Years ago, while I was in graduate school, studying with a group that was predominately socially and politically liberal, my peers were pleased with the then devolving Republican party. They expressed satisfaction that the Republicans were being overtaken by seemingly irrational Tea Partiers, who were providing confirmation bias to the worst tropes about conservatives. I was more cautious. During our class discussion I mentioned that the best thing for a strong Democratic party was a strong and rational Republican party. I received looks of disbelief and little comprehension of my stance. Unfortunately, in today’s political world, we are experiencing exactly what I feared. The more that fringe voices take over on the right, the more space for fringe voices on the left to follow suit. We end up with the extreme left and extreme right taking control of the narrative and policy direction, leaving little to no space for the rational middle.
Even though I’m less optimistic about the future of liberal democratic ideology continuing as I witness how fringe ideologies are flourishing, I still believe that most Americans are somewhere in the middle both politically and socially. Poll after poll and election after election support this. When pundits and fringe leaders aren’t busy directing discussion towards things that do not impact our everyday lives, like controversial academic theories, xenophobic tropes, or false ideas on patriotism, what do they have left? Without soundbites that generate controversy, ratings plummet and citizens focus on whether those who are supported by our tax dollars are truly working for the American people.
The bar has been lowered, on both sides of the political aisle. Instead of demanding excellence from our elected leaders, we the people are settling for those who are able to best sell us their snake oil. Rhetoric is welcomed over work. I am making a conscious choice to not get into the blame game, contributing to the divisiveness by laying fault solely with one political party over the other-mostly because they both share the blame. But, so do we. American citizens are not exercising our rights by participating in our democracy actively. Instead, we accept the snake oil as long as it helps lay blame on the other side. We are all too happy to run to our corners, screaming at the opposition about how wrong they are and how right we are without focusing on what’s needed to get the job done. It’s possible that we’ve gotten so used to the division that we don’t even know what the job is or what goals we should be striving to achieve in order to create a more perfect union. We are getting sidetracked by political and ideological warfare that, when examined, can be seen for what it is–nonsensical. The zero sum game that has overtaken political discourse is not working for the American people, even as it lines the pockets of power.
Differences in political opinion, ideology, and methodology should be expected and encouraged. However, if we are ever going to move past rhetoric and on to work the rational middle needs to stand up and be heard. Instead of sticking to party lines, we can support political candidates and policies that speak for the majority of Americans. When the two major parties start to move towards their fringe elements, we need to use our power as citizens to inform them that they will no longer have our blind loyalty. Realizing that blind loyalty to political parties enables them to govern towards the most radical elements, ignoring their responsibilities to all of us. If not, we can expect to continue on this road of mediocracy.