Political tribalism is a disease

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Riley Garland

On Tuesday, Mexican-American author Luis Alberto Urrea, who wrote the selection for NMU’s Diversity Common Reader titled “Nobody’s Son: Notes from an American Life,” visited NMU to speak about being a writer.

During his talk, the former Harvard professor covered an array of topics, sometimes swinging in toward politics. Instead of the Trump bashing I expected, though, he conveyed a very different message.

The central theme to his comments was: Why are we so divided? As Americans, and more importantly, as people, we all have a lot more in common than we do different. So why do we split ourselves into opposing tribes and relentlessly bash each other?

As he spoke, I grew solemn, because I knew he was exactly right.

Yet, as he delivered his beautiful message of common humanity, I heard chatter to my left. To my dismay, some of the students were snickering at the idea. Out of their mouths I heard typical partisan rhetoric about conservatives being bigots and whatnot. I wonder what they would have thought if I told them what I was, knowing I had never been anything but polite to these particular people.

Coincidentally, yesterday morning Florida Senator Marco Rubio tweeted, “The debate after #Parkland reminds us We The People don’t really like each other very much. We smear those who refuse to agree with us. We claim a Judea-Christian heritage but celebrate arrogance and boasting. & worst of all we have infected the next generation with the same disease.”

The divisiveness in America stems from one common root: we attribute bad motives to people we disagree with. We then take the most radical among us and elevate them, calling them “brave” and “a fighter.”

Let’s start with something basic we should all be able to agree on. None of us, whether republican, democrat, or anything else, are trying to ruin America. We all want a beautiful, safe, free country where people are happy—we just have different visions of how to get there.

Yet, when we engage in debate, suddenly we paint each other as the worst thing since Hitler and lose our minds. The latest gun control debate exemplifies my point. On CNN, a survivor from the Florida school shooting called the NRA “child murderers.” Meanwhile, NRA spokesperson Dana Loesche has blasted the media for “loving mass shootings.”

This isn’t productive conversation, folks, it’s divisive rhetoric. If you’re one of the people who retweet and share this stuff, you are the problem.

You want to know why nothing seems to get done in Washington? Why we can never seem to compromise? It’s not the lobbyists, nor the corruption, nor the laziness, it’s us.

America has been drawn into tribal warfare, where we split ourselves among party lines and build echo chambers around us. When we attribute bad motives to people with ideas different from us, we fall into the trap of seeing each other as an enemy.

Once we decide to view an issue as a war, instead of a conversation, we have already lost. When we convince ourselves that the other side isn’t just different ideas, but evil people trying to destroy our country, we refuse to listen. When we refuse to listen, we cannot make progress. Then, when our politicians engage in conversation and compromise, we curse them for being “spineless” and for “giving in.”

So let’s stop lying to ourselves. The country isn’t divided because of our politicians, it’s because of us. It’s our social media rants and shares and comments that celebrate arrogant boastfulness and vilify reasonable debate. It’s our refusal to behave as rational adults and regression into tribal politics, because it’s convenient for us to remain ignorant.

As long as we continue to behave like we’re at war, we shouldn’t expect solutions to our problems.

If we’re going to make progress as a country, it starts with recognizing one simple truth: we aren’t enemies; we’re neighbors.