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People populate politics

Seek to find human beings in discussion

Jakob Miller | Contributor

One in six Americans has stopped talking to a friend or family member because of disagreements over politics.

That scares me. The next election is almost upon us (campaign ads are already running!) and political rhetoric has barely cooled since 2016. Republicans and Democrats are already more likely than any time in America’s history since the Civil War to describe the other side as “evil.”

Very few of us have clean hands on that front, by the way: when tested, the vast majority of people have strong, instinctual biases against members of the other party. We’re all less likely to believe what they say, less likely to want to associate or interact with them – less likely, in fact, to treat them like humans.

Cassidy Drabek and Hannah Thalmayer participate in civil discussion.

Cassidy Drabek and Hannah Thalmayer participate in civil discussion.

Americans hold wildly distorted views of the opposite party: a recent article by Ahler and Sood shows Republicans will agree, for example, that most Democrats are atheists (not true) and Democrats will agree that the Republican party is mostly millionaires (also nope). On that basis – that they’re jerks, that they’re evil, that they aren’t like us – we dismiss them. Politics, after all, is a lot simpler when you remove one side entirely. We ignore them, we insult them — we treat them like enemies, when in reality, they’re our neighbors.

There’s a story that made the rounds a few years ago, about a Black Lives Matter group that ended up at a pro-Trump rally in Washington DC. One of their members, Walter Newsome, was offered two minutes to address the crowd, and he chose to do so. The speech became newsworthy because Newsome’s words resonated with the crowd. When he compared removing abusive police officers to voting out corrupt politicians, they cheered. After the rally, a member of Bikers for Trump asked Newsome to take a picture with his five-year-old son.

I’m not pretending that this was some mythical, perfect moment. There was still plenty of yelling before, after, and during Newsome’s address. Within hours, both groups came under attack from members of their own side, accusing them of fraternizing with the enemy. The nation remains politically divided.

But it does show a path forward. We can do better than ignoring the other side, treating them as the butt of jokes and the subject of angry rants and nothing more. We can treat them with respect and as worthy of our time, as people whose minds we want to change. “Bless those who curse you,” after all.

I’m not preaching naïve agreement here. You don’t need to compromise your political principles. In fact, I think the opposite is true. Too often, we assume the solution for contentious politics is just to avoid the other side altogether. In reality, healthy disagreement and discussion would be better for all of us, and make us better able to advance our political beliefs. When Democrats and Republicans are forced to work together on tasks, they perform better than any one-party group. As Mill said, “He who knows only his side of the case, knows little of that.”

As election season draws nearer, keep in mind that members of the other party aren’t your enemies, but rather your opponents. Certainly people with whom you are competing, and with whom you have strong differences of opinion, but still people.

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