Today, civil discourse is deteriorating. Here in the United States, we are growing more polarized than ever before. Political parties take extreme stances against each other, each refusing to budge an inch. We focus more on the differences between us rather than the similarities. We shout as loud as we can, somehow thinking that if we successfully drown out our opponent we won. The only way to win, however, is through understanding. That only happens if we take the time to listen rather than shout.

How are we supposed to move forward as a country when we can’t even listen to or understand one another?

Red Or Blue?

The most obvious divide in our nation today is that between two extreme political ideologies. Religions, businesses, colleges, and entire geographic regions of the country flock to either side. Over time, the subtleties of the political stances of these parties have become increasingly unimportant. Instead, both parties vilify the other, distorting their opponent’s beliefs and causing distinct tribalism.

I remember witnessing this when I was younger. Two of my mother’s friends had decided to go out for lunch and catch up. During the lunch one of them mentioned that my mother was a registered democrat. Later, my mom received a call from the other friend who refused to believe the “accusation”.

She was livid, declaring: “I couldn’t believe it! I just about stood up and slapped her face! I was like, ‘Don’t you dare say that about my good friend Heather!'”

It was the first time I had ever heard someone tie a person’s character to their political party. Having been raised by my mother, I knew she was a wonderful person, and it was clear her friend thought so too. So why did she find the term “registered democrat” so offensive?

Liberal Snowflakes

It wasn’t long before I learned why. Growing up in a state so red that neither political party ever bothers to campaign here, I heard all about the Liberal “Snowflakes“.

They have no faith nor trust in humankind but feel the need to enforce their own ideology through government programs and laws. Snowflakes have no sense of responsibility. Instead, they want the government to fix all their problems, actively shielding them from any real accountability.

Believing that they are special and unique, they somehow are exempt from hard, honest work. This means they have no respect for experience or age, believing they know more than their bosses.

They completely discount religion and rely solely on general statistics that ignore individual circumstances. Arrogant and classist, they believe that their education and ability to see flaws in arguments makes them smart. (Never mind that they can’t build an effective argument themselves).

They balk as soon as they are confronted with anything that makes them uncomfortable. Scared of conflict, they have their “political correctness”, yet, lack basic manners with their appalling language. They never spend time working or connecting with the Earth they claim they want to save.

Somehow, they argue that society is comprised of individuals rather than families and should be parented by the Government, never really growing up. Makes sense – they are all lily-livered, snot-nosed, good-for-nothing snowflakes, after all.

Conservative Re-thug-licans

Once I got to college the tables turned, and I learned how terrible Conservative “Re-thug-licans” are.

They’re racist, sexist, bigoted, judgmental, and rely more on their religious delusions than factual science. They look to the past expecting to see the future. Worshipping the almighty dollar and a white-skinned God they believe themselves divinely entitled.

They don’t have the intellectual patience to think out issues. They can’t understand the nuances of metaphors. Re-thug-licans refuse to learn a new way of looking at the world. Instead, they insist that theirs is the only possible truth.

They often shame and belittle others with a “holier-than-thou” attitude. They blindly still believe in a flawed “American Dream”, ignoring the social realities of class. Having assigned moral beliefs to success, they treat the rich with respect and deference while condemning the poor for their poverty. (Never mind that the majority will never become millionaires themselves).

Deeply insecure, Re-thug-licans won’t tolerate any real equality between those they see as different from them, yet somehow call America the land of equal opportunity. They believe companies should have the same rights as citizens.

Arguments for preserving life and accepting accountability justify laws to control women’s bodies, but somehow don’t apply to the machines that actively end life. Makes sense – they’re all gun-toting, thick-headed, backward-thinking thugs after all.

Traitorous Liars

I realized very quickly that these perceptions are far from accurate. Lumping individuals into one stereotype is wrong. These caricatures all twist the ideals of each party, dehumanizing the other side while justifying aggression and hate. These portraits of each political party are insidious because they prioritize power and control above all else.

The tribalism that is fiercely upheld in America leads to a destructive belief in politics: the first stance that someone takes on an issue is their only true stance. Or, in other words, the first opinion someone voices must be what they truly believe, even if they say differently years later. If they claim their perspective or mind has changed, they are lying.

While that is a problematic concept on its own, there is another piece to this: Those who change their opinion are now traitors to their party. They are immediately ostracized and marked as untrustworthy. Having turned their back on one value, they are now a traitor to all values.

Somehow, they are both liars and traitors.

Dangerous Contradictions

Being both a liar and a traitor because of a stated belief is, quite frankly, impossible.

To be a liar means that your words did not reflect reality – that the stated belief of yours was fundamentally untrue. It could mean that your mind has not changed, and you don’t really understand a new perspective. The only reason you would claim to now be on the other side is that you have some dark motive. You want something in return politically, or you are trying to spy on the other side. You can’t have actually changed your opinion. That’s just not possible.

On the other hand, being a traitor assumes the exact opposite: that your words did reflect reality. That stated belief of yours was, as a matter of fact, what you believe! In other words, your mind did change. You do understand a new perspective.

But in so doing, you have effectively betrayed all the values of your political party. You are immediately placed on a blacklist and shunned by your own community for daring to side with the enemy.

The only reason such a contradictory idea is upheld is because of power. Those who are within the party want to eliminate competition for position by expelling fellow members who go off-script. But those who are from the other party have no desire to accept someone who has differing values and viewpoints. In other words, changing one’s opinion or understanding another perspective is political suicide.

