I remember the first time I heard this mantra. About five years ago, I got into a discussion with a couple of co-workers about politics. Contrary to what many of you may think, I generally avoid discussing politics in the workplace. Not much good can come of it.
The reason I got into this discussion was what one of my co-workers said. He said “Republicans are evil”. I was taken aback by such a strident statement. Not that someone would be critical of Republicans. But that someone would use such moralistic language to not just criticize policies emerging from a political party or ideology, but to question motives.
So I asked one of my co-workers. “Wouldn’t you agree though that both Republican and Democrats, conservatives and liberals want the same thing? They just have different ways to get there.” I was expecting him to back down and agree and then explain why he disagreed with Republican policies. Instead he proclaimed again “No, Republicans are really evil. They only want bad things. They want to oppress people.”
Now I know that this phenomena of proclaiming one’s political opponents to be the spawn of Satan is nothing new. However, this attitude has waxed and waned during the course of history, especially American history. And I would argue that our country is at its worst when this view is in ascendency, regardless of the ideology that holds it.
I was reminded once again of this view because of an email I received this weekend regarding last week’s announcement by Georgia State Rep. Mike Jacobs that he is switching parties. (I will not disclose the person who sent this email to me unless they choose to identify themselves. I don’t like playing gotcha games with people. I have excerpted the relevant line with the bolded items being my emphasis.)
You know Wil[l], if the Republican Party in the state of Georgia wasn’t ruled by evil spirited people, who are power hungry, two-faced deceivers, I wouldn’t care which party Jacobs or anyone else joined.
Where to even begin? Let me first state that I am no big fan of Republicans either, especially those in the Georgia General Assembly. But let’s be reasonable – evil spirited people? Power hungry two-faced deceivers? Do they have horns and pitchforks too?
I am struck by a number of things about this statement. Firstly, I am struck by the narrow-minded arrogance that cannot conceive of a differing point of view. One of the hallmarks of a liberal society has always been the willingness and ability to study and understand an opposing point of view. If we cannot have civil debate and discussion on politics in this country (or any other), then we are left with power being the only determining factor in policy decisions.
I also find this statement ironic in its moralizing language considering its author usually decries the moralizing of politics by the “Religious Right”. It makes me wonder if people dislike the “Religious Right” because they don’t like religion and morality in politics or because they don’t like the “Religious Right’s” religion and morality in politics.
So am I just a hopeless idealist? Dare I even dream of having a civil public square? I am going to focus on this idea over the coming weeks and hopefully interview some of the top thinkers and activists in our country on this very subject. I’d love to hear your thoughts.