The “Agree With Me or You’re a Nazi” Mentality
Some thoughts about what’s behind our plague of polarization
I’m an evangelical Christian. (Actually, I’m a Jew who believes in Jesus and identifies with evangelicals.) I’m also a strong conservative who voted twice for Donald Trump.
Based on this information alone, I will be seen as an ally to many of you. Others will consider me an enemy, a misogynist, and quite possibly fascist.
And likely none of you know me personally.
A personal story
Unlike me, most of you, Dave and I did know each other. In terms of our political and religious perspectives, we couldn’t have been more different. He was agnostic and firmly left-of-center. Neither of us was shy about our beliefs.
Yet, when I would arrive at the office I’d look forward to seeing him. He was a lot of fun to be around — a “life of the party” kinda guy. He and I cut up together enough to gain us a reputation among our office mates!
Our paths no longer cross. But the camaraderie we shared still brings me much satisfaction. Why? Because we saw through our differences. We respected each other. We even discovered — on more than one occasion — that our agreements outnumbered our disagreements! (Who’d have thunk it?)
Why is our story so rare? Why have we as a culture ceased to reach across the aisle and dialogue with one another? Why have we retracted into tribalism?
Now you may ask what right I have to preach about unity, seeing that I voted for who many regards as “the divider-in-chief?” That’s a fair question, and I will address it later on in this post.
But first, allow me to posit some possible reasons for our polarization. The list and discussion that I will present below are by no means exhaustive. Nor is it based on scientific research (at least none that I’m aware of). Rather it is based on many years of simple observation.
Reason #1: Insecurity
I don’t have to tell you about dysfunctional families. They’re proverbial. They’re legendary.
They are also a breeding ground for profound insecurity.
So many of us come from these homes. Whether or not we had both parents in the home, so many of us never got the affirmation we so desperately needed as children. This lack of bonding on such a mass scale has resulted in a society full of individuals looking for their identity in something outside of themselves. That outside entity can be a lover. It can be a gang. It could be a cult. It could even be a mainstream political, religious, or civic organization. Whatever the entity is, our insecurity causes us to surrender our identity to it.
Along with the surrender of identity comes another surrender, that being of our ability to think. Because we don’t adequately value ourselves, we lack the confidence to think for ourselves. Straying outside of the group becomes a scary venture. We’ve never developed the inner “muscle” necessary to handle the “resistance” of a contrary opinion.
So when we get opposition, we don’t respond. We react. We get angry. We get defensive. We get…offended. (“How dare they ‘attack my beliefs’ like that!”)
Reason #2: Isolation
Our insecurity causes us to get isolated — either within our group (and away from the rest of society) or else all by ourselves. I don’t have to quote statistics on how lonely our society is. You know it just by observation (and perhaps also by experience). The lonelier we are, the more we’re drawn into an alternate reality. Why else is there an epidemic of social media addiction?
And so we hide. We get drawn into our alternate, “virtual” world. That world becomes our stronghold behind which we can lob missives at the “enemy.” Since we never have to actually relate to anyone, we can be as hateful and obnoxious as we want to be — with no real consequences.
So we lob the missives. Then we beat our chests. We brag about taunting that “neo-nazi.” We swell up over taking down that “lib-tard.” We gladly give the middle finger to that obnoxious Jesus freak (or misogynist, or whatever epithet “fits”).
Reason #3: Indoctrination
Insecure or not, all of us are affected by the pervasive indoctrination of our society. There’s not a news source to be found that’s not geared toward one side of the aisle. Textbooks are tailored to favor one ideology or another. In major universities, Democratic-leaning professors outnumber their Republican counterparts by a ratio of 8.5 to 1. The leftward leanings of Hollywood celebrities are legendary.
At no time in recent history (at least from my vantage point) has this all-consuming indoctrination been more evident than during the pandemic. From the outside, anyone who dared to assert that Covid can be treated and even prevented through any means other than the “official narrative” or masks and vaccines was silenced. Social media censored their voices. Some of them lost their jobs.
People turned against one another. Stories abounded of mask-shaming. One viral video showed a mother at a school board meeting labeling anyone without a mask as a “biological weapon.” (See my post here for more on that.)
What does this societal indoctrination produce? Why of course: a “boogeyman.” An “other” to be loathed and feared.
Anything goes now. No matter what form of entertainment we take in — be it a sitcom, a video, a movie, or even the news — we run smack dab into insults, shaming, and downright trampling upon certain societal norms.
Think about our celebrities — not just those in Hollywood but also in our news media and in politics. So many of them feed off of the latest dirt about so-and-so. Their “enemies” — be they ideological opponents or just plain rivals — are fair game for their public wrath. The more salacious the smear, the better the ratings.
We celebrate them (hence the word “celebrity”)— no matter how sickeningly disrespectful they may be. Is it any wonder, then, that our social media is filled with such invective? Is it any wonder that words that were deemed unprintable in a previous era now flow like water?
What does all this say about us?
A word about Mr. Trump
And some of you are likely asking, “What does it say about you that you voted for Donald Trump? Who the heck are you to be preaching at us?
Well, I promised to address this issue. So here goes.
When Trump was nominated in 2016, I was so opposed to his candidacy that I initially resolved not to vote in the general election. I viewed his attacks on his primary opponents as imbecilic. His behavior came across as buffoonish at times. His bravado was revolting. (And I haven’t even mentioned his history with women.)
As I got to know his policy platform, I grew more comfortable with him — at least on a policy level. Yet still, my enthusiasm for his candidacy was lukewarm at best. My vote for him was a “hold-my-nose” vote if there ever was one.
After he took office, I gained much appreciation for him on a policy level. I firmly supported his Supreme Court picks. I applauded his decision to move our Israeli embassy to Jerusalem — something no one else prior had had the courage to do. Overall, I appreciated his no-nonsense approach to governing.
Unfortunately, that “no-nonsense” factor also governed his approach to his opponents. We all know about his name-calling. We all know about his lashing out on Twitter against even his own cabinet members. Such behavior poisoned his presidency — and left supporters like me ashamed and embarrassed.
So what’s the point?
Indeed, you can say that Donald Trump is both a symptom and a result of a larger societal problem. That problem is precisely the point of this article.
We despise each other. We have no respect for each other. We’re afraid of “the other.” We are islands unto ourselves. Our attitude is, “If you’re not in my camp, then the hell with you.”
Can we please break free of this? Can we please be like Dave and I were with each other — people who love and respect their ideological foes? Can we trust that the person across the aisle is not a monster?
Indeed, it will take each of us — that’s you and me — to be willing to venture out of our self-made echo chambers, listen to those with whom we disagree, and treat them with the love and respect that we all need and deserve.