If you are feeling repulsed by politics, you’re not alone. Most of us understand the need to participate in our democracy. However, our current climate is more tribalistic than ever. What we want is a place where we can bring our 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, politics often feels like 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 One where compromising for the greater good has been replaced by winning at all cost.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 and, in fairness, there is a case to be 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. Here are three things I am working on:
- Being better informed.
- Engaging in the process.
- Connecting with 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 that helps me is try not to get my news from social media. 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. Sadly, social media is also filled with misinformation that spreads like wildfire. This is a quick guide on how to spot fake news.
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. Avoiding getting my news primarily from social media has helped me be more informed.
Engaging in the process. It’s been 15+ years since my name has been on a ballot. It’s been nearly ten years since I actively worked on a campaign. I engage candidates directly, infrequently, or not at all. 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 chairperson is–not to mention my complete lack of substantive involvement in any local nonpartisan city elections.
Connecting with those I disagree with. I am making some progress here. This has happened both on social media and face-to-face. I have heard over and over again since the last 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 is 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 a 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, or is failing to think big enough 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 faith 0over bad politics.