What’s the source of a hateful political climate?
Is a climate of hate to blame for the shooting of Rep. Steve Scalise by a left-wing political activist?
Has the rhetoric on both sides of the aisle become so vicious that it’s inspiring violence?
The answer to both of those questions is yes.
Casting the opposition as monsters has become so common now in American politics that it’s not even noteworthy any more. Republicans say Democrats want to let terrorists into the country.
Democrats say Republicans want to murder people with health care reform.
It’s not surprising, then, when some extreme element of one political faction or another might decide that violence is an OK response to policy disagreements.
The question shouldn’t be whether or not American politics have become hateful. They have, without question.
The question should be why.
Typically it’s the politicians and the media talking heads who take the blame. Republicans and Democrats throw rhetorical bombs at each other. Politics on Twitter and other social media platforms is caustic, to say the least. Cable news has taken on all the subtle nuance of a professional wrestling bout.
I’m not so sure we aren’t a few years away from warring pundits dropping flying elbows on one another from the top rope.
But it’s not the pundits or the politicians who are to blame for this.
It’s us. This is what we want.
Cable news shows play host to verbal combat because that’s what draws ratings. There’s an audience numbering in the millions which will tune in and be entranced.
Political debates on the internet are extreme and awful because it’s hard to get clicks by being thoughtful.
Politicians run vicious, ugly campaigns because they work. We all complain about it, but demonizing your opponents with a barrage of nasty messaging gets results.
The best, most recent example of this is President Donald Trump himself. He was crude and offensive on the campaign trail. He belittled and demeaned his critics and opponents.
And he won. Because there is a voting constituency which likes that sort of thing. But Trump is hardly the first politician to win an election that way.
People talk about the political climate as though it were a top-down thing. We like to think that our nation has become polarized because of the machinations of political marketers and TV producers.
The truth is it’s a bottom-up sort of thing. The politicians and pundits aren’t setting the trend.
They’re a mirror in which is reflected the angry American electorate.
We are the problem.
This is heresy in our society where we worship the wisdom of the masses, where “the people” are held to be infallible.
But it’s true.
So what do we do?
You can start by doing this: Try to find the humanity in the people you disagree with.
Say they’re wrong, sure. Call their arguments misguided. Their facts in accurate. But recognize, amid all of that, that they’re still a human being who just sees the world a little differently than you do.
Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, a North Dakota political blog, is a Forum Communications commentator. Follow him on Twitter at @RobPort
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