We, as Americans, cherish the freedom and right to disagree—which we do, often deeply about important issues that need resolution. But polarization undermines that freedom by tightening prejudices rather than opening thought, thus diminishing the chances for finding resolutions and moving forward. So while polarization may feel like a righteous champion of freedom and right, it is in fact just the opposite—a stick jammed in the spokes of the democratic discourse of freedom. Here are some of the common ways it does it:
- SEDUCES with loaded, heated language and childish name-calling that appeals more to emotion that reason.
- BLINKERS by using cherry-picked facts, and ignoring or mocking opposing arguments and evidence rather than actually addressing them.
- TRIVIALIZES by focusing on “straw-man” issues whose value in re-enforcing biases is clearly greater than their substance.
- BULLIES by making you feel like a dupe or a traitor if you even listen to the other side.
- FLATTERS with language and a tone that makes you feel like an insider, who, of course, agrees with them because you “get it” … just like they do.
- FRIGHTENS by portraying the other side as not just wrong, but a dangerous, evil enemy, replete with wicked hidden agendas.
- “CLANS,” that is, plays the “us vs. them” identity politics game of associating the other view with groups or people (implicitly) “inferior” to “us.”
- “TRIBES” by using the knowing winks and nods of sarcasm, coded language, words in quotes (suggesting they’re misleading) and innuendo which you, as a member of the tribe, of course, will understand without explanation or justification.
This week… is the week before Christmas. And it is the week that Darkest Hour, the movie about Winston Churchill, rolls out across the country. They (Christmas and Churchill) embody two spirits: forgiveness and fight. Politics these days is heavily tilted toward fight as the clips below amply demonstrate. But why? Our hearts soar when Winnie intones “we will fight them in streets.” But he was rallying the nation against an enemy that was evil itself. Today, our “leaders”—in the press, Congress and White House—blithely use over-the-top fighting rhetoric to try and ignite that kind of Churchillian fire. But is that really appropriate and responsible? Are the Democrats/Republicans really that kind of enemy? Some may feel so. But is that because of the true wickedness of the opposition…or more because of the seductive power of the polarizers’ enflammatory propaganda? As much as I love and admire him, I think we need a little less Churchill, and a little more Christmas. Because, although we have serious differences, we are not at war with each other. Yet.
This is also the week of the famous Christmas Truce of WWI, where French, German and British soldiers laid down their arms and emerged from their trenches to exchange season’s greetings and talk. In honor of that shining “common-ground” moment, I will be leaving the trench to take next week off.
When reading these examples, check the above list and ask yourself: regardless of whether you agree or disagree, is this really advancing an intelligent resolution through the persuasive, rational arguments of advocacy…or simply fueling the fire of conflict through the divisive, emotional manipulations of polarization?
Here are some of the week’s most polarizing articles, from the left and right: