The Issue with Politics in America
The 2020 presidential elections have shown us a country divided. We’re divided by race, by class, by policy; we’re divided by gender and sexuality, and religion. Civilized, respectful discussion has become a relic of the past. People are angry, frustrated, bitter, and anxious.
It’s easy to feel depressed by the state of our nation; easy to sink into feelings of despair and hopelessness; easy to mark ourselves, the ordinary American citizen, as a victim of the political games played by the “upper class”. We forget, no matter how far from the truth it may seem, that this is a country of the people, for the people, and by the people. We have the power to make change happen.
I think that, as a country, we suffer from two primary problems: a lack of open, honest discussion and a lack of responsibility. Let me explain.
Starting as early as elementary school, we are taught to see politics and religion as taboo. For many, it's forbidden at home and social gatherings as well. Why? Because we’re afraid. We’re afraid of confrontation, of arguments, of destroying the veil of surface-level politeness and friendship. Instead of risking the fragile order of the world as we know it, we ignore the chaos.
But, it’s this lack of discussion that makes us so close-minded and arrogant in the first place that we can’t have meaningful discussions without it resolving into a yelling match.
If we grow up in a family that holds certain political or religious beliefs, and they are the only people we discuss those beliefs with, we’re never challenged. The same ideologies and thought processes are just reinforced over and over again. Even with the invention of the internet and social media, it’s almost impossible to get your hands on news that isn’t biased. And, due to our own ego and prejudice, we gravitate towards sources that agree with us: it’s the ultimate case of confirmation bias.
However, when we encourage open discussion and debate on even the most controversial topic we gain a deeper more open-minded understanding of the world. Life is not black and white; there is no clear divide between good and evil. It’s important to remember, no matter how right you think you are, you’re probably not. Think about it this way. As confident as you are that you’re right, there is someone who is just as certain that you’re wrong. Are you special somehow? Are your reasoning skills somehow more superior to everyone else?
In my opinion, the greatest realization we can have is that we’re wrong about most things. Our tiny human brains can only process so much information; there is so much out there that we can’t even begin to comprehend. And, the only way to truly understand this is by being proved wrong. Only when we are exposed to a new idea or way of thinking that makes us question everything we know to be true, do we realize just how little we know.
It’s a fault of our ego that we consider an argument a success when we leave the other person speechless, unable to come up with a suitable counterargument. Sure, it feels great to prove your superior rhetorical and debate skills, but, in this situation, no one really wins. You leave with your ego inflated and no deeper understanding of the world; they leave with a bruised ego and a greater resentment for you and your ideology. No one admits that they’re wrong during a heated argument where their pride is on the line.
When do you actually win an argument? When you walk away with a deeper understanding of a subject than you had before.
The next time you sense a heated argument coming on, resolve to discover something new — challenge yourself to go the entire “argument” without making a single statement and ask only questions instead. Don’t ask aggressive questions meant to corner someone into a concession. Be genuine. Ask questions about what you actually don’t understand. In the end, I can almost guarantee that everyone involved will walk away better off than they started.
This is what our country needs: more open, genuine discussions. The more we understand how little we know, and why others believe what they do, we’ll start to shift away from the “us” against “them” mentality; we’ll realize that there is more than one right answer to any problem and that most people are just trying to do what they believe to be right. Maybe it’s naive of me to believe that; maybe it’s the mark of someone who hasn’t seen much of the real world; but, maybe, the world is just what we make it out to be.
In addition to having and encouraging meaningful discussions, it’s important that we, the citizens of this country, take responsibility for the problems that we are facing. By this, I don’t mean blame yourself for all racism faced by all people everywhere; no, that would be stupid. Rather, I mean take responsibility for initiating real change. It’s easy to blame corrupt politicians and ignorant assholes for everything wrong with our country while watching the news on our living room couch. But, unfortunately, complaining about all the ways politicians are screwing us over, albeit enjoyable, solves nothing.
Imagine if we dedicated all the time we spend following the news and elections and which laws were passed and who said what towards making a positive impact in our community. Instead of posting angry rants on social media, what if we worked towards actually making the world a better place.
We give too much responsibility to the government when they’re never really going to be able to solve our problems. And, honestly, that’s okay. The role of the government is, first and foremost, to protect our basic rights. Beyond that, what we make of this country is up to us.
Does the number and ill-treatment of homeless people in your city make your blood boil? Do you feel passionate about the inequality of quality education? Do you wish the healthcare system was more streamlined and affordable?
Real change happens when ordinary citizens, like you and me, step up and take responsibility. By that I don’t just mean signing petitions or attending a protest or posting a link to a charity; no, that’s not enough. Real change takes effort and passion and dedication. When we start an after-school leadership program that helps provide better education to underprivileged students or create a platform that helps people down on their luck find a job to support themselves and their family; when we film a movie that brings awareness to the struggles faced by those across the globe or simply listen empathically to our friends after a bad day; that’s the key to a better tomorrow.