Politics have become too personal

Though we can sigh in relief now that the 2018 midterm election is over, we shouldn’t ignore the angry, violent divide that will remain in American politics. The rift between conservatives and liberals, once rooted in legitimate ideological differences, has become viciously personal, where your choice on the ballot box is seen as a sign of your worth as a person.

Just think about the daily news cycle that has persisted since the day Trump first squared off with Hillary Clinton in 2016. Trump says or does something controversial, Democrats condemn it and the media starts speculating about his personal motives – generally coming to the worst possible conclusion.

When Trump talks about border security, it’s attributed to xenophobia. When he warns about gangs, it’s probably racism. When he promotes lower taxes, it’s his own greed as a billionaire.  Most recently, when he bashed globalism and called himself a “nationalist,” it was literally labeled a nod to Adolf Hitler and white nationalism.

More unfortunate is the fact that Trump’s supposed moral failings have been applied to those who voted for him. On the campaign trail, Clinton said, “You could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables.” In the same speech, Clinton doubled down on her Trump shaming and claimed, “Friends don’t let friends vote for Trump.” Her implication was disturbing: Supporting the wrong candidate makes you less of a person.   

Clinton’s toxic approach to politics continues to define the political climate to this day. For example, Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters of California called for her supporters to voice their opposition to Trump’s immigration policy by harassing Republicans. Speaking about Trump’s cabinet members appearing in public places, she said, “You push back on them, and you tell them they’re not welcome anymore, anywhere.”

A quick Google search reveals the aggressive and violent nature of political protests that have thrived throughout Trump’s tenure. All the while, Clinton justifies the animosity: “You can’t be civil with a political party that wants to destroy what you stand for.”

For his part, Trump is now escalating his attacks on his opponents in the press. In recent tweets, he deemed them more sinister than just “fake news.” His new term is “the Enemy of the People.” During an October campaign rally, he even jokingly praised a congressman who pled guilty to body-slamming a journalist.   

The impact of all this over-the-top rhetoric has been as tragic as it was predictable; politically motivated violence is skyrocketing.

Last year, an anti-Trumper used a rifle to shoot congressional Republicans practicing softball, nearly killing the majority whip Steve Scalise. During the most recent campaign season, a Republican campaign office was shot up in Florida, two Republican lawmakers in Minnesota were assaulted, and dozens of pipe bombs were sent to prominent Democratic leaders across the country.

Lost in all this chaos is the opportunity for constructive dialogue and honest debate. When you assume the worst about someone’s motives – that they want to “destroy what you stand for” or are “the Enemy of the People” – you can’t have calm discussion, you can’t compromise, and, as we’re seeing, you can’t even peacefully coexist.

Regardless of who you voted for this November, you voted because you want what’s best for the country. The same is true for that liberal or conservative who disagrees with you on just about everything. It’s an obvious and basic truth, but it’s worth remembering these days.



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