The hostility being displayed between Americans today is at a level that is frankly shocking. President-elect Donald Trump's imminent inauguration has his opponents in a fit of pique. But in truth, the fury and hatred displayed toward Trump's supporters throughout his campaign was just about as bad.
Plenty of pundits say that Americans are more polarized than ever. But we seem to be uncertain about solutions. So, what could we do as a society to cool things down a bit? Quite a few things, I think.
1. Scrap the hypocrisy.
For starters, decide which standard of behavior matters, and then hold yourself and those you support politically to that same standard. A textbook example is Democrats' braying about the Republican Party's (nonexistent) war on women. But they have a history of supporting some of the greatest offenders. President John F. Kennedy was a philanderer. Sen. Ted Kennedy left a woman to drown in his car. President Bill Clinton has been accused of rape. Hollywood professes to be shocked -- shocked -- by Trump's callous comments, but you can find far worse than that on cable TV or in rap music lyrics.
Until recently, Democrats could count on the double standard playing out in their favor: Conservative voters actually held their candidates' feet to the fire, while voters on the left shrugged at most of their candidates' moral shortcomings.
In 2016, the left was completely gobsmacked that voters on the right were willing to overlook Trump's multiple wives, crude language and inconsistencies. This time, conservative voters took a page out of the left's playbook. How do you like us now?
2. Stop lying about your opponents.
"Fake news" is just another version of "fake narrative." Democrats routinely come up with baseless accusations (think Sen. Harry Reid's allegations that former Gov. Mitt Romney paid no taxes for 10 years) and repeat them ad nauseam with ever-higher decibels of faux outrage. Thus, conservatives "want to push granny off a cliff" or are going to "put blacks back in chains." Conservative voters accuse liberals of being communists who want to destroy the country. If you assume -- accurately, in most cases -- that your political opponents also want to help people, you might actually get to discuss the merits of their arguments, to everyone's general benefit.
3. Stop being so emotionally invested in the methodology, and focus on the results.
The left wants to focus exclusively on its intentions: "We want to fight poverty"; "We want everyone to have health care." OK, but intentions are irrelevant. They don't excuse policy failures; they just enable another round of the "my opponent is evil" game (see number 2, above). If you really want to alleviate poverty, you should be less concerned with what you have proposed and more concerned with whether it works. If it doesn't, it's time to try something else, even if it's coming from the opposition.
4. Get the federal government out of our lives as much as possible.
This is a much-overlooked cause of public rancor. But think about it: Very few of us have much influence on or control over federal law, and it is extremely difficult to change a federal statute or regulation, or a Supreme Court decision once it's in place -- which is one reason why Democrats have been so focused on implementing their preferred policies that way. But this methodology has left millions of Americans feeling voiceless, powerless and resentful. (Of course the left is completely freaking out now that Republicans are in control of every branch of the federal government. Well, it's sauce for the goose, as they say.) By contrast, it is far easier to have a say -- and therefore, an impact -- on the law at the state, county or local level. And truthfully, it's harder to demonize your political opponents at those levels. Are you really going to spread lies about them when you're working with them every day on the school board or city council?
5. Be more entrepreneurial about problems.
The federal government is a very lousy place to try to solve most people's problems. It is bloated, ineffective and inefficient, even when circumstances call for radical change. (Consider the Department of Veterans Affairs.) The ability to pivot quickly in response to a problem is characteristic of small organizations, not large ones (this is as true in the private sector as it is in government). When solutions are proposed at the level of state or local government, affected parties have an easier time responding to new information and changing course (if need be). There are 242 million adults in the United States. Do you seriously think that the vast majority of them are not as capable of handling issues as some bureaucrat in Washington, D.C.?
6. Stop trying to perfect society.
I didn't say, "improve"; I said, "perfect." There's no such thing as utopia. You are never going to get everyone to agree with you, approve of you or live their lives as you think they should. And this is true notwithstanding the explosion of legislation or lawsuits. The pursuit of societal perfection (whatever that is) is smothering the "live and let live" sensibility that makes it possible for the 324 million people in the United States to live together amicably.
7. Use persuasion, not power.
Appeal to people's rational self-interest and compassion. Successful advertising, marketing and social media campaigns do this every day.
What do all of these things have in common? A belief in the basic goodness of others and a willingness to let them show it. They would be a good start.