Any President Will Be Hated By Half the Country

Storm clouds over wheat field

It is almost impossible to imagine anyone winning a presidential election 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. Close to half of voters will hate whoever wins the presidency 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 easy to point the finger, as there are many places where we could place blame. The news media, especially the partisan cable news shows, have made things worse. The political parties and elected officials at every level of government have contributed. Public education may deserve a look. We could go on and on. But most of the blame belongs to us. This is not one of those cases where I mean that we've sat back and let it happen (which we have). Far too many of us have 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.

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 that's what we aspire to 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. We champion the free exchange of ideas only insofar as the exchange does not include ideas we find objectionable. In short, we 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 we might need a major catastrophe. I don't mean something another 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 often and change little. 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, but I no longer think that's likely. It is too slow-moving, and scarce resources won't bring anyone together.

I'm not sure how we get to the point where we no longer hate our ideological opponents. I'm becoming more pessimistic about our chances of doing so. Though 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 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.

I doubt we will find the solution in elections. I realize that some want to claim that everything is political. I understand what they are saying, but they are confusing values with politics. If we are going to find a solution, it will come from our daily interactions with others. It will involve how we treat those around us and how they treat us.

Most of us used to know how to interact with people who had different values from our own. We weren't all skilled at it, but we could do it when we had to. Today, we've structured our world so that we rarely have to. We've lost something in the process, something we need to recover.

Image by Ottó from Pixabay

I revised and expanded this 2019 post in 2023.