Exactly a year ago, on the day of last year’s election, I wrote a piece that touched upon humankind’s turbulent history, basic traits, and inevitable propensity for division and conflict—based upon an amazing book I read: A Little History of the World. I related it to the election that was taking place on that day. A year on, it seems like our country is no less politically polarized. My own sense is that people have always been politically divided, but the age of social media and a 24-hour news cycle just amplifies things and makes them seem worse than they actually are. A cursory glance at world history tells us how divided societies have been since time immemorial—with segments of the population always having different ideas and worldviews. This is something that adds to the electricity of life, and I for one, think the world would be a very boring place if everyone thought exactly the same way! After all, most of us have very close family members who vote in completely different ways to us, but that doesn’t mean we love them any less or disrespect them because of it. At times, we all just need to calm down a bit and be able to simply say: Your views are different from mine but I still respect them—after which you can always state your own point of view in a calm and respectful manner.
I consider myself middle of the road when it comes to politics, and personally find it the most liberating feeling. I’m someone who admittedly, could change my party allegiance in a heartbeat if I ever sensed a good and dynamic candidate with the right ideas. In the United Kingdom, I was a huge Tony Blair supporter (Labour/Democrat) and then switched to David Cameron (Conservative/Republican)—purely because I thought they were the best leaders with the right ideas for the country. The last national election being my first time voting as a US citizen, I didn’t hesitate to register as an Independent. I couldn’t care less what party a candidate comes from, as long as I thought they had a good manifesto for the locality, state or country. And of course, truth be told, the best policies for me personally (we are all selfish animals after all). Loyalty is a good trait to have, but I’m a bit baffled by people who say they will always vote for a certain party no matter what. You could even put a trained chimpanzee in to represent that party—and they would still do so! It’s people who are persuadable and so-called “swing” voters that decide elections, and political candidates are more likely to pander to as well, to court their votes.
I was much more partisan in my early 20s, but since then, have come to realize that most party political stuff is utterly nauseating, and highly partisan individuals on both sides are regularly hypocritical in their viewpoints (whether or not they have the insight to recognize it). Of course, we need political parties in any democracy, but the game playing and low road mentality that partisan politics often forces upon its participants, is sad to see. I’ve written previously about how much hypocrisy there is out there. For instance, I know some very self-professed liberal people, who when you get to know them, are the most uncharitable and ungenerous folk you could ever meet. Conversely, I know some self-professed extreme conservative people who when you get to know them, are so generous that they would never even dream of walking by a homeless person without giving them a generous sum of money. On the other hand, I know some really conservative people who have very questionable family values and commitments to their spouses and children, and some extremely liberal people who have the most amazing family values you could ever imagine. That’s why I believe that a political label or allegiance is a token thing, that says absolutely nothing about somebody’s character.
There are stunning double standards on both sides of the political aisle, especially at the fringes. When something happens that would incur your wrath if the “other side” did it, but you remain silent when it’s your “own side”, something is very wrong. This phenomenon can be mind-blowing to watch unfold. A few weeks ago, in the aftermath of the horrific attack in Las Vegas—the left immediately jumped on the bandwagon putting forward their point, and were instantaneously accused by the right of politicizing a tragedy. Then last week in the aftermath of the horrific terror attack on New York, the right immediately did the same thing, and were accused by the left for, guess what—politicizing a tragedy.
Today’s sensationalist media certainly takes significant blame for stoking the flames, and have played an instrumental role in creating the situation we have today. It seems to be getting more out of control all the time. When I turn on the news, I want to watch just that: news stories—not highly opinionated pieces. For instance, I am no fan of President Trump, but a recent example would be the controversy over his handling of the condolence call to the family of Sgt David Johnson, after his tragic death in Niger. By now, we know who the President is, and how tact and compassion are not his strong points (we all probably know people like this in real life as well, who simply don’t have this trait). How anybody in their right mind could think that the President deliberately got up in the morning to hurt that family, is beyond me. There are plenty of valid and legitimate news stories to criticize the President for, but this didn’t seem one of them (never mind the political intrigue that a known anti-Trump congresswomen just happened to be listening in on a highly personal conversation). Yet the story was plastered all over the news, and dominated the news cycle for several days.
To drive home their political points, there are many people, especially on social media, who are quick to use extremist words to label their political adversaries. Currently, President Trump is regularly labeled a “Nazi” by his foes. As somebody who has read lots of books, watched many documentaries and movies, and also spoken to many survivors of the Third Reich, including visiting Auschwitz earlier this year—a somber and harrowing experience that I wrote about—banding around the word “Nazi” so easily is a gross insult to the multitudes of people who actually experienced the horrors of the era. Similarly, when President Obama was in office, we had an equally radical opposition fringe movement, the Tea Party (remember Newton’s 3rd Law: for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction). His opponents were quick to label him a “Communist” or “Marxist”, a term that is an affront to the millions of actual victims of that ideology.
The truth is that human beings are selfish by nature, and we are always looking for confirmation of our own worldview (we are all guilty of this). We also always primarily do what’s best for ourselves. We are intensely tribal, have a deep seated need to form our “tribes” and to see the other side as an “enemy”. It was true in caveman days and it’s still true today, being an integral part of our human DNA. We just have multiple more peaceful outlets for it than we once did (including sports arenas!). We may live in fancy houses in the burbs, wear designer clothes and carry around the latest smartphone—but deep inside, we still have exactly the same instincts as our caveman ancestors.
Why is this important? Because when we as humans realize this deep-seated desire in us to always be part of a tribe and fight with the other, we will be one step closer to recognizing the futility of it, and also the trap we are falling into. It never ends, there will be factions within factions, endless disagreements, and so on. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be passionate about your viewpoints, but merely means that they are just that: your own viewpoints, and the person sitting next to you is likely to have a different worldview. What does need to happen is to work together with everyone and seek out that key ingredient of a successful life: compromise. That should always happen with spirited and healthy debate in a free country.
It’s the ultimate in selfishness, and some may argue unpatriotic, to have the philosophy: my country is only great when it’s doing what I want and conforms to my politics. The country is so much more than the fleeting events of the day, or any transient leader, who will not be in power after a few years. There are way too many people who are prepared to put politics above country. Two recent examples would be people in the United Kingdom who voted against Brexit, and are cheering on Britain doing badly in negotiations with the European Union or wanting the UK economy to fail, or Americans who are prepared to see a foreign adversary, Russia, as a “friend” in their extreme polarized world as long as it may be helping their side.
No to being a blind partisan. I am happy to be as independent as I possibly can be, look at things as objectively as I can, and always call a spade a spade. I will cheer on this country no matter who is in power. I cheer when the Dow goes up, no matter who is in power. I am happy when the economy booms and unemployment falls, no matter who is in power. I am happy when Americans get better healthcare, no matter who is power.
Because practicality is more important than ideology. Results are more important than ideas. And country will always be more important than party.