This past week, I changed my political affiliation from Democrat to Independent — or, as they call it in Massachusetts, “Unenrolled”. This decision has been a long time coming, and it wasn’t done lightly. I risk alienating some friends over this, possibly losing a few along the way.
On the surface, it might seem that, like so many others, I have become profoundly alienated from the Democrats, thanks to the ongoing issues in Washington that are increasingly beholden to corporate
interests ownership, plunging us farther and farther into debt, shutting down needed social services while shoring up corporate support more with each passing day.
And you’d be right.
You might think, too, that the “Obamacare” debacle has horrified and sickened me almost beyond words, that I can’t even think too much about it because it makes me intensely livid and saps the energy and resources I need to just keep my life going, day to day.
And you’d be right about that, too.
You might also suppose that I am beyond fed up, watching Washington not only give a pass to the financial services sector, oil and gas industries, and other commercial interests designed to undermine and override our national resources and legal integrity… but also shore them up and continue to enable their suckfulness — and that includes the insurance industry — regardless of the havoc, mayhem, and suffering they have caused to countless millions… not only here, but the world over…
You would not be wrong.
These are all good and fitting reasons for me to leave the Dems far behind.
But see, here’s the thing. I didn’t just leave the Democrats because of their crimes and misdemeanors, their foolishness and (seems to me) transparent corruption. I didn’t just cut the bait I was holding out in hopes for the political party I was raised with for political reasons. Indeed, I have ditched the ranks I firmly stood by in the midst of some of the most staunchly conservative Republican surroundings of my youth and my times, for something far more important that political beliefs — I did it on humanitarian grounds.
Indeed, I have unenrolled from the whole two-party system for humanitarian reasons. Because we all — each and every one of us — have ceased to be actual human beings in the midst of our heatedly bipartisan melee.
“They” have done it to us, and we have done it to ourselves. In all my years of living as a “liberal” in a devotedly conservative environment, I have never, ever heard the level of dismissal, disregard, derision, and fundamental disrespect that dominates the political tone today. It is coming from both sides of the bipartisan “aisle”, from top to bottom, and I just can’t stand it.
The name-calling, the emotionally charged language, the slights, the snarkiness, the jibes, the nasty jokes. It’s just so mean-spirited. It’s shallow and dismissive, it asks no deeper questions about “us” or “them”. And it makes us all sound like a bunch of prepubescent jackasses, snorting, trumpeting and hee-hawing over what such-and-such a political opponent did today. Those political opponents can be our elected officials, or they can be the individual who is standing near the entrance of your local grocery store with a clipboard and stack of bumper stickers, who’s trying to advocate for the “other” side.
In any case, the levels to which we have sunk — on television, cable, radio, newspaper, and internet — appall me. That goes for Fox News, that goes for CNN and NPR and MSNBC. That goes for the popular on-air radio personalities who say out loud and proud the things that some people think — or want to think — inside their heads. It goes for the newspapers, bloggers, message boards, and especially for the paid email campaigners who draft electronic missives designed to whip constituents into a frenzy.
The emails, in particular, are what sent me in the direction of divestiture. By chance, I caught a glance at an email sent to a friend by a high-ranking elected official in Washington. I was expecting a message of information, even encouragement, but what I saw turned my stomach. Here was a message from one of our leaders, and one would expect them to use the opportunity to, well, lead. But there was no leadership. There was just a twisted sort of damage control.
It had to do with the healthcare debate. But it wasn’t about healthcare. It wasn’t about people in need who were going to be shielded from financial ruin by a dumb-luck accident at work. It wasn’t about children who were going to be raised with proper nutrition. It wasn’t about being able to be insured despite a long-term pre-existing condition. And it wasn’t about the good that passing or defeating the pending ACA was going to do anybody.
Instead, it was an attack on opponents of what they wanted to do in Washington. From the very first sentence, the tone was inflammatory and, frankly, insulting towards the “others”. And the message was all about “Can you believe it?! Look what those awful people are trying to do!!” — not about any underlying issues, any objective goals that anyone was trying to reach. It was deeply divisive, flatly dismissive of others who may have had very different views on the matter, and it was not the sort of communication I would expect to see from someone in such a prominent position.
Now you might be tempted to think that this is purely an issue with the Democrats — and that’s why I left. I wish it were only one-sided, but I have heard this sort of tone coming both sides. The jibes, the ridicule, the head-shaking dismissal, the writing-off of others who have very different views because they appear to pose a fundamental threat to our way of life.
