There’s a good chance you disagree with me about politics. If you are not a person who found this blog randomly, and you know me personally, there is about an 80-90% chance you disagree with me about politics. This is my lot in life. By accident of the locations and demographics in which I was born, raised, and work, coupled with the viewpoints I have developed through my own experiences, learning, reasoning, and innate tendencies, I have found myself politically at odds with the overwhelming majority of my family, friends, and everyday acquaintances since I began to develop my views in my teen years. This is not an easy way to be. Quite frankly, it sucks.
I rarely discuss my political views anymore in public, because the costs outweigh the benefits. This is sad. It is sad because we should all be able to have civil discussions about issues that matter, but it is also sad because in this age of animosity and polarization (egged on by our elites, by the way) and with the visibility of social media, I know that a lot of people must think all kinds of horrible things about me, simply by the virtue of which political positions and candidates I tend to support. I know this because I see the ruthless venom directed at other people with whom I agree.
Because I have spent most of my life surrounded by friends and family with whom I disagree on politics, I may have a different outlook than most. Many of these people I know believe things I am certain are horribly wrong, and support – often enthusiastically – policies and candidates which I am confident will produce disastrous results. If I did not know these people personally, I might be tempted to assume they were either malign characters or stupid. But, because I know them personally, I know that they are neither. If they are basically good and intelligent people, how can they support such horrible things?
I think we all have a tendency to fall into a bit of a trap, which is this: We tend to pick out the absolute worst possible consequence of the position with which we disagree, and then, we hypothesize that everyone who disagrees with us must be in favor of that worst possible consequence. This is a mistake.
Let’s say I support Position A. I have considered the positives and negatives thoroughly, and decided that I support A because I think it will have Positive Outcome X. For the opposite position, Position B, I at one point also considered the positives and negatives, and concluded I disagree with it because I think it will have Negative Outcome Y. Over time, because it is simpler to think in simple terms, I come to associate A with X, and B with Y, despite the fact that each position probably has some nuanced potential positives and negatives mixed together. Before long, because of this shorthand, I come to assume that any person who supports B actually wants Negative Outcome Y, which is objectively pretty horrible. Yet, in reality, most reasonable people who support B are supporting it for positive reasons, which they either see as outweighing Y or more likely than Y, and at the same time, those reasonable people are doing what I do in reverse, overlooking my Outcome X because they believe a negative consequence is more likely or outweighs it.
This is how you get factions accusing one another of bigotry and hate. Occasionally there may be elements of truth to it, but in most cases the factions simply don’t understand each other very well and are ascribing the worst possible motives to the other’s beliefs.
Taking a real-world, apolitical (mostly) example, think about a person who smokes. Now, I am a non-smoker. I have never had a cigarette in my life. Part of this is because smoking has simply never appealed to me, but the primary reason I have never even tried it is because I know smoking causes cancer. So, over the years I have come to associate smoking with cancer and I never even think of smoking. But, what if I were to approach every smoker and say, “you smoke? Wow, you must love cancer.” Now, that would be a horrible and ridiculous thing to say, but see where I am going with this? The smoker isn’t smoking because he wants cancer, any more than your typical Second Amendment advocate wants mass shootings or your typical same-sex marriage advocate wants to ban religion. We have got to stop ascribing malicious motives to the politics of our friends and neighbors.
As tomorrow is Election Day, I will close with some advice which is going to fall largely on deaf ears. Based on what I have said above, please try to be cognizant of the fact that most people who disagree with you are doing so honestly, and are motivated by noble goals as opposed to malicious ones. They may be prioritizing certain goals differently than you, but that doesn’t mean they are haters or bigots. They are also after some objectively positive outcomes; they may simply disagree with how to get there. And, this election is as important to them as it is to you, for reasons no less admirable or serious.
Because of all this, if your candidate wins tomorrow, act like you’ve been there before and don’t spike the football. Celebrate quietly and without rubbing your victory in the face of the opponent. Even as you are happy, others are grieving for the future of the nation they love. Gloating will do nothing to ingratiate you with them, and it will reflect poorly on the views you support.
If your candidate loses tomorrow, do not lash out at the victorious side, do not whine about how stupid the public is, or how this proves America is racist or doomed to some sort of faithless anarchy or beyond repair. Do not threaten to move to Canada unless you really mean it (and, if you do, we’ll miss you). Nobody likes a sore loser. Acting like a sore loser will only serve to make you a permanent loser, as nobody will want to consider the possibility that your position will have merit.
I am too cynical and weary of the world to have any confidence that the above will be taken to heart by very many people, but it is important enough to say. If we want a better future with more thoughtful and appealing candidates, we the people will need to create a more civil environment in which better candidates can thrive. And, if we continue to create a toxic environment, increasingly toxic candidates will be both what we get and what we deserve.
We are in this together. Go vote, even if I probably hope your candidate loses. This year, I kind of wish they all could lose.