Political Independence is a State of Mind
Citizens need to find smarter ways to overcome America’s interminable political divides.
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It’s not hard to see why our country is mired in political divisions.
America is stuck with the two-party system for the foreseeable future. Neither party has effectively adjusted its positions and posture to build sustained majoritarian electoral power. Billions of dollars were spent in the 2022 elections to grind out tiny legislative majorities in Congress while many one-party states grew even more lopsided. America’s political leaders show little interest in doing something different to appeal to more people outside of their respective party bases. Since it costs a fortune for any normal person to run for office, the government is stocked with lots of dunderheaded rich people who are perfectly happy to foment culture wars as long as nothing affects their material interests. And America’s media companies and technology platforms are predicated on stoking these divisions for profit.
There’s not much normal Americans can do about these dynamics. Political parties, leaders, and media outfits are free to do whatever they want to hawk their views and force their cultural battles without interference from the government. Although members of both parties are trying their hardest to shut down vibrant discussions and disagreements in American life, the U.S. Constitution still protects freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of assembly. If this constitutional and capitalist system produces the divisions that ail our politics today, that’s the American way.
American politics would certainly benefit from structural changes to the electoral system designed to encourage more parties and greater representation of divergent viewpoints—requiring regular coalition building as a matter of course—but these proposals face nearly insurmountable legal barriers from the incumbent parties. The powerful rarely concede power willingly.
Americans therefore need to find smarter ways to overcome their divisions within the existing system and help the country come together to take on its biggest economic, social, and security challenges.
Americans need to cultivate a politically independent state of mind.
How do we encourage a more independent state of mind to take hold?
First, patriotic Americans should reject the terms of the debate as defined by a flawed political structure. There’s no law that requires everyone to align themselves with one particular party or one ideological way of thinking. There’s no historical determinism that says if you don’t vote for one party over the other the country will fall into either fascist-racist authoritarianism or woke-socialist tyranny. Although the legal options for voting for third parties are currently limited, Americans are perfectly free to cultivate a truly independent state of mind by turning away from these partisan binaries.
Come election time, independent citizens will still need to make strategic decisions about which party to support to better advance America’s interests. And political participation by independent citizens remains vital so their voices are heard as much as the loudmouths on the extremes. Over the long-term, however, independent Americans should resist the partisan forces pitting people against one another over mostly inconsequential cultural differences.
Just say: “I’m done with this nonsense. I will not participate in narrow partisan debates and sideshows. I will only support politicians and parties that genuinely care about improving life for all Americans. I will respect all people as free and equal citizens and try my best to find common ground with others.”
Second, patriotic Americans should embrace changes to their daily media consumption and political habits. Political divisions in one form or another have been around since the founding days of the country. So have highly opinionated and partisan media outlets. It’s normal for people to organize themselves into like-minded groups or parties to advance shared values, interests, or policy goals. It’s also normal for supportive media and press operations to grow around these pluralistic divisions.
What’s abnormal about contemporary politics is turning these divisions into a quasi-religious way of life. It’s abnormal to spend every waking moment monitoring social media and other traditional outlets for signs of partisan apostasy and heresy from enemies. It’s abnormal to endlessly parse or get worked up about statements from grandstanding politicians. Politics offers no moral guidance on how to live in a decent and upright manner, so look elsewhere for principles for effective living.
Always keep in mind that politics is big business and citizens are the marks. Politics is full of vain and venal people performing self-interested acts, usually on behalf of someone else with equally self-interested motives. The business model of contemporary politics is nonstop coverage and discussion of the biggest idiots in the country promoting partisan controversies designed to make people angry and fearful of others.
“Fear is the path to the dark side,” as a wise Jedi once said.
The solution to overcoming mindless divides lies in turning away from the politics of fear as practiced by contemporary partisan and media actors and replacing it with a healthier diet of information and political engagement. Independent citizens can stay informed and connected to political life by absorbing more news sources that cover current affairs and world developments in a fact-based, descriptive, and analytical manner. (The Economist is an excellent place to start for national and world affairs along with great local coverage from newer non-profit sources like The Baltimore Banner.) Likewise, try to find a few trusted voices and interesting experts to follow on social media who cover important topics in an informative and level-headed manner. Avoid the partisan showboats and ideological screamers.
Third, patriotic Americans should support independent-minded causes and political factions within the two parties. Since the two-party system is baked into American democracy for the time being, independent citizens will need to concentrate their efforts on backing existing and new forms of independent politics within the two parties themselves. This could entail supporting more pragmatic groups like the New Democrat Coalition, the Republican Main Street Partnership, or the Problem Solvers Caucus. It could also involve supporting more outwardly progressive or conservative leaders who take independent stands against the party line on important economic, social, and national security issues.
It may also require support for new factions at the state and national levels focused on common-sense positions that are culturally moderate and economically nationalist.
As Americans prepare for another era of divided government in Washington, and increasing partisan polarization within and across the states, independent-minded Americans can help steer the country in a different direction by creating and supporting a better model of politics and citizenship for everyone.
Stop rewarding the loudest and most divisive figures in politics and start backing more sensible and honest leaders genuinely committed to finding ways through America’s intractable political divisions.
A New Year’s resolution worth keeping.