by Ben Cohen
Lately I’ve been spending a considerable amount of time thinking about how America can pull itself back from the brink of disaster and heal the almost inconceivable political and social divisions that have torn the country apart. The past two years have been the worst I have ever seen since having lived here on an off for the past 20 years, and in all honesty I have a very hard time seeing how it can happen. I do however, believe there is a solution — but it is not an easy one…
One of the nastiest aspects of American political culture, at least to me, is the incessant labeling and name calling that goes on between warring factions on all sides of the spectrum. There are the Neo Liberals, the Bernie Bros, the Hillary Bots, the Trumpsters, the Alt Right, the Alt Left, the Purity Left, the Neo Cons, the Beltway Hacks, the Regressive Left, and so on and so forth, and they all hate each other. I’ve been guilty of using some of these terms myself, but recently I’ve begun to seriously question not only their usefulness, but their accuracy.
I’ve been called a “Neo Liberal” and a “Hillary Bot” despite the fact that I a) am not a free market capitalist, b) don’t support US military intervention abroad in most cases, c) supported Bernie Sanders in 2016. The name calling served only to alienate me further from those doing it and made me dislike their politics even more. This is happening nationwide and the levels of aggression and vitriol are increasing by the day. This isn’t to say there is nothing worth getting angry about, but as Aristotle said, “Anybody can become angry – that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way – that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.”
I am not a pacifist by nature and I do not believe in turning the other cheek. Sometimes, force must be met with force and certain situations call for more than holding hands and singing Kumbaya. Just ask anyone who lived in Europe during World War II. The rise of Donald Trump and the far right in America is a genuinely scary threat that must be confronted, but I am increasingly skeptical that reverting to naked tribalism is a useful way to defeat it — at least in the long term.
There is an argument to be made that the angrier the Democratic base is, the more likely they are to vote in 2018 and 2020 and get rid of the far right elements currently in power. The slew of Democratic victories over the past few months are the direct results of an energized base angry at Trump and distraught over the direction their country is heading in. Anger and tribalism works, at least as it pertains to getting people off their backsides and into voting booths. Trump voters exercised their hatred for Hillary Clinton and the Left in 2016 and voted him in to power, so there is no reason why the same cannot be true for the Democrats.
So where does this leave reconciliation and reaching out to “the other”?
In my view, there is little point in reaching out to Trump supporters at this point in time, not because I don’t value them as human beings (I have close friends who still support him), but because there is little strategic value — at least for now. Those still supporting Trump and his agenda likely cannot be reasoned with anyway. The decades of Fox News propaganda, Right wing Talk Radio and paranoid conspiracy theories (usually involving the Clintons) have clouded their capacity to reason almost beyond repair and we do not have time to wait for them to come to their senses. The Left needs to rally anyone and everyone behind a monumental drive to get Trump and the GOP out of office as soon as possible, and if measured anger and divisiveness works, then so be it.
Personally, I will try to curb my use of political labels because I think it doesn’t serve much purpose. I think those on the far left and far right need to be called out more precisely and without unnecessary vitriol. This will be hard to do given the climate, but by continuing to make huge generalizations about groups of people will be hard to undo in the years to come, and the sooner we start humanizing the “other” the better. This is not a sign of weakness I think, but maturity, and we are going to need a lot of that going forward if the country is to survive intact.
After Trump and his supporters have been removed from power, there must be reconciliation and an attempts to heal with acts of compassion and understanding. There must be recognition on the Left that the excesses of identity politics and cultural snobbery have exacerbated hostilities between the two sides of the aisle. They must try to look at issues like abortion not through the lens of moral superiority, but through one of sympathy. In my experience, those on the right do not want to ban abortions because they hate women — they sincerely believe that life begins at conception and must be protected at all costs. Both sides are guilty of hypocrisy in one form or another, and the sooner we can all come to terms with this the easier it will be to talk to one another.
I don’t underestimate how hard this process will be. The divisions tearing society apart are growing more pronounced by the day, and bringing it back from the brink is going to take a monumental effort. But societies far more divided than America’s today have pulled themselves back from disaster. South Africa ended Apartheid and put behind it centuries of horrific racial violence. Rwanda is no longer at war with itself after a horrific genocide. America itself dismantled slavery and racial apartheid, creating one of the most diverse, tolerant societies in human history. History indicates that healing is possible, and there will be life after Trump.
For now, the conscientious among us still have a battle on their hands. They must rise to fight a grave threat to America and the world’s future, but they must never forget their humanity. Because if we lose that, then Trump and the forces of fascism win — and then there can be no reconciliation.