I was crushed when Hillary Clinton lost the election. But, after talking to a former high level Republican official, I now think some good might come from the election of Donald Trump. If either of those statements made you cringe, that, in my opinion, is the biggest issue of all. Generalization is the death knell of civil discourse. This election, and so many other policy debates, have become all – or – nothing flame throwing matches. We are smarter than that.
Many people have a mix of friends with different backgrounds and different political views. Understanding and empathy grow with each person you know. Though I’m a lifelong democrat, some democrats deride me because I support business and the skilled trades. I’m a big fan of jobs - the kind that come from laying down roads and putting up steel. The kind that involves trucks moving cargo, services being provided, and goods being produced. Yet democrats are said to be anti-business. Vocal democrats deride “big business” and scream that business owners are “crooks.” So is it true that democrats are anti-business? That generalization is wrong.
I have many republican friends in town that really wish their party would get out of the business of women’s reproductive rights. Yet their party puts their elected officials “in” that business, and some of Donald Trump’s comments about punishing women who had an abortion made his view pretty clear. Are republicans bad for women? That generalization is wrong.
Some environmentalists’ stated goals are to stall new projects, be it an office park or a utility corridor, to make it so expensive that it becomes financially unfeasible. We see huge protests as evidence of what environmentalists believe. Yet other groups, such as the Nature Conservancy, work hard to continue allowing the human use for places to continue, be it grazing, or fishing, or mining, while working on long term plans for the people of an area. Is it true that environmentalists don’t care about people’s livelihoods or the economy? That generalization is wrong.
The worst generalization is that politicians are crooks and liars. You may be smirking, but I bet you know at least one elected official for which you’d make an exception. For every one that is plastered all over the news for doing some hideous thing, there is another lying in bed at night fretting about how to do the right thing, even if they suffer the consequences. Generalizing about the best system on earth – representative government – is wrong and harmful for progress.
Yes, there are bad actors. Yes stupid things happen. Yes there are plenty of decisions and positions that a whole bunch of us won’t like at all. Rather than cursing it all, blaming everyone else, and resorting to the ease of generalizing about what it the right way and what is the wrong way, how about we step it up, constructively, to make lasting change?
Staking our future on elections that happen every four years is folly. It’s a complex system, which Governor Brown once said “isn’t as bad as you think, but is more complex than you know.” And there are plenty of downright false information sources to confuse us even if we did try to study. Then there’s the problem of generalizing that one party or the other will do “the right thing.” Perhaps “our party” will do more things we like but we all have the same goals in mind. Strong economy, healthy community, happy families. There are many paths to get there.
What’s “your issue?” Maybe it’s healthcare costs, climate change, or jobs. Move beyond generalizations to learn, in depth, the issues, the solutions and the concerns of proponents and opponents alike. Nothing is “good” or “bad.” No answer is right or wrong. Policy is not binary. We can’t wait until “our people” are in office. We would all be more impactful by talking to each other respectfully and continuously. Every single positive change we have had, from scientific advancements to equality to educational systems to transportation networks has happened because people pressed forward. Folks worked past oppositions, modified approaches, and compromised. Lasting change isn’t because of who we elect (though it can certainly be two steps forward and three steps back) but rather as we change as a people. By becoming informed on the issues we care about, and aligning with like-minded people, we have more of an impact than just rolling the dice on November 8th.
Originally published in The Signal Newspaper in November 2016.