My home state of Georgia is NOT a blue state; it’s not even a purple state. It’s more a neopalitan blend of red rural communities, blue urban centers, Black Democratic strongholds, and suburbs that look more purple as their demographics become more multiethnic.
The United States itself may not be all that united. Biden received more votes than any person in the history of U.S. elections. However, Trump also received record-breaking votes; the most of any Republican in U.S. history. Many in the country are jubilant, some are anxious of a coup attempt, others are angry and suspicious of political malfeasance.
We live in a time when our political ideology trumps (yes, trumps) our other identities, be they racial, ethnic, gender or even religious. Below are some reasons this is likely true:
1) Political identity is a voluntary affiliation. Sociologists know that when we voluntarily join a group, we give that group power to shape our worldview, values, and behaviors (i.e., fraternities). Political scientist Shanto Iyengar contends, “because partisan affiliation is voluntary, it is a much more informative measure of attitudes and belief structures than, for example, knowing what skin color someone has.”
2) Dehumanization is more acceptable across partisan lines than even across race, religion, or gender lines. If “Candidate A” calls the opposing candidate evil, socialist, fascist, corrupt, a liar, etc. that gives the rank-and-file members permission to do so without any social repercussions. The danger of this is that dehumanization is always a precursor to violence.
3) According to Iyengar, Americans distrust political opponents more than they trust allies. Trust is a primary human need. When we have a two-party system and then mistrust the other party more than we trust our own political tribe, how do we proceed? Can you have civility, unity, or progress without trust? How does one objectively critique a system when you’re entrenched in blind tribalism?
4) Dehumanization and distrust fuel scapegoating. The problems in society are “their” fault. China. The poor. Republicans. Trump. Pelosi. Muslims. Jews. Christians. There is a lack of personal and social responsibility in this polarized political climate. No introspection, no humility, and even less bipartisanship for the sake of the common good. Scapegoating is a powerful weapon of mass distraction, that keeps us self-centered, gluttonous, and feeling superior to the so-called other.
How then do we move forward and become a more perfect union? Can Georgia truly be a purple state of wisdom, justice, and moderation? Can the U.S. be a united nation with liberty and justice for all? In our time, can democracy and diversity co-exist with passionate ideals and political difference? I think it can. I know it can.
Below are some ways to rise above a culture of fear and politics of division without compromising fundamental values of human rights.
To be a global citizen is to live aware of your place in this interconnected web of life.
1) Place your global citizenship above your partisan affiliation. If your political views are exclusionary, your politics are too myopic for a shrinking planet. Ideas travel the world faster than a speeding bullet, but bullets and bombs still do ungodly things in the name of sectarianism. To be a global citizen is to live aware of your place in this interconnected web of life. A global citizen takes responsibility to unapologetically make this world a more peaceful, just, and sustainable place for all.
Practice the dying art of empathy.
2) Humanize everyone, especially those already subjected to unjust and oppressive systems. Reject labels. Describe behaviors. Practice the dying art of empathy, what Brené Brown describes as “communicating that incredibly healing message that, you’re not alone.” Humanization is actually the low bar – Jesus calls us to see that of God in everyone, especially those damned by injustice.
When I fully live even my most radical convictions, I find loved ones may not agree but my integrity earns their trust.
3) Trust and cultivate friendships of different political stripes. I have close friends and family who vote and believe very differently than I do. Sometimes we can discuss politics, sometimes we can’t. When I fully live even my most radical convictions, I find loved ones may not agree but my integrity earns their trust. But just as I depend on likeminded friends, I need people close to me of differing viewpoints to keep me humble, empathic, and committed to my highest ideals.
Love is the source of our security, there is no substitute.
4) Finally, pivot from fear to love. Richard Nixon astutely noted, “People react to fear, not love. They don’t teach that in Sunday school, but it’s true.” Our is a culture of relentless, manipulated fear. And why? Author Barry Glassner says it’s because “immense power and money await those who tap into our moral insecurities and supply us with symbolic substitutes.” Fear is a moral insecurity, and love is the solution. Jesus is quoted as saying that love casts out fear. Love is the source of our security, there is no substitute. When politics, position, power, or possessions make you want to erect a wall of fear, pause, and make a conscious choice to pivot towards love.
Our body’s veins appear blue to the eye. That’s because when light penetrates the skin, the light’s blue wavelength is reflected back, while the other spectrums of light are absorbed by our skin. It’s all about light. Our blood is red; our veins blue. Together, red blood and blue veins work to keep us alive.
When our fears are penetrated by the light of love, we can find a way to live together. Even with our passionate disagreements, we can live together when we love fearlessly.