Everywhere I look in this election, there’s something to be concerned about, but I haven’t been able to put my finger on exactly what I’m feeling — why am I concerned not just with the candidates, but with the electorate itself? I finally figured it out today, and it comes down to two things:
- Our willingness to believe what we want, facts be damned (or more accurately, our unwillingness to change our views when confronted with being wrong).
- Our desire to see “the other side” eat its just desserts.
Before I start in, I should say that I’m liberal, but had no horse in the race other than that — I want good governance, equality (even if it costs me money and opportunity), and I want people to build governments they can trust. I’ve donated at one time or another to both Sanders and Clinton in this race, and, though I agonized over the decision, I essentially made up my mind in the voting booth as to who I would support in the primary. So I’m not writing out of sour grapes, but out of concern.
I’ve regularly heard people, whether Republican or Democrat, say that Hillary is corrupt. When confronted with the evidence that she’s been cleared of criminal wrongdoing by every investigation that was levied at her, for political or real reasons, I usually get an odd response. I hear that it means she’s just way better about being corrupt than others, so she hasn’t been caught yet (The report on her emails, while scathing, made no charges, and the politically motivated committee on the Benghazi attack hasn’t released its report yet). Setting aside the unfalsifiable claim as to whether or not she’s corrupt, we can’t run a country that way. It’s the same as saying “I can’t prove she’s a witch because she’s so good at being a witch.” I realize the presumption of innocence until proven guilty is only required in court, but I had hoped that we internalized this sense of justice more as a society.
On the Republican side, we’ve watched the gymnastics that people have gone through to continue supporting the Republican nominee despite his racism, completely backward attitude, lack of qualifications or deliberation, or how often he’s been in court. As I’m sure you’ve heard, House Speaker Ryan, who I have respect for because I believe he takes governing very seriously, managed to call Donald Trump’s comments “the textbook definition of racism” in the same breath as he said his party aligns more closely to him than to Secretary Clinton. That speaks volumes — that the segment of the Republican Party that isn’t racist is going to put blinders on and let the segment in the party that is defined most by racism take over is sick.
Who We Are
But both of these speak not just to the candidates and party leaders, but to us, the electorate. Our inability to absorb new information and act on it is a huge problem, and one that used to just affect the dialog between parties. It’s not a new phenomenon in any way — studies have shown that not only do we not change our minds when we believe something is false and are confronted with the facts, we may actually dig in and believe our false information even more. Now, though, I’m concerned because it’s affecting the dialog within the parties, but not for the better. At least on the left, many smart, passionate people I’ve talked to in the Sanders camp have taken the false claims against Hillary Clinton lobbed from the right (like the completely false allegations by Fiorina and others about the foundation spending), and treat it as a major reason not to vote for her, while maintaining unquestioning allegiance in Bernie Sanders. The man is exceptional, and stands on a strong moral foundation, but if you look far enough, you’ll find some of the same political judgement flaws that Hillary Clinton is often criticized for. Similarly, instead of confronting the fact that more people voted for Hillary Clinton because more people wanted her, the die-hard supporters are now doing the same contortions that the GOP leadership is doing over Donald Trump to accuse the Clinton campaign of stealing the election or rigging the system. Both are baseless.
We’re all wrong sometimes, but what I see as a significant increase in blaming others when we’re wrong instead of accepting responsibility, changing our minds, or looking for new opportunities to make progress is a plague that represents a serious threat in this election. If Democrats can’t see that the coalition that makes up our party has enough in common to coalesce around one of the two eminently qualified candidates, then we’ll lose the election and have President Trump. Instead, we spread insidious lies, without bothering to verify, and people needlessly lose trust in their leaders, which undermines the foundation of government, letting more extreme candidates who represent smaller slices of the population rise up.
I see that last part as coming from an attitude that’s too prevalent party-wide. There are many who see Trump’s rise as a common rallying point to organize around, but there are so many who are certain he won’t succeed and are sitting back with popcorn, enjoying watching the demise of the Republican Party as we know it. But, as Thomas Friedman points out, we need the Republican Party, or at least we need Republicans with faith in government as a power for good, whether or not we agree with them about what “good” is. To celebrate its death fails to recognize the value that an opposition party with good ideas can bring to our own party and to the country (we can debate what that looks like) and is playing with fire when it comes to the current nominee.
Whether or not the Republican Party is reaping what they’ve sown, it’s hard to celebrate when the consequences are so high, and the Democratic Party is afflicted with a different, but still damaging attitude problem. We owe it to each other to listen more to ideas we don’t agree with, without ad hominem attacks in response. That applies whether or not the member is of the same party or another. I understand how we got to the point of historically low trust in government, but we won’t get to a better place by burning everything down — we should start instead by listening more.