The way Americans debate is infused with force. I’ve noticed this in every forum I’ve encountered. Over the past few decades, the US has declared itself the arbiter of democracy, and yet it has civil war in its own past. This should not be understated — it has unresolved, deep issues with race and reconciliation that go all the way back to slavery. It was forced to resort to blatantly non-democratic way to try to fix them. That is its history. Did it work?
Look at examples like the persistent existence of the KKK, the troubled history of the Black Panthers, the entirely fractious efforts to end segregation and the viral nature of #BlackLivesMatter. America still has a pretty serious racial chasm.
Additionally, no race is a monolith; there are conflicting perspectives within races, which complicate the tensions between them.
And that’s just race. Now apply that same phenomenon to every imaginable demographic and issue, and you start to get a clearer picture of what’s going on.
Everyone seems surprised at the level of animosity and fracturing. But I’ve been watching this unfold for some time now. You may think that the way people talk to each other online is just a twisted representation of their much calmer, real-life selves. I do not — I believe it truly represents the way they think and feel. People are scared and angry, and especially after the election result, this needs to be taken seriously.
A common refrain is “Haven’t we solved this already?”
The problem is that war doesn’t solve anything. It just pushes the problems off for a bit, and give the victors false confidence. Then the problems manifest another (likely far more subversive) way.
The way the 2016 election went, it was very like a war, at least rhetorically. There isn’t just a winner and a loser. There is dancing and rioting in the streets — to the point where it’s hard to tell the difference. There is an outpouring of vitriol from the winners, and mass-anxiety of the losers. The country is not united.
Truth is the most bloodied casualty in the streets, and now laying shell-shocked and disoriented in the infirmary. Some are suggesting it may never recover. Indeed, it may not.
Affiliations of all kinds are caught up in this, trying to sift through the rubble to figure out what to be confident in, and what to be afraid of.
A large number of values that were thought to be shared are being discovered to wildly one-sided.
Starting long before this election, every social issue is being fought with this “winner take all” attitude. Any group’s “thems” are not just different, they are strange, dangerous and most likely evil. From same-sex marriage to climate change, the rhetoric is all designed to quickly and simplistically write opposition off with caricaturing labels — as hopelessly prejudiced against “the facts”. When every group is adopting that language and strategy, the only solution is war.
“Them’s fightin’ words!”
The better argument will not prevail. Rational, intelligent appeals to empathy and a shared understanding will not work. When one side is determined to win at all costs, and the ends are casually assumed to justify any means, then you either join that game, or you lose.
When faced with confusion, we’ll concede to the promise of power.
I hope that America will discover why democracy needs to have philosophers and lawyers in its highest offices. It isn’t to restrict access to narrow professions. Just the opposite: they’re the people who have the largest view of human history and thought, who can be counted on to keep the country open. They’ve studied law. They’ve experienced it.
Giving a cut-throat, unfiltered, fickle, business-savvy mouthpiece the presidency over a poralised, fragmented population, isn’t likely to get a more stable, unified and contented nation.
Surprisingly, some people may indeed be surprised by that.