Our nation is in the midst of a crisis that has become so embedded in our culture that many of us fail to notice it. It is our political reality that we are a house divided. The days in which bipartisanship was a reality rather than an anomaly are long gone. The days in which civility was an expectation rather than a rarity are nowhere to be found. How did our nation arrive at this point? How can we change this? These are questions that my generation must strive to answer and act to fix. Otherwise, as Abraham Lincoln warned, our divided house will not stand.
We’re ensnared in a win/lose culture that is fueled by passionately tribalist instincts. Our intensely divided national political climate stymies effective government and matriculates down to our culture to foster disagreements among average citizens that result in verbal hostility and physical violence.
At this point in my young life of eighteen years, it feels to me as though American government and discourse has become defined solely by the titles of Democrat and Republican. It feels as though every issue of government is reduced to identifying a political winner and loser. Why can’t the American people win?
While conducting research for an AP Government paper last year, I was surprised to find that Senator McCain, a Republican, and Senator Feingold, a Democrat, were actually able to work together to pass important legislation as recently as 2002. I was surprised because it feels as though the news cycle for most of my life has been limited to stories of fierce partisanship, which seems to have also infected our politics with dirty tactics and personal attacks. Often, opposing party members and the media will choose to focus on real or imagined character flaws of candidates rather than their sincere political differences. We should stop focusing on the supposed moral deficiency of politicians and instead focus on their political aptitude.
The win/lose culture in American government negatively affects every aspect of civil discourse around the nation. Today, people seem to intentionally refuse to listen to opinions that contradict their own. I would go as far as to classify this as a new societal norm.
So, how can we change this?
Simply put, we need to listen to one another. We need to be open to productive conversations that are not predicated on nothing more than disproving or rebutting the ideas of others. Those conversations need to be focused on understanding one another, even if we don’t ultimately agree on the issues.
I have seen the devastating consequences of this “new normal” firsthand. This win/lose culture hit my school hard last year and threatened to divide our student body beyond repair.
In late February, a Snapchat post surfaced of a classmate making terribly degrading comments towards African-Americans. Instantly, chaos broke out at school. Students felt as though they were forced to pick a side regarding what punishment was deserved. Half of our school was in support of immediate expulsion, while the other half wanted to take a more moderate course of action.
The social climate at our school was hot and students felt as though you were either “with them or against them.” That was the wrong way to approach an issue like this. In an effort to keep our school together, the leader of our Black Student Union and I proposed a facilitated discussion among our student body and faculty. Our hope was that people would have a chance to listen to one another instead of just disregarding other people’s opinion. The discussion we facilitated was well-received by students and faculty and helped to begin a much-needed healing process for our school community.
I believe that discussions like these move communities forward and are what is needed to help cure our nation’s toxic political divide. I want to be at the forefront in helping develop that cure.