An example of this is Senator Romney’s decision to vote in favor of impeaching the head of his political party. The billboards in Utah reflected the divisive blow to his career: “Thank You, Senator Romney!” alongside “Get Out, Mitt!”

Stonewalling Progress

This has catastrophic consequences for democracy and our country as a whole. The United States of America is supposed to be governed by the voice of the people. If understanding and learning from the other side of the aisle is a traitorous impossibility, then we no longer have a say in our government. Our dissent, our protests, our use of the first amendment, none of it matters. No legislator will ever change their mind. Bipartisan cooperation is practically nonexistent. The balance of power in this country was determined as soon as a politician sent out their first tweet.

Especially in light of recent protests, this is a sobering perspective to have. It means that no matter what opinion citizens have on an issue, everything comes down to which party owns the senate. Movements like Black Lives Matter or Anti-Mask demonstrations are suddenly becoming the political equivalent of shouting off a cliff.

In other words, American People voicing their opinions increasingly does not matter. No politician who hopes to keep their political career is going to change their stance. Those whose political agenda aligns with the movement or demonstration side with the people protesting or demonstrating. Those whose political agenda is threatened attack the movements or demonstrations and rally their supporters in opposition.

Elected By The People For The People?

An argument against this view is that our voices still matter because we elect legislators to represent our political interests. If there is a majority of one party in the senate, then, it just shows that the majority of the Americans want the country to move in that political direction. Unfortunately, however, this is not the case.

Often promises to represent constituents’ interests begin on the campaign trail and end once in office. As soon as legislators are on Capitol Hill, they learn that their largest concern is maintaining power. This means stonewalling the other side, either by shooting down any plan they bring to the table or by battering through with the most extreme position they can manage.

There is increasingly no compromise, no discussion. Issues that matter are locked away in drawers and swept under the rug. All the while, media perpetuate the division by convincing constituents that the actions of their senators are courageous and important, while those of the other side are evil and cowardly.

Issues come up during legislative terms that legislators never have to run on. They instead let the leaders of their parties offer the official story, while they pull strings behind the scenes. The most important thing, of course, is that no one can ever change their stance on an issue: ever.

Being a part of the party means backing the party and the party leader in everything. If members of a party were able to change their mind, it would greatly upset the balance of power. This is disastrous news to those who are actively trying to share a new perspective. How are protests, journalists, and demonstrations supposed to change policy if those in government are not allowed to change their minds?

Hope: The Fracturing Of The Two-Party System

As long as understanding the other side’s perspective is ensured political suicide, there is no chance that people’s voices will actually sway our government on the issues that matter. This extends past the legislative realm, affecting the executive branch through the electoral college, and judicial through presidential appointments to the Supreme Court. Power has slowly become our government’s only priority.

There is one glimmer of hope, one opportunity for real change: the two-party system is fracturing. Social media, news outlets that border on entertainment, comedy shows that border on ethical journalism, all of these encourage the stark divide seen in American society today. As the two sides become increasingly extreme and often irrational in their stances on controversial issues, they alienate more and more Americans.

Ruin Of The Republicans, Downfall Of The Democrats

Republicans are strict when it comes to who can be a member of their party. They stay on message, often shortening everything into sound bites so that they can work the same phrases back into any conversation or interview.

Republicans are proactive, constantly putting forth their policies based on their political agenda. They have such tight unity that they have been able to push through policy after policy to gain power through sheer obstinacy. The downside is that there is little wiggle room for new ideas or change. Many Americans feel as if they don’t really belong to the Republican Party, since not everyone can fit the strict mold. In refusing to bend, they become brittle rather than strong. Their lack of flexibility will eventually cause them to shatter.

The Democrat’s downfall will be the exact opposite. Unlike Republicans, Democrats do not have stated values that they all agree on. They are the only other option for everyone who doesn’t fit the strict criteria for being a Republican, and, unfortunately, appear to have been defined by that.

Defining themselves as “the opposite” rather than as a party in their own right has forced them to become more reactionary. Republicans lay out what they believe, Democrats can only stand up and declare that they don’t agree with it.

Democrats lack a value system that they can progress towards and easily communicate. There is no coherence within the party because they want to make everyone feel welcome. In trying to be welcoming of everything, they have lost focus and are united in nothing. Their fluidity will eventually cause them to dissipate into different, more distinct parties.

The Right To Get Smarter

Voters are either no longer aligned with the values of their party, or not even able to find their party’s values. Because of this, they start voting on an issue-by-issue basis. Keeping up with every issue, however, is impossible, unless it is a part of one’s career. So, as a result, they become single-issue voters, deciding what is most important to them and voting on whichever party shares their opinion concerning that one issue.

This is not how democracy should be run. It should not be a clash between two political powerhouses that are only interested in gaining power and control. Instead, there should be parties with clear values that more accurately reflect the minds of the people.

Every single state is large enough to be its own country. We, the people differ enough that we require more representation than two struggling elites can provide. We can’t continue with this farcical idea that people have always been the same. People change and fluctuate. Our political parties need to reflect that flexibility.

When our current political parties are no longer fit to serve, I hope they shatter. I hope they fracture into smaller, more defined, and appropriate parties that can discuss, debate, and work together to help the country actually grow. That is what we are desperately lacking right now: growth.

Growth can only come from understanding, which requires listening and talking in equal measure. Growth requires mistakes, otherwise known as learning. In order for learning to take place, people need to be allowed to change their perspectives and minds – to become more informed.

We need to preserve people’s right to get smarter.

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