November 8, 2020

Moving Past Toxic Division to Create a New Future

bird feeder

I was wrong, and I am damn glad to be wrong! As much as I had hoped to see the Democratic Party learn something from their loss in 2016, I don't think that happened. I think that "the resistance" may deserve some of the credit, but I'd have to give most of the credit for Joe Biden's win to the COVID-19 pandemic and how Donald Trump approached it. Regardless, I think the far more important question now is about how we fix the mess in which we find ourselves, a mess Trump made worse but did not create. Now that a slim majority of voters appear to have gotten what they wanted, what now?

I believe that the United States has a number of challenges ahead and that these are not limited to those caused or exacerbated by Trump. I also believe that many of these challenges are so great that we are not going to be able to solve them without coming together and making the "united" part of United States mean something it has not meant for a long time, if ever. That means that one of our tasks, though certainly not the only one, is going to be one of putting all of this destructive tribalism and polarization behind us. Our future depends on it. And since we have never been free of this stuff, I am thinking of it in terms of a "new future" rather than some return to a past state that has never existed.

I do not hold out any hope whatsoever that Biden or any other elected official can do this for us. I believe they can help but only in a limited way. The real work is going to be ours. Are we tired of being this divided? Are we finally starting to recognize how limiting these divisions are? If so, we are all going to have to commit to venturing outside of our bubbles and having meaningful interactions with those we have been gleefully demonizing for the last several years. That means listening to understand rather than to condemn. Are we up to the challenge?

We liberals are going to have to give up the "they made us suffer for four years, so now its our turn" approach many on Twitter are already embracing. If we are really no better than this, then this is the last election we deserve to win. Conservatives are going to have to come to terms with their failure to defend America against the worst the Republican Party had to offer. Those who pride themselves on being reasonable are overdue for some critical self-examination of why they went along with this and how they justified it to themselves. All of us, regardless of our political leanings, need to eliminate propaganda from our news diets even if that means seeking out new sources. We must stop allowing ourselves to be manipulated in this way. And all of us should scrub our social media bios of the divisive nonsense, replacing it with proud declarations of what we stand for instead of only what we oppose.

Don't worry, I have no intention of letting the atheists off the hook. We have been contributing these problems too. We are often divisive for the sake of being divisive, and there is little upside to that. We know how to criticize religious belief without attacking religious believers, but some of us get lazy and forget to do so. We need to continue to criticize bad ideas, but we need to give more thought about how to persuade as we do so. If we want to be the reasonable ones, we would do well to behave more reasonably.

Political division, polarization, tribalism, hatred, or whatever else you want to call it have escalated to the point where they are no longer sustainable. We do not need another civil war, and we are not going to survive much longer unless we can turn down the temperature on the manufactured anger that is inflaming us. It is time to start pushing ourselves each and every day to make positive contributions, model the values we care about, serve as counterexamples of negative stereotypes, and lift others up. And if we cannot do that, then we must at least stop throwing more gasoline on the fire.

Congratulations to Joe Biden on his win. I am happy he won because I think he will be a better leader than the alternative. That's as much celebrating as I intend to do. I have no desire to gloat or rub it in anyone's face. I know what it is like to be on the losing side of these things, and this lets me empathize with those who are this time. It doesn't feel good, and I have no interest in inflicting pain on others. We have a hard road ahead, and I welcome the involvement of conservatives, Republicans, Trump supporters, and/or religious believers in helping to solve the problems facing us.