If you are feeling politically homeless, you’re not alone. Most of us understand the need to participate in our democracy. Our current two-party system is more tribalistic than ever–with an ever-increasing pressure on conformity to its participants. It feels like If you want to participate in democracy, you have to choose a side and then be orthodox in your discipleship to that side. Gone are the days of compromise: the good old days when you could bring your ideological background, lived experience and skills to address a common problem, yet still collaborate with those of opposing views; working together with the end in mind of reaching the best solution to an agreed-upon problem.
Instead, it feels like politics is now a blood sport—a grudge match to the death. One where compromising for the greater good has been replaced by winning at all cost. This kind of partisan hunger games is rife with hypocrisy, animosity and breeds an antipathy for politics to the average citizen. It’s easy to blame politicians, the media, wealthy stakeholders and special interests. In fairness, there is a case to made against all of them. Attributing blame may help us identify the ill, it does little for the cure. I’m afraid no one is coming to save us. No single candidate, no single election, no single act of Congress will turn the tide of hostile, tribalistic, politics. It’s going to require us to do more–much more than snarky memes, snappy late-night satire, or faux outraged cable news clips. We are going to have to fix this ourselves. I know, for me, I’m working on being informed on the issues, engaged in the process and connected to those I disagree with.
Being informed is going to require more than consuming media outlets that confirm our bias. The issues we face are complex and often confusing, we can’t give 30 seconds to a 30-year problem and think we know anything about it. We have to pay the daily price to understand complex issues One thing I’m doing is dial back the news I get from social media and push notifications. Social media is based on algorithms. It gives us what it thinks we want. Social media pushes us to opinion pieces because they get more likes and shares. Opinion pieces are fine but they lack a depth of reporting. Instead, I have been trying to read the paper more. I subscribe to both the New York Times and Washington Post digitally. I wish I could afford the paper copies (but I still hope to afford retirement someday). Social media also pushes us to the types of stories we like–for me that’s politics and not stories from science, art, culture etc.; going over the paper every day has helped me have a broader perspective. I also like long form newscasts like NPR’s All Things Considered, Morning Edition and the PBS NewsHour. I know it is hard to find the time in large chunks, but it really makes all the difference. These outlets are free and can be listened to or watched anytime online. There are also some great daily podcasts. Podcasts are a good way to get in-depth information on a particular issue. Avoiding getting my news primarily from social media has helped me be more informed.
I definitely need to be more engaged in the process. It’s been 15 years since my name has been on a ballot. It’s been almost ten years since I actively worked on a campaign. I engage candidates directly infrequently or not at all. I haven’t been to forums or written my representatives in I don’t know how long. There was a time I used to love to hang out with my local precinct people, knock doors, stuff envelopes and help organize events. Now I don’t even know who my local party chair person is–not to mention my complete lack of substantive involvement in any local nonpartisan city elections.
I am making some progress in engaging people with whom I disagree. This has happened both on social media and face to face. I have heard over and over again since the 2016 presidential election about how divided we are and that we don’t understand each other. Yet, I have also heard over and over again how people don’t want to talk to others about politics because it so divisive. We can’t have it both ways. We have to find ways to talk about politics with people we disagree with and not be disagreeable. I sincerely think social media can be a venue for meaningful dialogue people. I also think we can do this face-to-face. Imagine having a dinner party with the express purpose of talking about particular issue–looking forward to learning from someone else’s perspective (instead of dreading that you have to have dinner with your crazy right-wing or left-wing relative). Let’s get together and talk about the whole chicken!
I don’t think the answer to our current political dilemma is to avoid politics. I think we have to reshape it. If you are a conservative and feel like your party is unrecognizable in the era of Trump reclaim it! If you are a liberal and think your party has left behind its roots to the working class, don’t walk away, engage. No one is coming to save us. We are the ones we have been waiting for. It’s time for us to reclaim our politics. We will not agree on everything, nor should we. We can, however, agree to put country over party, and good policy over bad politics.