By Winston Smith
Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.
― Groucho Marx
The United States is structured in such a way that there are two major political parties who enjoy the most influence. While, yes, there are more than just two political parties, they are unable to command substantial power and influence to become major players on the national stage. In fact, many of these smaller parties are, arguably, factions of the larger national parties. As there is this duality in American politics, our discourse runs similarly. There are always two sides to an issue. We want input from all sides. Working across the aisle.
This duality permeates our political culture and has even manifested itself into the TV show Crossfire, wherein two hosts representing the two major differing political ideologies argued for 30 minutes over various issues. In no reality could such a show be construed as a productive discourse. The inherent fallacy in these discussions is that at the end of the day, we all agree to disagree. Truly, if one of the co-hosts made effective arguments, would the other host realize the error of their ways? Obviously, this does not happen. You would be hard-pressed to find examples of individuals changing their viewpoints on issues during a debate. Well, maybe these arguments are not for those who make the argument, but for those who listen. I would be reticent if not admitting that through debate that my own viewpoint on issues was not changed.
However, even if people truly went in with an open mind to listen to the other side and fully considered their arguments, there is still harm to this argument from opposites and a fallacy that continues to be perpetrated. The reason being is that there is truth in policy. There are right and there are wrong answers to policy questions. Importantly, these solutions are not politically binary, they exist on a spectrum of most to least effective. But, there is a solution that is most effective in solving a policy issue. This means that the most effective policy solution can exist somewhere on the political spectrum which includes both major political parties and politics and policies which exist outside of them.
Continually, politics and our political system block effective policy solutions to issues that fester within our society. In fact, even on issues that we all agree scream for a solution, such as gun control, we are unable to take any action. As set forth above, political forces and the way in which current political discourse is conducted has split our country in twain.
Less than a month ago, 17 people were murdered in a high school in Parkland, Florida and as a nation are unable to find a way to mitigate how to stop someone from shooting and killing 17 other people. On the liberal spectrum, we see clear and continued misunderstanding and mischaracterization of types of firearms and their attachments and lack actual experience with firearms and the culture surrounding gun ownership. On the conservative spectrum, we see an unacceptable amount of lack of empathy for victims of gun violence in comparison to want to retain firearms and preaching from upon high without actual education about firearms. Both also share the characteristics of coming into this issue with an all or nothing attitude and an almost divine right to what effective policy could be. This is unacceptable. Rather than addressing the issues that allowed this tragedy to occur, we are so conditioned to see policy solutions as binary that it is nearly impossible to come to an effective understanding and implementation of nuance policy solutions which will be more effective than any binary policy solution.
We further perpetuate these self-inflicted wounds as we scream into our respective echo-chambers and then flail snide, unconvincing, logically incoherent arguments in the hopes of gaining as much political street cred with your own political persuasion.
Look, political parties aren’t inherently bad. They allow for the minority opinion to be articulated in the public forum and allows those with similar views to consolidate power and try to affect policy. However, when partisan fighting leads to ceaseless battles without any clear outcome or resolution, no one is helped.
As an astute professor once taught me, if you make your enemies into caricatures, you’ll never be able to beat them because you’ll never take them seriously. If we are unable to break free from such a simplistic, binary view on policy solutions, achieving effective policy will continually become harder and harder to achieve. Therefore, the idea that it is fine to agree to disagree should be abhorrent to everyone. This is nothing more an agreement for mutual destruction. It is not some grand agreement to meet in the middle or to tolerate differing opinion. This is just continued heel-digging. There is truth in policy. There is a best answer to a policy question. You might not always like that answer. It might come from the party you spent the majority of your life vilifying. It might even come from somewhere you never even knew existed. However, to even get to this point you must separate yourself from partisanship. The truth is within our grasp, we must stop ourselves from failing to reach it.
P.S. If you don’t think this applies to you, I’d strongly encourage to take a good look at yourself. This applies to everyone, including the writer.
Photo Credit: The Atlantic