how did politics get so emotional?, i googled today, after discussing with ashwin his feeling that our mental health would be significantly improved if we could work towards a position of active (meaning becoming informed and exercising our right to vote) neutrality (when it comes to the outcome, over which, if you did the latter, you did all you could have done and otherwise it was totally out of your control). well my mental health might be better it’s true, but i can’t say i agree. nor can i say that it’s even possible, at least for me. i think we have a right to feel our feelings, and a responsibility to be civil when we express them. despite that, the dialogue about emotional politics is interesting.
a significant part of the answer seems to come from the fact that we have become more and more segregated by political beliefs and political party, socially and even geographically. like-minded people tend to live in the same areas, like-minded people tend to become friends with each other and marry each other. on social media we tend to surround ourselves with the constant personal thought vomit of like-minded friends. living in our self-affirming cocoon sure feels good, but it leads us to develop a stronger and stronger sense of in-group vs. out-group; “since inter-personal contact across the party divide is infrequent, it is easier for people to buy into the caricatures and stereotypes of the out party and its supporters” (iyengar). this division may even extend to the idea that “liberals and conservatives in the same country think as if they were from different cultures” (talhelm, haidt, et al).
mud-slinging campaigns, hot-button issues, a widening partisan divide, and flagging confidence in the system as a whole (pappas, livescience) all add to the weight so many people literally feel in their hearts and guts. social media also gives us unprecedented access to the thoughts and feelings of others, on a minute to minute basis, that we otherwise might never have even known. and it gives us a white sheet to hide our faces behind as we spew out whatever divisive junk we feel like spewing.
the heightened emotionality of everything leaves us, then, “without ability to give and uptake new information, [so] people get stuck in one view with no potential for growth, shifts, or nuance” (dr. heitler, psychology today). i don’t want to be unable to truly hear opposing arguments, or be stuck in my ways without chance for growth. i know i have work to do. Lots. but we can forgive ourselves if that work is hard when the other side is simultaneously refusing to listen at best, at times using verbal or physical violence against you or those who think like you, or in my personal opinion that is supported by facts, willfully sublimating the rights of the few (who aren’t that few, by the way) for the rights of the many (who aren’t that many, by the way. at least in so many ways i keep hoping).
i am white. heterosexual. native-born. upper-middle class. college educated (x3). trump’s america won’t desecrate anything sacred to me, besides oh just my tiny little belief that every individual regardless of these characteristics deserves the same liberties, protections, and opportunities that i have. this is the america i want to know and be a part of. and this is what gives me the biased sense that my beliefs are “better” than those who disagree. i think, this is so basic, how Can anyone disagree? how can people not acknowledge that different people have different experiences of the same america, for whatever reasons, and these experiences lead us to different opinions, that don’t make us better or worse human beings? and then i think, well i often do the same thing. and some of my anger is then at myself for being judgmental. for being so angry.
i was unfriended on facebook in the days before the election by a person who seems to have just discovered that i am a liberal (despite that ‘political beliefs’ is a relic in the ‘about me’ section that i think i filled out in ’04 or ’05 when i first made my profile). this girl was molested as a child by an adult male family member, and yet, she supports donald trump… a person who bragged about grabbing women “by the pussy” without consent, getting away with it due to status, and suggested that this is a normal way for men to speak to each other about women. a person who said his daughter was a beautiful baby but he’d have to see how her breasts turned out, and later said he would want to date her if she wasn’t his daughter. this now ex-fb friend even rubbed it in my face by saying she hopes the words president trump “taste really good coming out of my mouth.” this person has a 2 year old daughter.
obviously there is some part of the republican party platform that is so important to her that it trumped (ha) the black hole sized flaws in this specific man’s character. i suspect it is related to the abortion debate, as she posted things about this online (the only specific issue i ever saw addressed, actually, in between the razor sharp political assessment that hillary clinton is a “bitch”). so ok. aside from the fact that trump was pro-choice until it was to his political benefit not to be. but why does this make me So angry? what does it matter to me what she chooses to prioritize in her own life, the way she chooses to see the world and set up her values, the aspects of our president elect to which she turns a blind eye, and the way she indirectly teaches her daughter it is ok to be treated by men? i think it’s because it feels like if this person, with her specific history, won’t stand up against someone like trump, what hope do we have? it’s the feeling of losing a battle that seems so important that it triggers a deep sense of fear and despair, and that is expressed by our primitive brains as anger. so how do i cope? do i really think i am from a country of mostly racist, sexist, bigoted and blind, a-holes?
well, there are those. and one of those is too many. but they have to be in the minority. they have to be. most of trumps supporters wouldn’t self-identify as racist, for example. maybe some are wrong, but giving the benefit of the doubt let’s say Most actually are Not. people on both sides of the wall (ha), or where ever in between, think their path is the morally superior path. people on both sides truly believe “god is on our side.” so how can i seek to better understand these people, while tuning out the impossibly loud minority of the opposing party who seem to pummel my soul with their awful and relentless bull? it’s HARD. it’s hard af, when i see people who are laughing at the legitimate fear some people are feeling, who are assaulting muslims especially women, telling mexican school kids they’re going to be kicked out of their homes now, spewing N words everywhere, brandishing their guns while they threaten people, spray painting swastikas on public buildings… when people say sensitive crybaby liberals are the problem with this world when anyone complains about it. when people who passed around “merry christmas from the obamas” memes depicting two ape-like people emerging from a swamp, then say they don’t want to be lumped in with “the racists.”
but i maintain my belief this isn’t who republicans or conservatives really are. this is who racist (or fill in the -ist) pieces of poop really are. i have to fight being swept up in the emotions that make me want to lump those two together. i want to try to understand those who think differently than i do (in a respectful way), because i want people over there to do the same for me. i posted on facebook that i truly believe this is the only way america will realize her potential greatness, and i meant it. we should not stop feeling our feelings. they are what makes us human and what ties us to the rest of humanity. but we need to learn to have an open-minded conversation In Spite of them. i hope some day we can work towards that dialogue, because right now there are too many raw feelings flying around to “give and uptake new information,” and in that place, we cannot grow.
that said, if i enter into a conversation with respect and it is not given back to me, it is also my right to shut it down. at some point we both have to be walking on the high road to be headed in the same direction. so, i shall easily bid farewell to any “friends” who are unwilling to consider chewing on anything but the grain in their own silo. and cheers to those who keep fighting the good fight, sometimes straight uphill, through whatever political lens you are looking. that america is better than this will be proven when americans act better than this. i sincerely hope we’re up to the challenge.