Monday, June 13, 2016

No Expectation for Political Niceness

I've seen a lot of posts this week on Facebook, Twitter and other such places asking people to calm down and play nice in the political realm.  This upshot coincides with Hilary Clinton being the presumptive nominee for the Democrats, pitting her squarely against Donald Trump who became the presumptive nominee for the Republicans.  
The messages have basically asked the followers of the winning candidate to not be smug, reminding them that she will need the followers of the losing candidate if she hopes to win in November.  The dynamic is a bit different on the Republican side, where the leaders are refusing to disavow the winner of their primary contest even as he continues to prove that he hasn't yet reached a limit to his ability to insult and inflame one group of people or another.  They reply that, even though they don't agree with what their candidate says, they believe that, as their party's choice, he is the candidate most likely to foster their agenda in the government to be formed after this year's election.
These messages on both sides of America's political aisle, are motivated, I think, by a desire to get everyone to play nice and work together to face what could best be described as a common enemy.  To first and foremost win the election, keeping, or taking back, the necessary number of seats to control congress, and get "something" done to further the ideals they presume their party represents.  
While generally well meaning, I have a feeling that these messages are pretty much landing on deaf ears.  Or, more accurately, are not being listened to at all.  This is because people they're being directed to no longer consider themselves represented by the party they participated with during the primary elections.  They have formed separate political entities in all but name already.  And they are looking to tear down the things they belief are in their way.  
At my language group this last week, the subject of the American Presidential race came up.  Now, even though the group is a Japanese study group, we have more than just Japanese and Americans participating.  At this particular meet-up, there were people from China, from the United Kingdom, as well as from Japan and the United States.  
The one thing all the people in the discussion seemed to agree on was that the American political system was insane.  
Specifically, the biggest flaw the people from other countries seemed to see in how we elect our leaders was, in their view, the system seems designed to pick people of the most extreme points of view to pit against each other.  Why, they asked, would you create a system that favored candidates of extreme views, left and right, when, ideally, you were trying to find someone more centrist, that could build a consensus in government that could do useful things for the citizens.  
It was a difficult discussion to be a part of.  For while I felt the emotional desire to argue against the idea that our system was "crazy," as some of them put it, the choices offered up this election cycle seem to support their contention very well.  Having what amounts to a two party system means that we tend to view our candidates as "either/or," and we look for people to oppose "the other party" that we don't affiliate with.  
Furthermore, the people that come out to vote during the primaries tend to be the hardcore members of both political parties.  They are the bluest of blue and the reddest of red when it comes to their political thinking.  Moreover, they are the ones most strongly motivated by single, "push-button" issues they consider to be of vital importance.  Whether it is gay marriage, abortion, global warming, gun control/second amendment rights, they want to ensure that the candidate their party selects is favorable to their view on the topic.  I have often heard the political experts on the Sunday morning news shows I watch talk about how the hardest political maneuver a candidate has to make is, after winning their party's nomination, making that move to the center they need to make in order to win the votes of those in the center, the "independents" as they seem to be called now, that they need to win in order to take office.  
The term that gets used a lot now is "pivot."  They are no longer moving the center, they are "pivoting" toward a new direction.  A strange choice of word, pivot.  According to the dictionary it means a central point on which something turns or oscillates.  We're not even expecting our candidates to move in a more central direction anymore?  They just have to turn and glance in the direction we want them to go?  
What makes this election cycle worse is that we are seeing something that I've been sensing for some time.  I'm going to call it the Siloization of America.  It is where we, as a people, are identifying with smaller and smaller political and social groups.  And where we depend more and more on more specific sources that support these groups for our "news" and information.  When I was a kid, there were more shared sources of information, and a higher level of agreement on how information was to be vetted before being disseminated.  These days, information is consumed raw, presented in a way that tells you how to regard what you're being told and what it represents in the greater scheme of things.  If you don't like it, you can always click over to the next website to find one that tells you something more palpable.  
In such an environment, the more radical elements of any political or social group will be magnified.  They'll be the ones shouting the loudest to begin with.  They will be the ones working the hardest to ensure their beliefs are manifested in their party's stance.  And they will be the ones most concern that they are done so in an unadulterated fashion, because any form of compromise is akin to giving in to them on the other side.  
This feeling can be heard, for example, in interviews I heard with union workers at a political rally.  These were supporters of Bernie Sanders, reacting to what appears to be his loss at winning Democratic nomination for president.  More than a few of them reacted by saying they thought they would now vote for Donald Trump.  
This may seem startling when you think about it in terms of a normal liberal versus conservative, Main Street vs. Wall Street lens.  But in our current environment, where their identification isn't with the party itself, or even with the government they are presumably trying to choose, but with their own sense of alienation or belief that things are just "wrong," it is more logical.  If you are looking to destroy the system that is rigged, and the person you want to do it won't be a choice, they go with the next most likely anarchist.  
Right now it looks like the contest will be between Clinton and Trump.  In the current political context this is more a referendum on our long standing political process that a selection of the person you think would be the better president.  Voting for Clinton is a vote for the established way of doing things.  It is at best the expression of a belief that we can overcome the rancor and stagnation and find a way to get something done, if only through the sheer exhaustion both sides must be feeling over digging in their heels on every single issue, bill or judicial candidate.  At worst, its a vote to maintain the status quo for now until we find someone who can provide the leadership to change things in a positive way  
Voting for Trump is a vote to tear the system down.  I think it will be the political equivalent of pouring sugar into a car’s gas tank, but others will see it as a choice to put in someone who’ll ignore the way things have “always” be done and just “do something” about all the things they see as being “wrong.”  The people who supported Sanders during the primaries have the same impulse, I believe.  I include myself in that group, by the way.  With his constant rhetoric about the system being “rigged,” how could they not be.  

As a result, I’m not going to counsel anyone to play nice.  They wouldn’t listen to me anyway. They are too angry, too pissed off, too far gone to do that.  It’s like those times when someone throws a tantrum, you just have to step out of the way and let them exhaust themselves.  Hopefully, when they’re done, they can be reasoned with, and they haven’t broken anything truly irreplaceable.  


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