Towards a Unified Tomorrow
America is at a turning point. The division in our country has reached a palpable height in the 2016 election. Stephen Colbert highlighted this in a painfully honest closing monologue last Tuesday, where he conveyed horrified disappointment at the possibility of a divided future.
This is the problem — the division in our country. Not the fact that Donald Trump got elected, not the fact that protests have sprung up as a result of it, but the division that preceded it all. A few ideas on what’s contributed to this state of affairs:
1. The media’s treatment of politicians has allowed them to use the media for access while only returning cookie-cut talking points.
a. Let’s face it — politicians themselves don’t have much pressure to fully spell out the campaign promises they make. Case in point — we’ve heard next to nothing about that infamous wall tenet of President-elect Trump’s immigration platform since being elected. This was a major campaign promise of Trump’s — and the media did confront him at times on the details of such a wall. But after Trump gave select answers or refused to give specifics, the media just let it go. Politicians have free reign to evade questions, which means voters have less facts explicitly presented to base their decision on. In place of facts, politicians supply promises and attacks on the other candidate(s) — and the majority of voters will use this more easily digestible information to base their decision on.
2. The media’s focus on viewer/reader hot button issues to drive ratings. This has created a country that is almost perpetually offended at the latest happening/scandal. So much of our sense of identity is wrapped up in digesting events to discover what about them we find objectionable. And because we crave to be enraged, the media feeds us a steady diet of outrageous things to keep us happily outraged.
3. Social media reality distortion. Let me get some help from the Wall Street Journal on this. Earlier this year, WSJ created an auto-generating Facebook feed that shows a typical Liberal and Conservative feed side-by-side, updating in real time. What you can quickly see here is that your social media feed can begin to alter your perception of reality. People in a more liberal feed are going to be supplied with more stories and facts to justify the idea that Trump and Republicans are inept/dangerous, while anyone enjoying a daily view of the other feed will be supplied with articles and ammo to oppose Democrats.
But even with so much stacked against it, the story of a unified tomorrow has reached a turning point. The country is slowly starting to become aware of the way the population is being used to perpetuate the political status quo.
These many different conflicts that we’re seeing are growing pains, as the country comes to terms with the individual uniqueness of its subcultures. Blacks, latinos, Asians, whites, Native Americans, and other racial groups all have very different cultural values and traditions. Democrats and Republicans have many values and priorities that don’t directly align, contributing to the culture of opposition we see in politics today.
But all these differences break down when you consider one thing all life has in common — we all want to go on living. And when we face something that threatens that natural drive, it’s either fight, flight or flatter. We work to protect our sense of identity — from animal to home sapiens. Even plants have evolutionary defenses to maximize their lifespans. The question isn’t “How can they believe that?” Because everyone has the same drive to protect themselves, the real question is “Why do they consider that idea a part of themselves?”
Take the Birther issue. Democrats and Obama supporters’ response on this issue: It is provable, and has been proven, that our current president was born in this country. Obama’s life story and, eventually, his actual birth certificate were provided as evidence to disprove the Birther conspiracy theory. However, the theory caught ground (and still has supporters) because Obama was foreign, in the sense of being drastically opposed to the nation’s expectations of what presidential material was until that point. Obama was an erudite black man who was exceptionally gifted as an orator, eventual Nobel prize winner, and seeming recipient of a heaping helping of the Good Lord’s favor — or the dealings of the devil. Republican voters felt that someone they couldn’t connect with was on an upward trajectory to the White House with almost unnatural ease. We don’t understand him, so who knows how this meteoric fame and glory really came about, Republican voters may have thought.
We need to look for the politician who can bridge the gap of understanding between both sides — or we need to be the change ourselves.
Here are some ways to heal this apparent ideological divide we see reaching its apex in the aftermath of the 2016 election year:
1. Kill the Debates. The debate no longer shows the validity of differing viewpoints. The format gives well to catch little soundbites, but allows politicians to dodge questions if they need to with little difficulty. For example, there are absolutely no penalties for blatantly asserting lies, even when the moderator gives proof that a statement is in fact false. What incentive do politicians have to give the truth to America in these debates, or in the rest of the political games they play on the road to office?
Honest debate, as Jon Stewart has said before me, is what we need. Opposing ideas need to be explored, picked apart and exposed to the light so that we are left with the most beneficial arguments. At the very least, we need a better debate format, one that is created to dissect politicians’ platforms thoroughly. Perhaps the first debate is designed to clinically dissect the weaknesses of each politician’s platform, and the second debate provides a chance for rebuttal, a chance for the politician to reflect on the first debate and strengthen his or her policies.
Just as many Republicans are afraid of the Democratic Party as there are Democrats afraid of the Republican Party. This is because we don’t currently have an organizational force determined to awaken the country to the reality that we all have equally valid perceptions, but that all perceptions can be strengthened to better withstand the trials of tomorrow.
2. Reframe Our Politics By extension, the framing of the campaign season as a political “race” has a combative feeling that affects how we view it. In a competition, your goal is to beat your opponent. Understanding your opponent is only useful if it allows you insights into how to beat them. Openly exploring ideas with your opponent to possibly create a better, shared platform for the country, or at the very least exploring ideas in a debate in order to add elements of the other side that do make sense — these are things that will disrupt the current status quo.
America will disrupt the status quo.
The media right now is an overwhelming force furthering the divide in our country. We need an even more determined force to expose the lie of incompatible division for what it is. We need to know that there are many different ways of seeing the world, and that this is okay. We need to know that ideological conflict only happens as the prelude to something bigger. Thesis and antithesis become synthesis. We just need to figure out how to incentivize synergy, since the media and political system is incentivized to forestall this natural progression for as long as possible.