Political commentator Chris Stirewalt likes to say, “I think if you love America, you have to love Americans.”
It sounds so simple. People of all political, ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds love this country. They typically have widely different views about what the country’s policies and practices should be, but at the heart of it all is a love of country.
I’m leaving out the anarchists and radicals who, regardless of their agenda, take a dim view of our country, but I think they are a distinct minority.
However, it is increasingly difficult to live by the “Stirewalt Rule” because of our political tribalism. The other side isn’t just wrong, it is evil. I heard a radio talk show host say that just the other day about a politician.
Once upon a time, we saw our opponents as wrong or misguided. We reserved “evil” for individuals who were profoundly immoral or wicked. But now someone who just happens to have a different view from our own must have evil intent.
Consider the results of a recent NBC News Poll which asked voters whether they believed the agenda of the political party opposite theirs “poses a threat that if not stopped will destroy America as we know it.”
Eighty-one percent of Democrats and 54 percent of Independents said they believe that about the Republican Party. Meanwhile, 79 percent of Republicans and 43 percent of Independents believe the Democratic Party’s agenda would destroy America.
The most serious threat to our democracy is not the policies of the opposing party, but rather the belief by most voters that we are destined for the zombie apocalypse because of the nature of the individuals who make up the other side.
Politicians, political ads and provocateurs cast elections in cataclysmic terms. That rhetoric creates outrage among individuals who then have their views reinforced by more provocation from the information silos, creating a death spiral of fury and indignation.
The great irony here is that most of us get along pretty well with our neighbors, the people we work with, the checkout person at the grocery store, the little league coach, perfect strangers and any number of people we deal with in a given day. That is our nature, much more than naked aggression.
But as Stirewalt points out, our politics are downright uncivilized.
“Now it’s to the point that we can’t even get people to do the right thing if it means not hurting the other side. So now it’s a proactive awfulness. It’s not just a selfish awfulness. It is a proactive awfulness,” he said in an interview with Center for Strategic and International Studies.
That means the November 8th election will not be an end to the campaigning and a resumption governing. It will mark only a point along the continuum of the quest for power, which is increasingly achieved by the demonization of the opposition.