Like millions of other Americans, I’m exhausted. But I’m not tired from #Resisting or tired from screaming at a MAGA rally. I’m tired of the toxic tribalism infecting the very foundations of our democracy, straining our relationships, and poisoning our view of our fellow humans.
I’m tired of everyone being outraged, getting worked up over the latest news cycle only to forget about it two hours later. Tired of being afraid to voice my own opinions, of knowing how saying the wrong thing at a barbecue while someone is filming on their iPhone could result in a nationwide clarion call for my head on a pike. I’m tired of rage mobs and cancelations.
2016 was the breaking point, or at least a watershed moment, when the vilification of diverse opinion exploded. Trump vs. Hillary forced everything into a binary, and suddenly bipartisanship and moderation became radical positions to take.
Now, you aren’t just voting out of habit or, God forbid, voting for your own interests. Every vote is considered a statement on your personal identity and worth. Your value, who you are, what kind of world you want, whether or not you’re a good person or an evil person…it all boils down to which lever you pull. Damn your reasons. Vote for the ‘right’ person, or else you are a fascist, or a racist, or a globalist, or a communist.
Politically disinterested citizens like me have increasingly been pulled off the sidelines and into this incredibly divisive political climate, unwilling combatants in a battle fought among fiercely partisan tribes. Many are being bullied into involving themselves in the process, because intolerance and shaming have become features of the American life. Thanks in no small part to social media, the simple act of expressing your opinion, or even going so far as to ask questions, has begun to negatively affect lives and destroy people.
You may have once fancied yourself a good progressive,while also having the opinion that there are only two genders. Or you may describe yourself as a staunch conservative, but tend to think racial targeting by police is a problem. Or the cardinal sin: you may have decided to vote for a candidate you felt better represented your concerns.
Upon voicing on social media what you think are fairly normal, moderate views, you find out something you didn’t know — YOU ARE THE ENEMY. And not just the enemy: you’re evil.
After 2016’s chaotic impact on The Culture took hold, each mere opinion or vote became life or death in the fight for the survival of civilization — and you are either for civilization or against it. The trouble is, everyone believes they’re on the ‘right side of history’ and justifies abhorrent behavior in service of that belief. Families are divided. Extremes have become more extreme and shades of gray are shunned. Expressions of nuance are mocked. Anyone moderate with a brain and anything to lose has largely gone silent.
I get it, too. I understand why the silent majority is uneasy. They’re not wrong to worry that sharing their opinion on Facebook could cost them their livelihood. Most people are just trying to raise their families and pay their bills, and pine for the days when they only had to think about politics every few years. Now, millions of independent thinkers – recently polled at almost 70 percent of the American population and labeled ‘the exhausted majority’ — are harboring intense feelings of political homelessness and ideological isolation.
Both parties demand totalitarian-like devotion to their ideology and if you’re indifferent, apathetic or nuanced in your approach to politics, you’ll end up in the wasteland of the center — tribeless, unprotected and increasingly insulated.
But you aren’t alone. My inboxes have become something of a confession booth for people who have issues with their own side (or sympathy for their political opponents). People I speak to at length in person have all manner of opinions and thoughts that they not only didn’t feel comfortable admitting publicly, but for which they go out of their way to craft an online image that portrays the opposite.
The trouble with living under mob law is that no one can be honest. But this siloing of the public and private personas needs to stop. We all abandon our duty as citizens when we put party loyalty over thinking critically and speaking truthfully. We can’t expect integrity from our leaders if we don’t expect it of ourselves.
It’s absolutely our duty as citizens to denounce demagoguery where we see it. To fight corruption. To push back against attacks on free speech, due process and the scientific method. To combat racism, sexism, anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry. To continue to extend the gains made by the civil rights movement. To demand compromise and moderation. This starts with fighting our own tribal instincts and laziness and educating ourselves.
We might not all see eye-to-eye on how to best make America even greater — but we need to be able to have a conversation about it and that starts with extending good faith and grace to people with whom we disagree. It doesn’t start with calling everyone who disagrees with us garbage.
Democracy doesn’t die in the darkness; it dies when politics become team sports, in full view of a bloodthirsty, cheering electorate. We will return to the Dark Ages or we will evolve. Is that likely? I dunno. Have we evolved that much from the Roman Colosseum? Barreling into 2020 — it doesn’t seem like it.
While both sides increasingly weaponize reason and peddle conspiracy in order to defend insanity, millions of sensible, moderate Americans grapple with the choice to join a tribe, tune out, or go insane.
Opt to tune out and you’re ‘carrying water for Nazis’ or a ‘cuckservative.’ Join a tribe, and you have to completely abandon your ability to think critically. No matter what — everyone seems to be going crazy. The exhausted majority could be the key to combating polarization and saving the world.
If only we weren’t so afraid.