Confusion, Distortion, and the Division of America: Welcome Back to 2016
Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it. ~ George Santayana
This past weekend, our current President tweeted a phrase regarding people of color, particularly focused at 4 Democratic Congresswomen (3 of whom are American-born), that I thought I’d never hear again in my lifetime.
I grew up in the 70s and remember the latter days of the equal rights movement where African-Americans were told in loud shouts, “Go back where you came from,” and the mantra toward the hippie culture protesting Viet Nam was “If you don’t like this country, leave.”
It was sad to me then. This is worse.
In nearly 50 years, we should have come further, or at least been able to hold the ground that we’d gained since the 70s.
Why haven’t we? Because of polarization and the politics of fear.
Back in the 70s we had only 3 major networks, plus PBS, for our news. It was a nightly ritual to tune in.
I won’t wax poetically about fairness, there’s no way for anyone to be completely objective, but I’d like to think that the anchors of the time at least attempted to present a balanced, journalistic story.
Since cable news burst onto the scene, and particularly since FoxNews became dominant as an “opposition” voice to the “mainstream media”, we as Americans have increasingly sheltered ourselves into the network that most represents our point-of-view.
We are the choir, the “news entertainers” are the preachers.
These people, these opinionated people, these individuals who are paid to have an opinion, are not journalists. They are rabble-rousers who stir up their fanbase to the detriment of true discourse.
They use emotion to create action. It’s a powerful tool for both sides of the spectrum.
Unfortunately, it has harmed our ability to speak to each other and find common ground.
One of the most important lessons I learned in hypnotherapy school is that in a moment of crisis we will look to a figure of authority to tell us what to do.
And we will follow, without question.
This biological response is the essence of a rapid-induction (yes, they really do work).
The Power of Confusion
This morning, in response to the President’s comments, Representative Rashida Tlaib stated, “I'm dealing with the biggest bully I've ever had to deal with in my lifetime and trying to push back on that, and trying to do the job that we all have been sent here to do, which is centered around the people at home.”
Notice the word “try” in that statement twice.
There is no try, Representative Tlaib. There is only do or do not.
You either push back, or you don’t. You either govern, or you don’t.
When you allow the President to distract you from your job, so that you are only “trying” to do it, then you empower his stance – essentially proving him to be right.
That’s his goal – to make you look weak and distracted.
Your job is to govern, not to get pulled into schoolyard pissing contests with “the biggest bully.”
Stop and take a breath before you get sucked into this nonsense. Choose your endgame.
An Independent Voice
As an independent, I truly do not care for either main party.
My stance has cost me friends over the years. The losses mainly come in Presidential election years when the polarity of opinions comes down to Democrat vs Republican.
My friends who buy into the idea of a two-party system tell me how I must vote for their candidate, otherwise I am throwing away my vote; that the “other party” (you know, those evil bastards on the other side) will win unless I vote for a “viable” candidate.
Because, well, you know, we NEED your vote. “You’ll be throwing your vote away if you don’t vote for MY candidate.”
To which I reply, “It’s my choice to vote for the candidate who I feel will best run the country. I will vote for the person and party that I most agree with. I will not be pulled into false nonsense about A vs B choices.
Throwing away my vote would be to use it to support someone with whom I do not agree.”
The purpose of voting is to support the candidate that best represents YOUR values. I will support the candidate that best represents me – I choose to vote for the individual who most resonates with my values.
You vote your way. I’ll vote mine.
I will not vote for a party, either one, that at best only represents 50% or less of my ideas about what makes America a wonderful place.
I cannot, with good conscious, vote to continue the partisan-based polar rantings that our civil discourse has devolved to become.
I expect better. This country is about better.
When we expect different results, we have to stop doing the same thing that lead us to this point.
As an independent, I don’t give a shit about the Twitter-fueled distractions by our current Influencer-in-Chief. I also do not care about the polar response of extreme left-leaning Democrats.
I understand their stance and I support their right to voice their opinion; I just refuse to buy into it on an emotional level.
Why? Because nothing good comes from it in the long term.
Emotions, particularly high emotions, are great fuel for creating change.
But ask yourself this, “When was the last time you made a good long-term decision based on short-term emotional frustration?”
The answer is probably never.
Because what feels good in the short-term is almost never good for us in the long run.
