Is there room in America for Moderates?
People say that the United States of America has never been this politically divided. I am not sure if that is a true statement or not. It certainly feels that way, but we have a collective short term memory and have a hard time keeping long spans of time in perspective. I am thinking that before the civil war, American politics might have been a little more divisive than it is now. It does seem that politicians go "all in" and use the "nuclear option" more often than they should. Why do things feel this way? Why do politicians feel they need to respond so over-the-top all the time? Is it possible to regain the middle ground and to have civil discussion and respectful politicians?
How did we get into this situation?
I think this current situation came about through a perfect storm of career politicians coming to the end of their careers, growing social media influence, and the advent of "Troll Nation."
As the "Baby Boom" generation moves towards retirement, even in politics, they are uncertain about the future and are needing to trust their kids or grandkids with taking the lead. It seems many of the leading politicians, whom are overwhelmingly Baby Boomers, are taking extreme positions in order to hold power just a little longer. A lifetime of politics has made them experts in radicalizing their opponents in the eyes of their audiences.
A large contributing factor is the blatant use of the "Strawman Argument." The Strawman Argument is when someone creates a caricature of their opponent's ideas and then argues against the caricature, rather than the actual ideas of the actual opponent. Often the caricature is the worst possible version of the opponent's ideology. This is a very dismissive and misleading tactic. It forces everyone into a false dichotomy of Right vs Left where Right and Left are extreme positions. This leaves no room for moderates.
We see this used a lot in the media, not the "News" or "journalism," but in talk media and opinion media. So, raises another issue. We have confused "media" with "news." Journalism, which leads to good news stories, is used to be about gathering facts for creating a narrative. The "news story" has devolved into opinion pieces, and the media has become a rating-seeking 24/7 hype-fest. Two ways to pump the rating are Strawman and ad hominem arguments. Of course, the king/queen of ad hominem attacks are the internet trolls. We have all seen them and even at times, have possibly even become one.
Troll Nation is not a place, but rather a state of mind which exists in the world of social media. Social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) is a relatively new platform for sharing information and ideas. With the ability for instant commenting and dialogue, it often brings out the worst in people. Not only does it lead to opportunities of miscommunication, but also for Trolls to wade in on the attack. Sometimes it is hard to tell when someone is just lacking in understanding or being an intentional troll.
It seems we, as a society have devolved into a state of "Talking, not listening." "News Media" wants/needs the rating so they just talk, talk, talk, talk. Politicians want the spot light so they just talk, talk, talk. Even "we the people" want to be heard through protest marches and social media so we just talk, talk, talk.
What can we do?
Thanksgiving is just a few days away. Typically holiday time is family time. Of course this year may be different. Every family seems to have that one aunt, or cousin, or grandfather who really likes to stir the pot and cause drama. They know all the hot topic buttons to bring up and send the family into a chaotic swirl or argument and name calling. The rest of the family tries really hard to stay away from those topics and not be lead into arguments by the family troll. These family trolls are the ones who are not invited to the lesser family gatherings, but you know they will show up at the holiday events and so you guard yourself for conflict, stay one room away, and try to keep quiet for as long as possible. This analogy really sounds like America right now. We try hard to get along, but some people just can't seem to drop it.
Can Common Ground exist?
Should we table some topics until we can take a collective breath?
Sure it is on me to not respond to the trolls out there, and it is on me to not be a troll to others. Is that enough? Can we find some topics, maybe like foreign policy or taxation rates, which we can have a civil discussion about? It seems like we are so used to going to the "us versus them," or the "scorched earth" mentality that we don’t even have room to listen. How can we progress if we cannot listen long enough to understand where they are coming from?
I would really like to be seen as a moderate. I believe I am a moderate. But my friends and family on the right push me to the left, because they do not take the time to listen and understand. My friends and family on the left push me to the right, because they do not take the time to listen and understand. I am sure I do the same thing with them. So, I know I need to be willing to listen as they speak and search out common ground, and not go on the attack.
Curious how to move out of impulsiveness & into educated replies?
Here are a few helpful tips:
1. Stop watching the news and start reading it instead.
News outlets which are 24/7 are full of hype and it is easy to get lost in the noise and excitement of their rating games. I have found that reading the news helps me to see through the false statements easier and to concentrate on the facts clearer. If I watch the news, it is the local news which focuses time and research on local events, which is informative. This allows me to have a more educated response with local events.
2. Listen before you speak
Ask questions and allow the other person to speak. As they speak, don’t use that time to formulate your arguments, but spend that time listening to understand. When they are done with their stance, then you can have your turn to speak.
3. If you must post a comment, wait and don’t post in the moment.
Social media is an interesting beast. We can get instant gratification from it, which can become an addiction. If you read a post and it triggers you, don't go for the instant gratification. Spend some time reflecting upon why you were triggered, if it is worth commenting on, or if you are just trolling. If, after some time for reflection you feel you must comment, then write out a well thought-out comment and read it over a few times to check for errors. Then post it.
I do believe many of us share common ground, but have been pushed to the fringes through some of the actions mentioned above. If we can learn to be civil and allow the other person to define themselves and their positions, we will see that most of us are moderates, or at least share some common values. Once we can establish some common ground, then we have a place to start. Like at the family Thanksgiving, where everyone can agree the turkey was dry, but the pie was delicious!