kind of kumbayah-we-are-the-world love fest. But as one of many people who are frankly horrified by the hate parade getting thrust upon us by our government, I’m convinced it’s our last hope for keeping full-scale violence from becoming our go-to method of communication. We don’t have to agree with everyone. We don’t have to like everyone, and we don’t have to pretend to be convinced that any old batshit-crazy idea is sane. But for my part, I know that if I can get even a tiny bit closer to understanding where someone is coming from, it helps me feel like there’s the slightest possibility that all hope for a brighter future is not lost.
With that in mind, I’m going to do my best to resist the urge to judge or argue with anybody without first looking for a way to understand their perspective. I might not agree with their perspective once I understand it, but at the very least, it’ll keep me from switching my political-conversation setting all the way over to Asshole. That may not lead straight to victorious bastard-tossing, but it just might keep the conversation going. And as far as I’m concerned, that’s a good start.