By Mark Gerzon
On November 9, when we wake up from our long slumber of the 2016 election, we will once again face the reality behind this crazy electi0n year drama. Like a family returning to their termite-infested home, we will recognize that our nation is worse shape than when we left. After the “victors” on Election Day have finished their fleeting celebration, we will face the consequences of another toxic dose of hyperpartisan poison, which will leave the body politic weaker than ever.
After working for years with members of the US House of Representatives, I know firsthand that there are good people on both sides of the aisle. However, in order for that basic American goodness to have a chance to shine, we need to keep our eye on the ball. In the long run, what matters is not the numbers on the scoreboard that show who or who lost, but restoring the health of our ailing democracy.
Nothing illustrates the hollowness of our politics more clearly than the speeches we are likely to hear at the conventions in Cleveland and Philadelphia. Despite the differences in political philosophy, both presidential nominees will give speeches that are largely predictable. Both the Democratic and Republican candidates will essentially say:
“I am right, my opponent wrong.”
“I almost never make mistakes; he/she makes nothing but mistakes.”
“I protect America; he/she endangers it.”
“I strengthen America’s economy; he/she weakens it.”
“I am strong and have courage; he/she is weak and will be pushed around.”
“You can trust me, but not him/her.”
“I tell the truth, but he/she is a liar.”
“Elect me, and our greatest days are ahead of us; elect my opponent, disaster will soon follow.”
Despite the robotic shallowness of this polarized rhetoric, we are virtually guaranteed that we will hear this manipulative speechifying at the conventions again this year. Election after election, this is the repetitive refrain of Democratic and Republican politicians alike. And the result is that, on the day after the election, gridlock will continue — and perhaps even worsen.
Privately, both my liberal and conservative colleagues acknowledge the charade. They admit that this good-versus-evil psychodrama is a profound distortion of the truth. When I ask if they deeply believe “their” candidate is that good (and his opponent that bad), they rarely do.
Unfortunately, this is not merely a disappointing Broadway show in which two actors are competing for the lead role. This is real life. This is the process by which our country makes decisions about its future, whereby our sons and daughters are sent to war, who gets health care and who doesn’t, and what quality of education your children — and mine — will receive.
While we are entranced with this dualistic drama, the world continues to turn. Our men and women in uniform continue to be deployed by a military whipsawed by a politicized foreign policy. Health reform will be a battle ground. Other issues — guns, immigration, Common Core, trade policy, the economy — will be partisan boxing matches.
Instead of we Americans using our differences to truly listen and learn from each other, we are letting our differences divide and polarize us. Instead of a thoughtful, innovative, catalytic debate about issues like terrorism, for example, we are playing political games. We are mortgaging our future to inter-party warfare.
Rather than being manipulated by politicians into polarized armies, let’s choose to learn from each other. Despite politicians’ claims in every election cycle that they will be “uniters, not dividers,” they have proven that the system is rigged against problem-solving. We can feel in our bones that this habitual onslaught of lies, half-lies, half-truths and “spin” is destroying the very society that it is claiming to serve. So whatever issue most concerns us, whether it’s strengthening the economy or enhancing national security, demonizing the other half of America is not going to achieve our goal.
Let’s not just wait to vote on Election Day for Mr. X or Ms. Y. Let’s think right now about the day after — and about the rest of our lives and our children’s. Let’s tell our favorite candidates, both national and local, to wake up now. Whether we are a Democrat, a Republican or an Independent, we are Americans first. We want leaders who are too.
Mark Gerzon, president of Mediators Foundation, is the author of The Reunited States of America; How We Can Cross the Partisan Divide
The Catalyst is produced by The Shift Network to feature inspiring stories and provide information to help shift consciousness and take practical action. To receive The Catalyst twice a month, sign up here.
This article appears in:
2016 Catalyst, Issue 9: Yoga Day and Enneagram