On the Democratic side, the smug, pious, self-satisfied posturing of the “appropriately” educated makes me physically ill. Blanket statements are made about “how things are” in the world, without any real explanation or justification — implying that, well, if you’re smart you’ll get it, and everything they believe is self-evident. Their disdain for those who don’t immediately jump on board with their proclamations is worse than irritating. It’s literally nauseating for me. Especially coming from the Democrats, who are supposedly devoted to the dignity of all.
All, apparently, except those who don’t share their views.
On the Republican side, it’s just as bad, but with a more faith-based focus. Where the Democratic establishment appears to place its blind trust in academic instruction and degrees and secular qualifications, Republicans raise their eyes to a Higher Source whose directives they interpret as they see fit. There are a whole lot of folks never admitting that they worship exactly the God they please, however they please, while insisting their arbitrary application of “law” is absolute. If you interpret scripture a certain way, then fine – we all do it. Just be honest about it and have a touch of humility. (See the prohibitions in the Bible many disregard, such as tattoos and hair cutting, while picking and choosing the ones against women and queers that they’re trying to make into the law of the land.)
I’ve got choice words for the Greens and Libertarians, as well, so don’t get your knickers in a bunch because you think I’m playing favorites. I’m not. I’m sick of the lot of it.
Now, in this age of constant warfare and ever-present danger, it’s easy to be on constant lookout against real or imagined foes — especially when so many imagined ones turn out to be real.
But here’s the thing.
Who are we actually threatened by? And where is the real danger? Could it not be — and bear with me for just a moment — that the real threat and the real danger is NOT coming from your next-door neighbor who voted “against” you last time, but rather from the folks who are causing the schisms between us? Might the most dire threat actually be the gradual, cancerous dehumanization of others, which makes it impossible for us to hold even the most basic conversation with one another — the email-inspired frenzy of indignation and outrage essentially poisoning the wells of our minds, forcing us to buy the bottled product concocted by a band of power-grabbing mercenaries, who use our most cherished values as weapons against the better natures of our souls?
Truly, I’m amazed that we’ve fallen for this so quickly, treating the preparation and defense of our children’s future like some MMA cage match that boils to a frenzy every two to four years, then simmers down, leaving us either smarting from our political “defeat” or exulting in our supposed “victory”. It seems like we’ve been lulled into a drunken haze by this political team sport, and like any drunken binge, it leaves us all too hungover afterwards to be of much use to anyone until we sleep or work it off. The only problem is, the political machine keeps us stirred up, feeding us a steady stream of intoxicating indignation, stoking the flames of righteous anger, and never giving us a chance to catch our breath and remember who the hell we actually are.
The main reason I have divested of the two-party system is simply, we are apparently not human beings anymore. We are not citizens. We do not matter. We are just numbers on a balance sheet, demographics, audiences, target markets. We are not actual living, breathing human beings who have any significance to anyone in the political machine.
Under the current political regime — and I mean all across the board, from the Supreme Court to Congress to the Executive Branch — I no longer exist as the person I really am, who has an inalienable right to life, liberty, or any semblance of happiness. I am a tax-payer to them. An indentured servant. A tick on a scorecard. A pawn and a tool, sent to earth to help them realize their dreams of vast power and influence. If they can win me to their side, then so much the better. If they can get me to “buy in” to their version of the truth, then “perception is reality” and they get to win a little more. I’m one of the many hearts and minds they count on, to justify their rampant disregard for life outside their own individual spheres, and if I’m NOT “on board” with their platform, then what good am I?
What good, indeed?
Very little of what I’ve seen in the past decades has told me that I actually matter to any of them. I pay into a system every week with no hope of seeing any of the money they take. Jobs have been shipped elsewhere or cheaper workers have been brought in. The minute I stop spending money, I no longer have any significance to the movers and shakers. If I do have discretionary money to spend, then they love for sure. But otherwise? I’m just a ghost.
The single most obvious piece of evidence that I — and all of us — have ceased to exist as humans to the political machine, is the Affordable Care Act debacle. The whole scheme is tainted from the inside-out, from the bottom-up, and as far as I’m concerned, both Democrats and Republicans are to blame. This broad swathe of legislation is an insult and an affront to us ALL for the following reasons:
First, it is vast and sweeping in ways that very little legislation has been, in my memory. Anything this big and this comprehensive that comes from the government cannot possibly be good, especially because it apparently allows no room for individual choice — without substantial penalty.
Second, it touches the most vulnerable parts of my — and everyone’s — life, as though a single policy will work, all across the board. If there was any thought about necessary exceptions (and there are always plenty of them, we being people and all), it’s been well-buried in the reams of paper that make up the documentation.
