At this point, I think we all feel a little bit like Abby:
As much as I feel for poor Ohio and the endless election ads, what’s got me ready to weep is the increasing sense that our political divisions have become personal. It seems like we’ve lost the ability to disagree — and thus to dialogue — about politics, replacing it instead with the presumption of partisan malice from those on “the other side.” Perhaps Perry Petrich is right, and we should just resort to rap battles on YouTube to decide the election.
Some anecdotes to illustrate:
- My own Facebook feed has some friends declaring that a vote for Obama is tantamount to not caring at all about unborn babies, and others that a vote for Romney must mean prioritizing tax cuts over concern for gay and lesbian friends. (I haven’t been moved to defriend anyone yet, but others have been.)
- Forget romance across religious lines; apparently the new impossibility is just dating across party lines.
- Act One of this weekend’s This American Life looks at how politics interferes with friendships and families, and Lisa Pollak identifies four signs that political differences will derail relationships, starting around minute 16 of the episode: (1) “total incomprehension about the other person’s belief”; (2) “a declaration of one’s superior powers of open-mindedness”; (3) communication problems; and (4) reference to the Nazis.
As to number (4), the internet already has a way to deal with the fallacy of reductio ad Hitlerum — it’s called Godwin’s Law, and the rule is that whoever mentions the Nazis first has lost the argument.
But the first and second points are even more troubling. For one thing (Facebook friends, please take note), the logic’s terrible and these claims contradict each other. You can either be more open-minded than your opponent, or you can be unable to understand how anyone can hold such an awful political position — but you can’t be both.
For another, we let ourselves off the hook much too easily when we either congratulate ourselves on our own moral superiority or explain away the other person’s politics as motivated by selfishness, laziness, or any other easy-to-hand moral failing. The more likely, though much less satisfying, explanation is that politics is difficult, and people are disagreeing — for real reasons, and in good faith — about how to characterize the common good and what sacrifices are called for to achieve it.
Here’s my confession: when I’m tempted to judge and thus dismiss someone else’s political position, especially on matters where I’m sure I’m right, my real motivation is almost always to pat myself on the back: “O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity…”
And here’s my hope and prayer: that continuing to trust in the God who is merciful to sinners, when we wake up on Wednesday morning (the election, please God, having been clearly decided one way or the other), we will find the humility, amid our very real differences, to work together for a good which is larger than any politics from any party.