If you spend any part of your day online, it’s pretty difficult to avoid America’s far-reaching outrage machine. Each day, some new controversy promises to further the divide Americans socially, politically, culturally, or racially. Each day, another prominent person is accused of saying or thinking something large swaths of the American people find repugnant. Each day, we draw new battle lines.
We dress our skirmishes up in the trappings of actually important topics like race equality, national security, or economics, but our actions don’t mirror our noble ideologies. Democrats call Republicans the party of prejudice, despite defending the racially-insensitive actions of men like Virginia Governor Ralph Northam. Republicans call Democrats the party of financial irresponsibility, despite the national debt exceeding $22 trillion (the highest in history) two years into what was supposed to be a fiscally-conservative administration.
If it’s been a while since you’ve been in a locker room, you may not recall what it means to go “nose deaf” to your own stink. Put simply, going “nose deaf” is what happens when you spend so much time surrounded by a stink that your brain starts skipping past it to help ensure you can identify other, different odors. Your buddy with the stinky room in the dorms or barracks didn’t know his room stank. To him, there was no bad odor at all. He’d simply gotten used to it.
In today’s politics, we’ve become nose deaf to the stink emanating from our own political parties. That doesn’t mean you have to do away with them, but just like the guy with the stinky barracks room, it does mean it’s about time for housekeeping. In his case, it might mean throwing out the pile of trash that’s been sitting in the corner of his room. In our case, it means something similar.
When someone in our political party finds themselves wrapped up in whatever trending outrage the nation has grown enamored with this week, many of us tend to circle the wagons. It’s a perfectly natural response to a threat within what we perceive to be our social group. Back in my rugby days, when I saw a big lug from the other team take a swing at one of our ball carriers, you’d better believe I was the first one to sacrifice myself on the altar of the penalty box to give that big guy something to think about when he got home that night (usually in the form of black eye or broken nose). We take care of our own, and we ought to take pride in that.
But (and there’s a big but coming), when do we take a step back and decide that maybe some of the guys on our team deserve to take a few lumps? When do we acknowledge that sometimes it’s more important to be right than it is to be unified in defense of our own?
Allow me to (seemingly) be the first person to make this controversial statement in a piece being run by a news outlet: there are legitimately bad people in both political parties. The flip side of that, of course, is that there are also a whole lot of legitimately good ones.
I’m a big gun guy. I love my guns and I own more of them than many Democrats think anyone ought to. My passion for firearms and for the Second Amendment is not so fragile that it can’t sustain debate. When I find myself sitting across from someone with a zeal for new gun control legislation, I try my best not to attack, but rather to engage. Often, you’ll find gun control folks don’t realize that the functionality of an AR-15 closely resembles that of any semi-automatic hunting rifle, or that it’s simply one platform in a large sea of products that do the same job.
I can honestly say I’ve never met a gun-hater with a strong enough argument to convince me to turn in my firearms to the local Antifa headquarters, but I will happily point out that I’ve found a lot of practical common ground with gun haters. We both want safer schools. We both think background checks are appropriate and that our system isn’t working properly. And we both think mental health issues are a matter of of concern for our country. More often than not, Democrats and Republicans seek similar ends and our political squabbles tend to center around the means we use to get there. That is the very basis of our political system and it’s where a great deal of our strength as a nation is derived: our disparate approaches to the same problems.
That strength is compromised, however, when we learn to prize the fight over the outcome. Nobody’s talking about trophy hunting this week even though the whole country had an opinion about Cecil the Lion not too long ago. Confederate statues are once again sitting quietly on their pedestals in empty parks without protesters tearing them down, despite the controversy surrounding them bringing Americans to violence in months past. Is it because we solved the problems these hashtag-outrages represented? Or were many Americans simply more interested in the fervor surrounding them than they were in the actual issues?
If you can feel your blood boiling as you read this and you see me as some sort of traitor to your ideology, you’re exactly the guy or gal I’m hoping to reach. The idea that people shouldn’t say things that you don’t like hurts us all. If you’re calling every liberal on social media a snowflake each time they take offense to something Donald Trump says, but you lost your God-loving mind when Hillary Clinton put you in a basket of deplorables, you may have gone nose deaf to your own political stink.
If you think Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is justified in misrepresenting facts to help bolster support for what she contends is being “morally right,” but you can’t believe your ears when you hear Donald Trump do the same thing, you may have gone nose deaf, too.
How do we combat our natural instinct to defend our own and attack the other side when the issue at hand has no need to be about partisan politics? It’s simple. Ask yourself if you’d be as angry if the tables were turned. Before you decide to jump back into the trenches on social media, take a step back and ask yourself: would my outrage persist if the parties in this situation were reversed?
If it would, then you’re right to call a spade a spade. But if it wouldn’t, then you’re more worried about your party than you are about your country. And in my opinion, that’s never the right side of history to be on.