There was a time when I was passionate about politics. I lived it, I breathed it. I drank deep from the cup of partisanship. The world, in my mind, was divvied up into two factions: Us and Them.
Anything said by “my” side had to be the unvarnished truth. Conversely, every word rendered by the “other” side was assumed to be skewed and distorted, if not an outright lie.
It was about this time that I attended a course entitled “Critical Thinking.” Critical thinking is actually a process; a learned and practiced skill. And a vital element of any deliberative research endeavor.
Critical thinkers probe patiently and deeply for the truth, challenging equally the “facts” of both sides. The real revelation comes when those methods are applied to the wares of the political marketplace. What shocked me was the sheer amount of deliberate deception. Leaders venerated as honest were in truth world-class manipulators.
It’s easy to be critical of those with whom we disagree. It’s hard, however, to demand of someone we do agree with, and even respect and admire, “cite your evidence,” and then to follow up with research. Most people are reluctant to do that because it risks popping that delusional bubble that surrounds our comfort zone. For still others, seeking the truth is simply too much work.
Thanks to the plethora of so-called news outlets proliferating across the Internet and cable TV the political season has become perpetual. We are bombarded constantly with news, opinion, and analyses, which is too often thinly-veiled propaganda. We are lazy consumers, and as Star Wars’ Governor Tarkin would say, “Far too trusting” of leaders who seem to share our outlooks. Pundits and pols alike know that few of us ever fact-check anything. So for them, it is open season to fling lies into the ether with wild abandon, comfortably assured that they’ll never be called on it.
They lie to us because we allow them to lie to us. They make millions at the profession of sowing division and hate because Americans, both left and right, are so eager to drink from the poisoned waters of partisanship.
And that willingness will be our eventual undoing.
It’s time to stand up, brace ourselves against the partisan current and demand the accountability of truth from those on “our” side. If we are unwilling to muster up that courage, then we deserve the same fate as the Germans who flocked to Hitler, and the Russians who venerated Lenin, following both tyrants down a path that led to the deaths of some 50 million human beings.
The United States of America is a representative republic founded upon broadly democratic principles. The Constitution bequeaths limited power to the three branches of government. But the ultimate authority was given to those identified by the first three words of that priceless and venerated document. “We the People.”
That’s us. You and me. Yes, we have rights; but we also have clear responsibilities. We can no longer selfishly exercise the former while ignoring the latter.
For the first time in history, America faces a future darkened by the shroud of uncertainty. We have lost faith in the institutions of government. Our political system has become a swamp of corruption that poisons even the most pure and idealistic. Statesmanship has been subverted by political expediency. Looking ahead, there is no optimism. Hope itself is fading.
For America, the clock of history is ticking. The “United” part of the United States is inexorably collapsing under the weight of blind allegiance to rapidly diverging ideologies.
We could fix this. But we won’t, because we don’t want to.
We’re too happy being angry with each other. We’re too comfortable spreading unchallenged lies. We’re too far down the road of letting others make decisions for us and dictate our opinions. We’ve forgotten how to think for ourselves.
Throughout history, empires and nations have waxed powerful and then faded into history. I’d like to think America was meant to be something different; something better. But like the ancient Romans and Egyptians, the day is coming when the sun will set for us as well.
And in the cold light of the morning after, facing the charred and smoking rubble of what was once a soaring, shining dream of liberty, “We the People” will be forced to admit a bitter and painful truth.
It was all our fault.