by Mary Fahnestock-Thomas, Hamilton
Why do we seem to favor an us-versus-them (conflicting political parties) mentality instead of an all-of-us (all Americans) mentality?
Capitalism encourages competition, which can be a good thing, but, pushed too far, the implication is that there’s only one finite pie that we all want a piece of, and so we have to fight to get a piece of any size.
But that’s not the reality in the richest and most innovative country in the world. There is enough room, housing, food, education, fun, everything — if we are willing to share.
You may think that is socialism, but really it’s simply sharing; look it up. And many countries that are older than ours have figured out pretty well how to do this effectively. Just because we’re young and considerably larger doesn’t mean we have to re-invent the wheel.
People who have a lot of money tend to like that and to become inordinately afraid of losing it, so they often center their lives around making more and group themselves with others who do the same.
That was true of Southern plantation owners and Northern businessmen before the Civil War, and ultimately it was the cause of the war. It was true in the early 20th century and ultimately led to the stock market crash in 1929 and the Great Depression.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt got us out of that by encouraging the New Deal and demonstrating that government, which is pretty much inevitable, can also be used to help everyone in a given country.
To wealthy businessmen, that felt a lot like competition, and so since the 1970s they have used the Republican Party to promote the us-versus-them mentality — political party polarization — in their own interests, relying on the idea that we everyday folks would get caught up in the conflict and not realize that they are using us for their own ends.
The media help a lot with that, because the media don’t want to go out of business and so focus on what makes the most noise, and the Republican Party is really good at noise — catchy slogans, sound bites, and flamboyant and outrageous personalities.
Many, perhaps most, people watch television for what news they get and always watch the same channels and shows and so come to think that all that noise is really the truth. In the midst of the chaos and “alternative facts” the Republican Party has largely created, they now say nobody can do anything because we are all so polarized.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Polarizers play on our emotions — you know, the feeling in your gut when you hear words like “CRT,” “abortion,” “immigrants,” “taxes,” “inflation.” People who are really trying to help ask us to think about things, like why the definition of “infrastructure,” which has traditionally meant mostly roads and bridges, shouldn’t be expanded to mean other services that are necessary for our local and national economy to function well, like child-care, early childhood education, public transportation, even affordable health care.
Be awake. Be willing to trust — not that someone is telling you the truth, but what you see with your own eyes. We can fix this.