National partisanship in the U.S. has been on the rise for decades. We thought political division was bad in the 1990s when Republicans impeached President Bill Clinton. We thought we had reached peak division in the 2000s when Democrats were constantly aghast at the decisions of President George W. Bush and his conservative allies. Then we thought we had really reached peak division in the 2010s, when every kind of conspiracy theory imaginable was thrown at President Barack Obama. But we proved ourselves wrong again, and now find ourselves in a 24/7, low-brow mud fight, which has devolved to the point where people are throwing around words like “civil war” and “the end of democracy.”
How did we get here? And how can we get away from the vicious cycle that keeps making our national politics worse and worse? Local politics holds many answers.
At the national level, millions of people have spent years listening to political commentators on their media outlet of choice tell them the “other side” is evil and out to get them. Our national news bubbles have allowed us to believe more and more each year that people with political views other than our own are completely irredeemable and anything they say or do must be dead wrong and bad for America.
At the local level, we do not allow silver-tongued commentators sitting in expensive studios to tell us what to think. Most people know the politicians in the news at least in passing, so they’re aware of those politicians’ humanity. You know there are good, human attributes to each local leader, even if there are other things about them you dislike.
At the national level, everything done or said by one side is taken as a political act of war by the other side. At the local level, politicians from opposite ideological positions often sit next to each other and choose to work on things that everyone can agree on first.
At the national level, everything is dumbed down to soundbites; nuance is considered a dirty word, while going viral is the holy grail. At the local level, the focus is on living together peacefully and making careful decisions that have good long-term impacts.
Obviously, we can’t all know each other personally or live in the same community at a national level. But that doesn’t mean we can’t demand that our national politics at least attempt to emulate the dignity, humanity and friendliness of local politics.
As things stand now, it seems like most of us have thrown in the towel. We just accept that national politics is a dog-eat-dog, winner-takes-all war. As long as we keep believing that’s the way it has to be, it won’t ever change. But it’s most definitely not the way it has to be.
Change begins with each American. You can choose to stop believing the lie that your political opponents are irredeemable. You can accept the fact you’ve probably been radicalized to some degree by political commentators who make their living getting you angry. You can demand a return to decency.