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The Political is Not Personal
Americans need to keep politics separate from ordinary life.
When water seeps into the foundation of a house, it quickly threatens the entire structure. First come the cracks, then the mold, and eventually, if left unaddressed, the floors tilt and the whole house ends up crooked and unsafe.
Politics is like water seeping into the foundation of American society.
It starts off with a little dampness in the corner when your workplace requires you to sit through a two-hour lecture about inclusion that doesn’t include actual respect for people’s different views. Then you notice cracks in the walls after dinner with friends who won’t shut up about the latest MAGA treachery or Biden perfidy. The doors won’t close properly after a family gathering descends into shouting matches about Twitter, free speech, and creeping fascism and/or woke mobs. The stench of mold grows after basic interactions—in stores, church groups, team sports, school meetings, or neighborhood gatherings—grow ugly with people yelling at one another about their political views and party choices in the upcoming election. Finally, at the end of the day, you turn on your favorite show to relax only to get bludgeoned by another hackneyed monologue about the proper way to think and live according to Blue State or Red State cultural norms.
The seepage of politics into all aspects of life is relentless, and it is making Americans tense and angry.
If people aren’t losing their marbles about politics in public or online, they are opting to check out altogether from the idiocy and meanness of contemporary political discourse. Choosing to be alone rather than wage culture wars is a perfectly rational response to these developments. But American society overall would greatly benefit from a collective commitment to keeping politics separate from daily life—in personal and family relationships, schools, workplaces, and other public settings.
How might we do this?
First, and most important, Americans should resist the commercial forces shoving politics in their faces every day. It’s no accident that politics is seeping into every nook and cranny of life when huge media and tech companies make billions of dollars every year drawing people’s attention to the latest political outrage or lie and then directing them to vent their anger against others not aligned with their views. Entire corporate, educational, and non-profit bureaucracies now exist to force political fights between co-workers, fellow students and parents, or ostensible partners in efforts to carry out important social missions or charitable activities. Political campaigns inundate people with partisan hyperbole and demands for cash to send more emails and air negative ads.
Don’t take the bait from these powerful forces of political division. Ignore the groupthink and cultural politics of corporate bureaucracy. Reduce the number of hours spent online and delete social media apps. Turn off cable news and talk radio. Read things that will make you smarter not madder and listen more to people in different lines of work who are apolitical and just trying to make the country better.
Second, Americans should develop stronger interpersonal relationships free from destructive political discussions. “No religion or politics” at the dinner table remains a darn good rule for less stressful and more enjoyable living. For those who remain interested in politics, explicitly remove the partisan context of most political discussions upfront, and instead work to keep discussions civil and focused on larger social trends in ways that transcend partisan or ideological binaries.
Third, Americans should try to learn more from other people and offer constructive observations in response rather than lectures. Democracies require engaged citizens to function well. Sometimes passions run high on critical public issues. But, in general, the methods of politics do not provide solid guidance for ordinary life. As people remove the most destructive elements of politics from daily life, they can add more productive components based on listening more, learning from other people’s concerns, and offering alternative ideas or other personal insights in respectful and helpful ways. More protein and vegetables, less salt and sugar.
Commit to not badgering others about their beliefs or fuming in private about those with different opinions. Listen more to alternative viewpoints and when speaking up, try to do so in a principled and rational manner that raises issues the government and other citizens may be missing or not hearing.
It's hard to keep water out of a house. It's even harder to keep politics out of personal relationships.
But if we collectively purge the worst aspects of politics from daily life—and try to implement some measure of interpersonal diplomacy and better listening at the individual level—we can build a better democracy for America, and hopefully enjoy our interactions with others a bit more.