Does it seem to you like our country is in serious disarray?
If it does and you're on the left, you'll likely blame President Trump; if you're on the right, you'll blame President Barack Obama, Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., or some other cast of characters.
But a large part of our disarray comes not from these symptomatic individuals, but from a whole lot of Americans having figuratively lost their minds. Our recent leadership is a reflection of that, not a cause of that.
Once upon a time, politics was just that — politics.
In recent years, politics has become both a religion and a sport for many, a dangerous path that creates teams, but without rules and good sportsmanship. And unlike traditional sports, there are no long-term winners. We all lose.
As former Defense Secretary James Mattis said in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, tribalism is a real threat for America. His words resonate with me. There are many of us somewhere “in the center”— whether like me (a free market capitalist and defender of individual rights) or other moderate Democrats, Libertarians, classical liberals and moderate Republicans — who try to stick to principles over people and parties.
When you believe in principles, you criticize people when you disagree with their actions and laud them when you agree. It’s not cut and dried — not all or nothing. It’s nuanced, as life and policy are.
But deep dives have been thrown out the window. Everything has been turned into a caricature, and if you don’t fall in line on either side, you can become the object of ridicule, threats or other mob behaviors.
Think about it. I bet that our great thought leaders of years past, like economist Milton Friedman, would be ostracized in a hot minute today.
Our current social cycle is a vicious one that, whether you love Trump or despise him, created the ability for him to be elected president. Those on the left who despise him, or at least don’t like him, still don’t realize or accept their part in creating him.
The same name-calling behaviors, the bullying others for having a different opinion — or even being tangentially connected to someone who has an opinion they don’t deem appropriate — is what created Trump. And, if they don’t stop that, he will surely be elected again.
Those who adore Trump, who feel like he gave them back some power in the face of bullying and underrepresentation, also are at fault. Because if you dare criticize something the president does (and there are many areas that are fair game for criticism), you are also ostracized or cast aside.
Good people operate at hysteria levels 24 hours a day. Family relationships and friendships break apart. And over what?
Not being able to give the president any criticism in areas like trade, global alliances or his online bullying and divisive language, doesn’t allow for any legitimate feedback or for him to be thoughtful about those things. That mindset gives rise to opposing fringe politicians.
This vicious cycle then repeats. Everything becomes an outrage.
Good people operate at hysteria levels 24 hours a day. Family relationships and friendships break apart. And over what? Because some people can’t appreciate that not everyone holds exactly every same opinion as them and deems any dissent unworthy?
That’s not American. That’s insanity.
Our lives and the policies that shape us are full of nuance. But social media and our communication have been reduced to out-of-context sound bites, so that when someone is against “The Fluffy Puppy Bill,” for instance, it may not be that they, in fact, hate puppies, but rather that the bill was mostly about increases in spending for geckos (no disrespect meant to geckos).
Today, though, those opposing such a bill would be mocked as "puppy haters," regardless of their reasonable intentions.
We need more focus on people’s concrete actions and less on their purported beliefs. We need less speculation and meanness. We need to put ideas at the forefront and stop with personal attacks and perpetual emotional outrage.
People need to be able to give feedback without name-calling and ad hominem attacks. If we're ever going to live up to being the United States of America, this needs to change. And, while providing possible solutions would take another column, each of us can do our part to not make everything so one-sided.
The pushback to this will be “whataboutism." There is always something you can look back to in order to score a talking point. But only looking backward doesn’t move us forward.
Others will say it starts at the top, with our leaders, but one person’s bad behavior doesn’t excuse yours. It’s akin to saying, “But he started it!”
We also need more focus on principles over political parties. At the end of the day, our president and lawmakers don’t make us great; our people do. Politicians will come and go, and we need to all feel represented when “our team” isn’t in power.
And that starts with every one of us.