Are you a Democrat or a Republican? Liberal or conservative? Communist or capitalist? Economist or sociologist? Do you watch Fox News or MSNBC? Listen to Rush Limbaugh or read Paul Krugman? Increasingly, it seems, politics hinges upon and operates within binaries like these, and the country seems to be split in each. If not a binary, then a collection of several mutually exclusive labels: You can be for gun rights or pro-welfare or anti-Obamacare. These binaries and labels drain American politics of its realism and make it impossible to have discourse and debate that doesn’t devolve into a stalemate.
It’s OK to identify as an economist, or to admit that your own financial security is your utmost priority. It’s not OK to then call yourself a “capitalist” and hide behind trickle-down economic theory to justify the accumulation of tens of millions, hundreds of millions and billions of dollars when some Americans struggle to eat and stay warm. On the other hand, it’s great to be well-read in sociology, and to understand precisely the effect and influence of society on impoverished and otherwise disadvantaged people. These people understand that crime and poverty are societal ills, and not rooted in individuals’ choices or mistakes, and that massive, disproportionate capital accumulation by a handful of people directly contributes to those ills. But it is just as immobilizing and unproductive to push that agenda unequivocally — even though I, personally, would do so if it were possible — and unequivocally disparage the capitalistic approach. It is easy to see, then, how the “gridlock,” of which we so often speak, comes about. Very personal, inherently valid views are clumped together and funneled into categories.
We have fallen into a pattern in which our identities become a collection of these things. For instance, I study sociology. I understand the destructiveness of poverty and also its origins, and so my political views are to reject and defeat the economic and capitalistic perspectives. Or, I believe in same-sex marriage; I am pro-choice about abortion, and I don’t think that the United States should be directly involved in foreign countries’ domestic affairs. Therefore, I am a liberal and a Democrat and I totally reject conservatives and Republicans.
On the other hand: I am worried about my financial security; I believe everyone should work hard, and anti-American sentiments in the Middle East and the world terrify me. The conservative movement and the Republican Party represent these ideals best, and so I am a Republican and would never support welfare, wealth redistribution or any other Democratic agenda.
This tendency has become so rampant that now party lines are even more important than the parties’ ideas themselves. So now, even a Republican representative who doesn’t believe that one person should be able to buy a $30 million private jet when entire families live on less than $30,000 per year, cannot vote to raise taxes — because it’s not a part of the GOP ideology. People consolidate their personal beliefs and views and choose to identify with a party, which then prescribes a new set of beliefs and views to those people.
And some wonder why “Congress doesn’t do anything,” when it’s obvious — at least to me — that nothing will get done in a room almost evenly split between Democrats and Republicans who are supposed to represent such a multiplicity of ideas and opinions. Diluting our political system and allowing it to become a perpetual binary of Democrats and Republicans does no justice to the 300 million people in this country, all of whom are very different from one another and all of whom have very valid opinions, views and concerns.
Realism is needed. Sobering political conversations about real issues and real opinions, views and beliefs are needed. Buzzwords, binaries and labels counteract the beauty of the American political system and government, and belittle the intelligence and passion of American politicians and the American people.
It would be nice, and it would behoove the country, if we could all diminish our attachments to political parties and to the lofty, general ideas that comprise them. Our politicians should go into work each day thinking principally about how they can better our country, the world and the lives of the people in it. They should be able to put their party affiliations aside, and they should never hold a belief, like not raising taxes, as definite and absolute. They need to recognize the sensibility in others’ ideas and do better to understand from where the “other side” is coming from. The United States was built on compromises. And we, as citizens, should set an example and demand it of them.
Sam Myers is an LSA senior.