December 11, 2019

Any President Will Be Hated By Half the Country

storm clouds

In the United States today, it is almost impossible to imagine anyone being elected president with more than a slight majority of the popular vote. This is not a new phenomenon, but there does seem to be something new about it. Specifically, it is also almost impossible to imagine anyone being elected president without close to half the country hating them and everybody who voted for them. This does not strike me as healthy. At least, I have difficulty seeing it as a sign of a well-functioning democracy. It sounds like more and more Americans are beginning to recognize that this is a problem.

It would be extremely easy to point the finger, as there are many places where we might place blame. The news media, especially the increasingly partisan cable news shows, have probably made things worse. The political parties and elected officials at every level of government have certainly contributed. Public education may deserve a look. We could go on and on. But ultimately, I think that most of the blame belongs to us. This is not one of those cases where I mean that we've sit back and let it happen (which we have); far too many of us have actively participated in making the problem worse.

Those who have been part of #TheResistance are to blame, and those who have been part of #MAGA are to blame. By embracing tribalism, we enable it to spread and intensify. We have now reached the point where those who hold different political views are our enemies. We even brag about blocking and reporting them on Twitter as if that was something to be proud of!

Freethought should provide us with a way out of this mess, but too few are willing to do the hard work associated with it. We call ourselves freethinkers because we recognize that it is the sort of thing we should be, but we then exempt most of our own views from critical inquiry and blast those who dare to question them. We agree that free speech is vital unless it is their speech, and we champion the free exchange of ideas only insofar as such an exchange does not include ideas we find objectionable. In short, we eagerly adopt the freethinker label while neglecting its meaning.

If freethought is not a viable escape, what is? I'm not sure. For a while, I thought that a major catastrophe might be required. I don't mean something like a terrorist attack of the magnitude of 9/11, though I suppose one on a much larger scale could suffice. I also don't mean a major natural disaster because those occur regularly and change little. I think it would have to be something far worse than anything that has happened in the last 100 years. I used to think that the climate crisis might get us there eventually, but I no longer think that's likely because it is too slow-moving. and the more I think about it, increasingly scarce resources would probably not bring us together.

I'm not sure how we get to the point where we no longer hate our ideological opponents. I'm becoming increasingly pessimistic about our chances of doing so, although I am somewhat encouraged to hear that large numbers of people recognize that it is a problem. It is almost impossible to imagine finding solutions to something that is not widely recognized as a problem. But now that we're beginning to see this as a problem, what we do about it still isn't clear.