Third, I have never heard anyone make a detailed, comprehensive, coherent argument to the *entire nation* about why we ALL need this. I have heard plenty of spin “to the choir” lauding the benefits of this legislation, as though this will solve the terrible ills and injustices of America. From the liberal Left, I have heard only self-satisfied pontifications about how self-evident this plan should be, if we’re smart and care about other people. That smug argument is laced with privilege in the language of the intelligentsia, which cuts out a big part of this nation and tosses them away like so much garbage.
Fourth, I have never heard anyone make a detailed, comprehensive, coherent argument to the entire nation about why we DON’T need this. I have heard plenty of vitriolic outrage, much of it laced with racism and class-warfare talk, not to mention likening this scheme to fascism. I’ve even seen protest posters of the president with a Hitler-like moustache. Those discussions have happened in one camp, not both. The spin against the ACA has sounded predominantly emotional — even enraged — not level-headed and thoughtful. Facts have been mixed up, making all manner of embarrassing soundbites and YouTube clips possible (for example, a citizen at a town hall meeting demanding that the government stay out of healthcare and keep its hands off his Medicare), and that’s opened up the Right to the brand of intellectual rididule that only the Left can serve up — and which only enrages the wounded, vulnerable, and embarrassed even more.
Fifth, folks call this “Obamacare”, as though Barack Obama were the first person to try to do this, and it’s all his idea. Many have come before to lay the groundwork, and this has been in the works for a while. Frankly, this is truly a data issue — look at the dollar signs, the numbers, the costs, to see what we have to do. It’s an issue that should be based on reality rather than individual influence. No One Person has come up with this solution — nor should they. The health and welfare of this nation is a problem that can be identified separate of any charismatic personality, and it must be solved by a team of invested parties who know what they’re doing — and who can do it without party affiliation, whatsoever. Healthcare is something that should never, EVER be politicized, and yet here we are, marinating in a political bloodbath. Tacking someone’s name onto it only stirs people into an emotional frenzy of support — or opposition.
All the emotion and lack of factual discussion makes it pretty damned hard to listen to any argument — from left or right — with a clear mind.
Which is where my disgust with the bipartisan system bubbles up, and I become quite certain that to them, I am not exactly human, and I have no actual rights.
The way I see it, if the people in power actually thought of us as human, they would give us the facts. If they considered us deserving of respect and consideration, they would lay out the statistics about how much healthcare for the unisured costs us, each year, and they would paint a clear picture of how we — as an entire nation — can move forward to overcome these issues. Together. If they had even a speck of regard for us and thought we were more than sheep or cattle or numbers on a balance sheet, they would make the case for their side as thoroughly and as convincingly as they make the case for why we should vote for such-and-such a person at such-and-such a time.
Not only that, but they would disseminate clear and easy-to-understand information in freely accessible ways. In this information age, it is embarrassingly easy to do this. How many channels are available on cable? And how many online venues are at everyone’s disposal? Blogs, forums, websites. Friggin’ YouTube. But at no time have I seen a concerted effort to comprehensively and objectively educate and empower the people of this nation to participate in a process and an end product which affects each and every one of us at the deepest, most vulnerable level.
Have I been missing something? I would love to be proven wrong.
But I don’t think that’s possible.
Instead of respect and data and information we can ALL use, we’ve been served drinks from a cauldron of trance-inducing, hallucinogenic uproar that’s turned our perception into the result of a fun-house mirror. No one can see clearly now, because the folks who have everything to gain have turned us against one another over this deep-seated issue. They’ve successfully triggered all our survival fears and put us on the defensive, effectively making it impossible for us to us our own heads and make up our own minds.
It’s not our fault we’ve fallen for this. It’s how we’re wired — when we are faced with life-threatening situations, parts of our brains and bodies shut down, so blood and adrenaline and other stress hormones can focus on getting us out of danger. It’s called the “sympathetic nervous system” and it’s the reason you lose your appetite (among other things) when you’re intensely stressed. Our ability to think clearly, to carefully consider all our options, and take action based on our own long-term best interests are literally overridden by our fight-flight-freeze response which kicks in quickly — even before we can think about it.
In eras gone by, this response came in handy when we were fleeing sabre-toothed tigers and tyrannosaurus rexes. It kept us alive, and we’re all here because it served our ancestors well. Now, though, we live in a time when we need to have our wits about us, and the consequences of our actions are lasting longer than a 15-minute flight from a prehistoric predator. So, that fight-flight-freeze actually works against us — in ways our ancestors never dreamed possible.
