In my AP English class, my teacher, in an attempt to broaden our perspectives, talked to us about different “lenses” literary critics use in their writings, such as feminism, Marxism and psychoanalysis. Often in class, when discussing something we had read, like “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy or Yann Martel’s “Life of Pi,” it seemed easy to notice what lenses my classmates were “wearing.” These perspectives just provided a base for understanding ways to think. My teacher’s most important lesson, however, was to encourage us to identify what lenses we had on ourselves and to encourage us to think freely. If we are to consider ourselves thoughtful, we must recognize and resist the temptation to view the world with only one set of glasses, whichever color. This includes if the bias is based on ideology, personal experience or influence, etc.
Pigeonholing someone else by labeling them as “Democrat,” “Republican,” “fascist,” “racist,” “communist” or whatever else is a serious problem and closes one off to opposing and challenging ideas. A problem just as serious is limiting oneself to a label like this and letting identities like these dominate one’s thought. Party affiliation has turned into “tribalism.” It is now “a form of personal identity that reaches into almost every aspect of our lives.” It has permeated, for many people, into their personal relationships and degraded respectful conduct into mob mentality.
For many, the anger in Washington, D.C. and on the news is appalling. Others also try to justify it. A video of Eric Holder this month saying “When they go low, we kick them,” surfaced on the internet. This statement was a play-on of former first lady Michelle Obama’s “When they go low, we go high.” Unfortunately, the standard of what “low” is has now changed. Now, “going low” means someone else acting on beliefs which are contrary to one’s own. This was explained very clearly by the last Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton when she said, “You cannot be civil with a political party that wants to destroy what you stand for.” A former presidential candidate, not only condoning, but encouraging incivility in our political discourse is dangerous and irresponsible.
As a result of tribalistic political identification, people are no longer thinking logically, but are instead deciding to indulge in a battle to the death over politics. Gone are the days of men like Antonin Scalia, who said, “I attack ideas. I don’t attack people. And some very good people have some very bad ideas.” Justices Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, though as ideologically different as a goat and a cheetah are different biologically, were great friends over the years. They are also highly-regarded role models for each of their respective political parties. Unfortunately, their example is not being followed.
I’m sure plenty of members of Congress are friends regardless of their party affiliation, but that is no longer politically expedient for them. Because of growing anger among those in the media and the general population, stronger and harsher statements from our politicians about their colleagues and their ideas gets them the publicity they seem to so desperately want. Senator Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., with applause from many Republicans, announced after the confirmation of now-Justice Brett Kavanaugh, that he would — for the first time ever — campaign against his Democratic colleagues in the Senate.
Many Democrats, rightly so, were and are upset by some of President Donald Trump’s comments since he started his campaign for the presidency, which have often crossed the line. Those elected to office should exemplify the highest ideals of this country. But the reaction of the left now has betrayed Michelle Obama’s words, which she felt the need to restate recently. Politicians are being confronted at their homes, in restaurants and on their way to work. This conduct is disgusting. Banging on the doors of the Supreme Court and screaming in the Senate Chamber is disgusting. Threats and insults hurled at politicians on either side are disgusting. Those who confronted Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., this week calling her a communist and screaming expletives at her acted disgustingly.
Freedom of speech in our country is turning into freedom to see who can scream the loudest. It is frankly ridiculous on both sides, but the media does not treat it that way. CNN host Brooke Baldwin decided, on her show, to fight against the use of the word “mob” to describe liberal protesters. Don Lemon defended the protesters, because they are “exercising their constitutional right” and are “upset and they’re angry with the way the country is going.” Michelle Obama has set a much better example than Don Lemon and Brooke Baldwin. “Fear is not a proper motivator,” she said, and she is right.
Fear and anger do not have a place in politics. Mobs do not have a place in politics. It is the duty of our politicians and news media to set a better example than many of them have done. They must call out the despicable behavior of these mobs instead of inciting more anger and violence. The tendency of many now to identify with a specific group so strongly creates an “us vs. them” mentality, which is the reason for all of this despicable behavior.
No matter what political party we identify ourselves with, we must recognize that we are first and foremost Americans. All those engaging in politics should act in the best interest of the country and should assume all others, even their “opponents,” are doing the same.
David Hayse can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.