When accused pedophile billionaire Jeffrey Epstein died over the weekend, the president of the United States retweeted a far-right conspiracy theory that claimed the Clintons murdered him.
On the fifth anniversary of Michael Brown’s death at the hands of a police officer, Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris repeated false rumors about Brown’s death — specifically the now-proven lie he was killed mercilessly while attempting to surrender with his hands up.
When the Miss America pageant decided to drop its swimsuit competition, Gretchen Carlson described it as a “cultural revolution.” The New York Times described it as an effort to “redefine its role in an era of female empowerment and gender equality.”
When the national anthem played on NFL fields across America a few years ago, some players used that as an opportunity to protest how police treat African Americans.
When the president saw the kneeling, he used their protests as a political football and ran with it to energize his base.
When a white nationalist went on a killing rampage in El Paso, people blamed the president for creating a climate of hate. This didn’t stop even after – just hours later -- a left-leaning Democrat shooter who’d “bemoaned the election of Donald Trump” went on a shooting spree too.
When the president and first lady posed for a photo with the family of the two-month old baby orphaned when both parents sacrificed their lives to protect him in El Paso, people sent death threats to the remaining family.
When George W. Bush went to Louisiana to visit victims of Hurricane Katrina, a rap song called “George Bush Doesn’t Care about Black People” became one of the most popular protest songs of all time.
Not everything should be politicized. That’s not to say that there are no political ramifications for events. There definitely are, and we should explore all of them – civilly, without trying to inflame one another against our fellow Americans.
The distinction is important. That’s why I appreciated what Sonny Bunch wrote in The Washington Free Beacon. "Politics is important; political decisions have consequences; and passionately arguing for your preferred political outcomes is nothing to be ashamed of," he wrote. "A politicized life is a different beast, however. It treats politics as a zero-sum game or a form of total warfare in which the other side must be obliterated. It alters every aspect of your being: where you shop; what you watch on TV; what sort of music you listen to; who you associate with. If you're not with the politicized being, you're against him -- and if you're against him, he is well within his rights to ruin you personally and economically. You, the political other, are a leper to be shunned."
Exactly. He argues that we should have political lives, but not politicized lives. But that’s not how it’s working out.
We are so divided from each other that we live in ideologically uniform communities. We rarely socialize with people from the other political party. By politicizing everything, everything becomes a team sport of us against them. It makes it impossible to be a Republic and it’s tearing our nation apart.
Conor Friedersdorf wrote an article about polarization in The Atlantic back in 2013 in which he lamented how hard it is to speak up against such rampant polarization, because there are no incentives to do so.
“No one wants to vocally disagree with someone who seems to have no compunction about trying to destroy everyone who disagrees with them. How many academics stand up to the one politicized member of the tenure committee? Who needs to make an enemy of the least ethical person on a small faculty where you'll spend the next decade? How many bureaucrats call out the politicized appointee running their agency?”
He went on to describe the unintended consequences of this sort of political bullying.
“Politicization doesn't just incentivize people in politics who dislike it to keep quiet -- it also incentivizes those who dislike it to leave politics entirely out of disgust. What happens as a result? Politicized people are much more common in politics than they are in the general population.”
What to do?
First, refuse to buy into the hysteria. I do respect people’s decisions to buy what they want to buy or not buy what they don’t want to buy – whether it’s shopping at Target or wearing Nikes. How great would it be if these companies respected their customers enough to get out of all these acrimonious political conversations altogether? Since I can’t control the CEOs, I don’t necessarily bow to the political pressures associated with “one side” or the other. I hate the politics of Apple, but I love their products. I also use Google, though I disagree with their politics.
I don’t demand my technology company align me with me politically, I don’t demand it of my friends either. How much more interesting dinner conversation is when there’s good natured disagreement!
Second, we must be able to call out members of “our own side” when they transgress against basic human decency. Yes, that means that people “in your tribe” will be angry at you, but that’s what it takes. Just a little courage.
Third, fight to keep at least some “safe spaces” in America. We have to start from the most basic topics. Shaving, for example, has become a political minefield (thanks to the now infamous Gillette ad). Food now requires an ideological test, thanks to Ben & Jerry’s “Resistance” flavors and critics of Chick-fil-A trying to run them out of town. Even Martin Luther King Jr. Day is now a competition of “what whacky political position would Martin have supported” instead of a commemoration that all Americans should be able to stand behind.
Ideally, it would be great if the “safe spaces” were sports, entertainment, and music, so Americans of all stripes could have some topics we could discuss without getting increasingly angry at each other. Also, we should resist the urge to politicize shootings, floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, and any other natural disasters.
Our nation is at stake here. We’re all Americans.
Let’s take our politics seriously, but let’s answer to a higher calling than tribalism and knee-jerk politicization.