Again, it’s not our fault our minds are closed and our wits are addled. The people who craft the “Can you believe what they’re trying to do?!” emails and rant at us over the airwaves and on screens know exactly what they’re doing, and they’re using our own central nervous systems against us. Against ALL of us.
So, I’m done with the ridicule, the name-calling, the jibes, the taunting. I’m through with watching or listening to or reading people who cannot manage to discuss the issues of the day without insulting or diminishing others. I’m through with it. Really, I am.
See, here’s the thing — it’s not that I don’t believe in politics. I do. Deeply. In my book, Art is about What Is… Religion is about What Should Be… and Politics is about What Will Be. Politics is the way we shape our world. It’s how we get things done.
But the dehumanization of our political opponents does no one any good. Name-calling makes us look and act and think like children, at a time when we should make an extra effort to be adults. Worst of all, it disregards one of the most central pieces of anyone’s personal political views: individual experience.
I believe, after nearly half a century of being around people of every conceivable political stripe, and being on friendly and fond terms with so very many of them, that people’s political views are not based on reason or critical analysis. Rather, I believe they are based on individual, personal life experience. They arise from the rejections we experienced in high school. The problems we had on the job. The friends who helped or betrayed us. Our perceived ability to make ends meet and have love and dreams in our lives. Our political views don’t grow from what we read in a book or are taught in class — they arise out of direct involvement with our world and the lessons we take away from that.
And no one — NO ONE — can ever truly know the exact reasons why someone believes what they believe.
Likewise, no one has any right to ridicule another because of their political views. I’m serious about this one, folks. Just as no one can ever truly know the heart of another person, or ever fully know what pain and troubles and struggles they wrestle with every single day, to their dying breath… no one can ever truly know what lies behind someone’s political affiliation and the reasons they support a certain party that’s trying to make the world the way it is.
When we ridicule others and dismiss them because of their politics, we are ridiculing and dismissing them at the most basic level of their humanity. When we call them names — idiots… wusses… maniacs… bleeding-hearts… fascists — we betray our own humanity and excuse the worst kind of laziness — not giving the other person the right to be fully human, just because we can’t be bothered to consider where they’re coming from, and why.
And when we do that, we reduce ourselves to a level that harms us as much as it hurts the other. Insulting a political opponent because of their beliefs is an affront — to them, to life, to God, if you will. And none of us has the right to do that. For every impassioned belief, there may be a world of pain behind that. And what right do any of us have, to invalidate someone else’s pain? Truly. What right?
Maybe we don’t feel that we can deal with all that pain. Maybe we don’t look at it because it reminds us of our own hurts and disappointments and frustrations… and terrors. Maybe we think we can just write others off and forget about them, and move on. But being that kind of lazy isn’t going to make the pain go away. If anything, it will make it worse. And the next election that rolls around is going to be even uglier than the last. Because there will be more emails. There will be more pundits. There will be more cable shows. There will be more YouTube rants and revelations about the evil that lurks “over there”.
In the end, what can we ever truly know — about ourselves or about others? I do believe this: that the best thing any of us can do, in such trying times as these, is to stop the name-calling and dismissal, to lower our mental shields and verbal weapons, and ask some real questions.
What is the real problem we — all of us — are facing here? And who is offering real and genuine answers? What are the real reasons that these answers work, aside from any one side wanting to come out on top? What changes need to be made, to allow us all to be human, within the overall structure of this new system? And most of all, how can the transition be made in a way that makes life obviously better for everyone, instead of making many of us feel that life as we knew it is now over?
The winner-loser antagonistic mindset is choking us, slowly but surely. And “Obamacare” is just the tip of the massively devastating iceberg floating beneath the frigid, stormy waters of our times. In countless ways, in myriad conversations, allies are sharing stories about their enemies that are dehumanizing and dismissive. The damage is not only being done to our ability to talk to one another, but to our ability to see each other as human beings, as Americans, deserving of dignity, respect, consideration, and tolerance.
Politicians aren’t tearing our world apart. We are. Everday people. Online. On Facebook. On Twitter. In our everyday conversations with friends. We sow the seeds of our own misfortune in the way we talk, the way we fight, the way we ridicule, the way we justify, the way we dismiss, the way we crow and posture and revel in others’ defeat.
You can have your two-party system, your champions and villains, your elections, your debates, your talking heads. I’d rather be fully human with real people in my life, from a variety of human walks (within reason), and of every decent, thoughtful stripe.
You can keep your us-versus-them political contests.