I remember in 2006 when Democrat Barack Obama was running for president, promising to work “across the aisle” to get things done and help repair the divisive political atmosphere in our country.
At the same time, Republican John McCain was running, too, and he was quite publicly entertaining the idea of having a Democratic running mate, former United States Senator Joe Lieberman.
But none of this came to pass.
McCain ultimately went with conservative fellow Republican Sarah Palin. Obama won, a victory attributed in part to the up-swell of support from young Millennial voters. Did they support him because they wanted a Democrat in charge? Or was part of it that they were hoping he’d really turn the divisive tide?
If it was the latter, they’ve got to be pretty disappointed by now, because that quite obviously didn’t pan out. The political divide in this country is as stark as ever, evidenced in government from the constant party-line votes in Congress to the now consistent 5-4 decisions coming out of the United States Supreme Court, and evidenced in our citizenry by regular mass protests complete with counter-protests, and endless shouting matches over social media.
It’s hardly radical to say that one of the biggest problems in this country is the political divide. Partisan rhetoric and finger pointing is the name of the game in politics these days, with few willing to play nice to get anything accomplished. We’re in political gridlock.
The election of Donald Trump to the presidency, a man known for lambasting detractors on every public platform accessible to him, probably did not help the divisive rhetoric of the day. I would argue that it encouraged it. So, by the way, has television cable news of both the right-leaning and left-leaning variety, which nightly host hourly panels full of partisan, paid correspondents who seem to enjoy nothing more than shouting each other down to the extent that no one gets a word in edgewise.
I had hoped my generation would be the voice of reason – the newcomers to change things up and create open dialogue amongst the parties. But I’m starting to wonder. . . . are we really any better behaved? Or are we just adding fuel to the fire? And, are we really any less divided?
About 54% of Millennials identify as Democrats, according to the Pew Research Center. That’s more than any older generation. About 33% are Republicans. Add in the 12% that identify as independents, and well, yeah, we’re still pretty divided when you slice us up.
I asked one of my best friends, a 30-year old professional who voted for Trump and was open about it, what his experience as an “out” Trump voter in California has been like. This is what he said. “During the election I lost dozens of friends on Facebook, simply for stating my support for Trump. In person, the reactions have been more positive, as it tends to generate an open dialogue.” He added, “Despite living in a deeply-blue state, I like to be quite honest about my support for Donald Trump because it shows others that conservatives can be quite reasonable, and not the caricature often presented in social media echo chambers. It also helps break this perception that only ‘rich whites’ support Trump, as I am a biracial first-generation American who proudly supported the President since the day he announced his candidacy.”
Another friend, this one from high school, told me (without identifying his political leanings) that he avoids sharing his political beliefs with others, unless they are close. “I haven’t had anybody come up to me and say, ‘I don’t want to be friends with you because of your beliefs,’ so I’m not sure if there are people who actually stopped talking to me because of it. But most of the people that have different views than me, we still hang, [but] we just don’t talk about politics that much,” he said.
In a heartfelt yet grammatically questionable Facebook rant, someone I grew up down the street from told me that Millennials are, in fact, making the political divisiveness in this country worse. “No, Millennials are making it worse, on both sides, it seems no one does research anymore, on both sides people just post or share what one pissed off person has said without any facts,” he wrote. “I personally sit back and just watch, do my own research, there is too much hate and its only gonna build more and more as we bury ourselves in technology and sit behind the safety of our screens whilst crying and arguing about how something isn’t fair like that’s gonna help the situation instead of going out and actually participating.”
I have to confess I rather wanted to applaud that just as much as I wanted to take my red editor’s pen to it. He concluded, “The only way any of this gets fixed is to put down the phones, the PC, the i-Pads [or] whatever and go outside and learn about your neighbors, get to know your community, plant trees, start a garden, this generation has lost the ability to communicate in person.”
A couple of months ago, I posted a link to a Los Angeles Times article on Facebook that argued that, in light of the #MeToo movement, it was time to re-examine the behaviors of past presidents with an eye more attuned to sexism and sexual harassment. The article specifically referenced John F. Kennedy. I posted it with the one-line commentary: “Should we reserve the enlightened, critical eye only for the politicians of present, or turn it on those of the past as well?”
What I did not expect was that multiple people would be quick to comment that the entire article, as well as my question, was invalid because it made mention of Trump. I have to say, I was utterly baffled by this line of reasoning. Trump, I pointed out, is the actual sitting president. Mentioning him in contrast or comparison with past presidents shouldn’t be considered outrageous as a matter of course. But despite some civil arguing back and forth, I could not sway them. It was, indeed, outrageous and unsettling to them, and my point, however well intentioned, was therefore invalid in that context. The message was clear. I could have a conversation on this topic – but not if I brought Trump into it.
What does it mean when we’re in a stage as a country, and as a generation, that the mention of the current president causes dialogue to come to a screeching halt? What do you then do with the other ENTIRE HALF of the country that supports him? Do those who are hurt by his policies and rhetoric reserve the right to shut the other side up? On the other hand, do those who support him and are hurt by the leftist rhetoric that they’re “deplorables” have that same right?
How are we going to progress if we can’t even talk? Can we really afford to wait to address this divisiveness until we have a new president who isn’t so polarizing?
I want to say Millennials hold the key to change, but I don’t know that we do. At least not yet.
Someone, do me a favor and figure out what it is.