Unfortunately, when it comes to politics, our two dominant parties have become very good at getting us riled up and then making decisions that are best for the parties, not for the long-term health of our country.
Distraction… Confusion… “Oh, look who just Tweeted a snappy response…I’ll follow them.”
Two Heads, One Snake
In 1987 representatives from Republican and Democratic parties formed the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD).
The League of Women Voters, who previously oversaw the debates, feared the new rules by this group would “perpetrate a fraud on the American voter.”
One of the most interesting rules for a candidate being allowed on the debate stage is known as the 15% rule: A candidate must be polling at 15%, otherwise they will be excluded from the debates.
Guess who chooses the relevant polls. You got it – the CPD. He who has the gold makes the rules.
Only once has a candidate polling lower been allowed to be on stage. That was Ross Perot in 1992.
He was registering single-digits at the time of the first debate, made a powerful impression during the debates, and went on to win nearly 19% of the overall vote.
Clinton won that election.
No independent voice has been allowed to take part in the debates since.
I find it interesting that these two parties, whom we are told hate each other so much, can actually work together in agreement when it comes to silencing outside voices that may challenge their stranglehold on the country.
There they have common ground. In that space they both seem to agree on what is best for us.
In this collusion to ignore others is where these seeming enemies reveal themselves to be two heads of one snake. As long as one or the other can feed, the body lives.
At any other moment in time, they yell at each other, ridicule the other’s extreme policies, and attempt to position themselves as the only sane option.
When in reality, neither is a sane option. Each is a dividing option that ultimately leads to distraction of the electorate.
Since 2019 is a pre-Presidential election year, the Democratic party is currently holding debates to help settle the field of those running.
There are currently so many Democrats running for President that the first debate took place over 2 nights to allow for each of the 20 candidates to have time to present their views.
Many of those candidates are polling at less than 5% at this moment in time. Yet they are allowed to participate in the partisan forum. (The partisan debates require only 1% polling in 3 polls for participation.)
And this is how it should be – voices being heard, having a forum to present their ideas to the electorate and be vetted.
Why is this 1% rule not applied to the presidential debates?
A candidate who appears on the ballots of all 50 states should have an opportunity to be heard no matter their polling numbers.
It is our right as an electorate to hear the ideas of those who aspire to lead us.
“Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech.” ~ Benjamin Franklin
In a country where our First Amendment is about freedom of speech, the institutions of government should not be limiting the voices who may run for the highest elected office in the land.
I ask again, why does the CPD hold so strongly to this 15% rule? Is it because Perot scared the shit out of both parties by gaining so much ground and truly threatening their power base?
If your answer to that question is, “A third party candidate can’t win,” then you’ve bought into the lie.
In our era of corporately-backed, and party-chosen representation, it may be difficult for an outside voice to win, but it is not impossible.
Just because something hasn’t happened yet does not mean it cannot happen.
So far, the highest elected independent candidate has been Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura. Yes, governor is a more elite office than US Senator – there are only 50 governors.
Our current President was an outside voice in 2016. He aligned himself with a party that rolled over to his authority.
On the Democratic side in 2016 we had Ms. Clinton who was propped up by the party in behind-the-scenes deals and manipulations because it was thought it was “her turn” to be the party’s candidate rather than allowing the electorate to decide.
It’s 2016 Again
As the 2019 debates and discussion leading up to the 2020 election take place, I am seeing a return to the knee-jerk responses that happened leading up to the 2016 election.
I am seeing the sharing of politically-inspired falsehoods, cheap memes that are outright lies, designed just to be shared among the congregations of both political religions.
I am seeing “you are either with me or against me” rhetoric presented based on single ideas. Sorry kids, I’ll define whether or not I am a racist on my own terms. (I’m not, by the way.)
I am seeing articles shared just on the content of their headlines.
In just 3-4 short years, have we collectively forgotten the Russian interference that manipulated us to be at each other’s throats for the previous election?
The Struggle is Real
All of this baiting leads to one ultimate conclusion: We, as a nation, are being distracted and divided for the gain of a few.
We can debate whether those few are corporations, politicians, political parties, or a combination of them all. That doesn’t really matter.
What matters is that when we are busy yelling at each other and looking for justification of our point of view at the expense of the view of another, then we’ve lost our focus.
We’ve succumbed to the fear-mongering and found ourselves in a collective state of stress, anger, fear, and confusion.
