Summer is officially here, as if you needed a reminder. As of last Thursday, the days will only get shorter and shorter as we begin our next downhill dip towards colder weather. Now is the time to enjoy the sun while it lasts – and as all New Englanders know, that is a preciously short window of time.
Summer is also the beginning of the political season, which kicks into high gear with advertisements and campaign stops in advance of an autumnal season that, this year, will host primary and general elections at the local and state level from school committees to the governor’s office and everything in between.
It is no secret or controversial to say that politics has become more contentious in recent years. The very candidacy of Donald Trump began as a novelty before it became a rallying cry for those who felt underrepresented and undervalued in a society in which they felt voiceless. Now that Trump sits in the White House, it is apparent that such voices are now unwilling to relent in fear of being silenced once more.
Political discourse among the populace is a great and necessary thing for any healthy democracy – however there are healthy and unhealthy ways in which this can be done. The key to engaging in constructive communication is that it must involve two or more people who share ideas and, ideally, come to some sort of understanding about the other’s point of view regardless of whether or not they end up agreeing.
Nowadays people take to Facebook pages and online comment sections to share their views on any topic of the day. Very rarely do such comments contain the nuance of trying to see things from multiple perspectives, nor do they seem to weigh opposing points of view. A majority of the time, political discourse in the modern day is telling somebody – usually in a less-than-friendly way – just exactly how gullible, uninformed and incorrect they are for thinking a certain way, usually sprinkled with a personal insult for good measure.
This happens regardless of what side of the political spectrum you find yourself, and it is not healthy communication, nor does it really accomplish anything besides reinforcing both sides’ points of view even more. Studies have shown that people would rather hold onto an opinion that has no basis in fact rather than admit they could be incorrect in their beliefs, as the latter scenario causes more stress to the mind and body than simply ignoring the evidence to the contrary and going about your business.
Unfortunately, this is a dangerous sociological trend for which there is no obvious solution. People must be willing to submit their opinions and beliefs to scrutiny and adapt these views in the face of changing evidence. However, the presence of online media allows people to form comfortable echo chambers where they don’t face opposing points of view, are emboldened by their likeminded peers and, especially now, get whipped up into a frenzy about the “other side” that doesn’t agree with them.
It has gotten to a point where a group of people can read the same exact news story, yet half of them believe it means one thing, another quarter believes it implies something else and the other quarter believe it’s a completely engineered bogus story.
Digital media, especially 24-hour cable news, shares a portion of the blame, but news consumers share blame as well. If you are trying to be an informed citizen, but only watch MSNBC or Fox News or browse a handful of likeminded online sources, you are not getting a complete picture, and it is irresponsible to believe that you are. It is extremely irresponsible to brand all news you don’t agree with as fake, without any proof to back up such a harmful claim.
As we head in a new campaign season and the already ignited fires of partisanship are stoked with the volatile fuel of fallacious arguments such as “us versus them,” slippery slopes and ad hominin political attack ads, we run the risk of becoming even more divided and less knowledgeable as a state and a nation than ever before.
It is the responsibility of every voting member of society to be informed prior to casting a vote. This does not mean that you have to abandon your belief system or subscribe to any particular brand of politics, it simply means to not allow yourself to be misinformed by harmful political tactics that seek to make you angry and demonize the “other side.”
There is only one side – and all of comprise it as a nation. We can only improve things by being willing to listen to the opinions of everybody and move forward based on facts, not feelings.