Everyone’s living in political bubbles, and it’s ruining America
PARIS — It’s almost that time again. As another U.S. presidential election ramps up, so does the frequency of remarks along the lines of: “If (the candidate I oppose) wins, I’m moving to (state that overwhelmingly supports the candidate I support).” Some people even vow to move to a foreign country that they perceive to be better aligned with their values. For hardcore Democrats it’s usually Canada. For Republicans it’s more complicated, because there are few other countries perceived as sufficiently conservative and also English-speaking.
The threat of running away from home if you don’t like an election result, despite the fact that there will be another presidential election in four years, is symptomatic of the larger issue ripping apart America at the seams: A huge number of people have barricaded themselves inside a bubble of their own making and have sealed themselves off from anyone who disagrees with them politically.
In a recent Pew Research Center survey, 89 percent of President Donald Trump’s supporters and 87 percent of Democratic challenger Joe Biden’s supporters indicated that either “a lot” or “some” of their close friends support the same candidate they do. Only 3 percent of supporters on both sides said they have a lot of close friends who support the other candidate.
Here in France, where politics is a blood sport, there’s an unspoken rule that it shouldn’t be discussed at the dinner table. This means the French actually invite those with whom they disagree to dinner. Judging by the Pew survey, this isn’t happening in America.
Families and friendships are being strained and sometimes destroyed by partisan politics. You see it all the time on social media platforms such as Facebook, where the drama often plays out in real time in reaction to a politically charged opinion. Such debates often end with a friend or family member being blocked from the social media page and likely also from future get-togethers.
A big part of the problem is that many people have swapped out an issue-based approach for bandwagoning in favor of a party or a political figure. Instead of examining an issue, adopting a position and weighing which party or candidate best represents their position, people in America tend to do it backward. They let sheep-like adherence to a party or candidate shape their beliefs on individual issues — even to the point of compromising their own beliefs if it’s required to stay in lockstep with the “team.” Sometimes it’s a matter of ego. They’ve invested so much of their identity in a party or candidate that they don’t know how to handle nuance or deviation from whatever is being sold to them.
Rational people should be able to admit that even though they generally support a particular side, that side takes some positions with which they vehemently disagree. They should also be able to admit that the other party and its candidate have accomplished or proposed some interesting things that could feasibly be adapted, or improved, and integrated into their own party’s policies.
For instance, one can generally oppose the policies of the Democratic Party and former President Barack Obama while admitting that Obama and former Secretary of State John Kerry scored a valuable diplomatic achievement with the multilateral nuclear deal with Iran that normalized commercial relations to America’s potentially huge benefit. How difficult is it to commend your opponents for placing the first brick in a wall, then taking up the challenge of outshining them by working to build the rest of the wall?
Politics isn’t football. You don’t have to wear the jersey, attend the tailgate parties and boo the other team. This is real life, and you’re allowed to engage with people who have different views. In fact, it should be considered one’s patriotic duty to seek out ideological opponents based on their willingness to constructively debate issues while setting aside the interests of a party, a candidate or a personality cult.
The human mind doesn’t do nuance very well and generally finds more comfort in black and white than in shades of gray. But until American voters can move away from political polarization and toward a rational, issue-based approach to political debate, the U.S. will continue to speed toward implosion.
(Rachel Marsden is a columnist, political strategist and host of an independently produced French-language program that airs on Sputnik France. Her website can be found at http://www.rachelmarsden.com.)
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