At this moment, we are ripe to fall into lock-step with the person who appeals best to our desire for direction, that figure of authority that best plays the game of control and presents themselves as the voice of the masses.
We stop thinking for ourselves. Truly thinking. I’m not talking about gut reaction, get pissed-off ranting, I am talking about rational discourse that finds ground for growth.
Emotion is the fuel for change. Rational discussion is the vehicle.
Left vs Right vs Center: The Physics of Politics
Physics 101. Newton’s Third Law of Motion: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
How does this apply to politics? Easy – the farther one party moves to its extreme pole; the other party moves in the opposite direction equally.
Consider a see-saw ridden by two politicians, one a Democrat, one a Republican.
When they start riding, they are near the center of the seesaw. Common ground.
Maybe the Democrat moves to the left a bit, just to get a little more push. Now their weight is affecting the balance of the board differently.
The Republican must shift to the right an equal distance to recreate balance.
Each movement away from center creates a higher apogee on both ends as the board travels up and down. The swings are wild.
As this little drama plays out over time, their extreme positions lead to a stressing of the plank on which they are riding.
The support, balance, and stability they had in the center have been lost.
Eventually, the plank breaks.
We see the stressing of this board every day. The board is America.
We see our forward direction as a unified country replaced instead by wild shifts in one direction or another that lead us into, at best circular, and at worst backward movement.
Who wins when we are distracted?
Who stands to gain when we are at odds with each other?
Who benefits when we do not unite as a country and once again become the dominant, world-leading superpower that we once were? (You know, the one that rebuilt Europe and Japan after WW2, the country that put a man on the moon 50 years ago. That United States.)
Answer: It isn’t you and I.
When we are united, there is no stronger country in the world.
Sure, we have our differences. We always will – that’s part of being human.
As long as we can find a place, a point of common interest, and the ability to step back from our need to be right all the time, we can agree to disagree and start moving forward again.
Each of us will win some. Each of us will lose some. In the end, we will all gain.
Truth and justice will prevail when we begin talking again.
The Power of the Center
I see a number of my Democratic friends calling for the party to move to the left in response to our current President’s actions.
This is the worst move the party could make.
Why? Because it plays right into the fear-mongering of the Republican machine.
Consider this: The constituency of either party is not composed of people with a 100% common ideology. That’s the way it gets portrayed, but that’s not reality. There is a range of ideas within each party as to how the group should govern.
The people who fall into these labels are in the middle of the political spectrum. They are the individuals who swing elections. They are the fulcrum and the center with the power.
As one party moves to its extreme, it loses the cross-over voters from the other party.
These people in the middle may not fully accept the positions of their leaders, and as they identify with portions of what they see as value in the opposition’s platform.
At this moment, these people may look like Republicans who denounce the current President’s actions, yet see a value in the overall fiscal policies of the party.
When met in the middle, by a Democratic candidate who leans toward fiscal conservatism, they will be more likely to vote on the other side of the fence.
If they are met with a far-left leaning Democratic candidate, they’ll stay on the right.
Long-Term vs Short-Term: What Is Your Intention?
This is where emotions come back into play.
I know that we human animals make decisions emotionally. We’re either choosing to avoid pain or increase pleasure. We are not rational decision-makers.
Yet, our rational minds play a role in choosing.
Do we succumb to short-term gains at the expense of our long-term goals?
As I stated earlier, emotions are the fuel to our choices. We can feed ourselves in the now with sweets, or make intelligent, healthy choices that lead us to creating long-term wellness and strength.
It’s true in dieting. It’s true in relationships. It’s true in politics.
What do you choose? Do you choose your ego and knee-jerk, short-term satisfaction, or do you choose to grow up and stop throwing tantrums every time something doesn’t go your way?
There’s a reason that the voting age is 18. It’s the age when we culturally become adults.
It is time for us to stop acting like children, screaming and stomping our feet every time someone disagrees with us and we don’t get our way.
Certainly, feel that energy, get pissed, then focus it toward your long-term goals. Take a deep breath and ask if that post you are about to share really helps anyone, or does it just make you feel better for a second.
It is time for us to be aware of our intentions and take responsibility for our actions.
It is time that we start acting like adults.
In a democratic society, we get the government we deserve.
Men make history and not the other way around. In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still. Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better. ~ Harry S Truman