It’s easy to step in line and follow the trend that led to the mass shooting targeting Republican law makers. It’s easy to take up sides along the trench dug before us. The lines of division are deep and tempting in 2017.
The culture of conflict that the led James Hodgkinson to confirm that the folks on the baseball field were Republicans before opening fire is the same that led Dylan Roof to open fire in a church basement in June 2015. It’s a culture that pushes all conversations regarding society and government to the extremes with the direct intent of setting forward an entire agenda. That culture of conflict is a culture where common ground is avoided at all costs and extreme examples of ideology, character flaws, or action are used to argue for a slate of ideas. Lately, it seems difficult to have a discussion about a three percent increase or decrease in taxes, that doesn’t lead to a fight about race, wealth inequality, or scandal. Vaguely but insistently, we become convinced of a narrative involving extremes. We make logical jumps like the following:
“If Elizabeth Warren didn’t claim to be a native american, then my taxes wouldn’t be so high.”
“If the Trump kids weren’t busy hunting elephants, our federal education budget wouldn’t need to be cut.”
“Well those dirty, entitled college kids protested Anne Coulter, so the entire left is unwilling to converse and exchange ideas.”
Whether or not we care to admit it, mass media feeds this poor logic because it’s what we consume. As any parent of a stubborn eater will tell you, eventually you feed the kid what they eat, not necessarily what is best. Consequently, we are fed the culture of conflict because we consume it. The more we consume, the more we are fed. The money in selling conflict is extraordinary. Telling people what they want to hear is a multi-billion dollar industry. Cable news media is part of it, but certainly not the entire picture. Films are produced, books published, TV and radio air waves filled all expressing the simple message: “We are right, they are wrong, and here’s how you can prove it at your next dinner party.”
So, we consume and carry talking points as weapons, eager to confront anyone who disagrees with us on any topic of civics. We assign an entire belief system to any fellow human being who lets us know how they voted. “You’re a Democrat? Oh, so you’re glad those Republicans were shot, thanks for the tax hikes by the way, now I can’t afford my kid’s summer camp.” Conversely, we hear, “You voted for Trump, huh? You killing an abortion doctor after the cookout?”
Eventually, we believe the conflict. We have trouble seeing a simple difference of opinion as simply part of an otherwise enjoyable relationship. Rather, we grow to see those with whom we disagree not as fellow human beings, but as part of a collective that stands in the way of how our life ought to be. So, we “stop speaking” (whatever that means) to certain people, we sever relationships, maybe we grab a gun.
An old bumper sticker read “celebrate diversity.” Like most talking points on the backs of cars, this is misguided. Let’s appreciate diversity, but celebrate similarity. Let’s embrace and love what brought us to that cookout or soccer game with that person in the first place, where we live, where we came from, and where we’re going.
Beyond personal relationships, the next time we see a news story about a senator, governor, or politician, let’s turn a blind eye to the branding letter at the right of their name. Let’s listen to what they have to say, maybe look at their voting record, and begin to discover where we might agree.