By William Tanoos
Special to the Tribune-Star
There’s been a lot of talk lately regarding the threats and possibilities of another civil war. I would suggest that on the surface we are already there. Not with battlefields or brigades in the traditional sense, but rather a high-tech civil war that could prove every bit as corrosive to our country if we don’t quickly resolve the problems causing our internal strife.
As the saying goes, “politics ain’t beanbag.” It is and always has been a tough business. But, where the fighting has mostly been restricted to those directly involved, toxic political discourse is now permeating our culture writ large, polarizing things once untainted by politics, turning everything into a daily battle fought within the context of a larger cultural war. Admired entertainers, respected public figures, revered national sports teams – historically unifying forces – now seem to fall on one side or the other of any given issue-turned-controversy, drawing ire from those who disagree with them. Far more concerning has been the politicization and subsequent distrust of foundational institutions that have served as bedrocks of our democratic society. Everything appears to be fair game in a politicized war designed to pit us against each other, a war in which we can only collectively lose.
That’s not to say we haven’t lived through more perilous times, or haven’t had to overcome even greater existential obstacles. And, that’s not to say policy and politics still don’t matter. It’s important to have a set of beliefs and defend them. I recently ran for office for that very reason; if the arc of our country’s history has shown us anything, it’s that struggle and sacrifice are necessary for progress, including the inherent conflict that politics create. But, if a foreigner visited this country for the first time today — or even worse, observed it through the lens of social media — he or she would get the impression that our customs demand we only associate with politically like-minded people.
We know that’s just not true. Everyday we interact with people from all walks of life — many of which, whether we know it or not, are on differing sides of the political aisle. It’s not always sunny. We still fight, we still argue, and many times over things not even remotely related to politics. But, more often than not — even if only superficially — we get along, because at the end of the day, we cohabitate in relatively harmonious communities, bonding through our shared experiences, our history, our friends, our families, our struggles, and our goals.
So, perhaps we would all be better served by simply focusing on those around us instead of the anger — real or imagined — we perceive (or are told to perceive) is the norm. If you talk to someone, not at them, and about the common every day things that tie us together, we will begin to repair the damage that our politics have caused. If there is a lasting legacy from my campaign experience, it’s that the goodness of the people I met every day solidified my belief that it is the people who are our greatest hope.
I understand that combativeness and hyper-partisanship are in fashion right now. This is in no way a comment on policy, nor a critique of progressivism, centrism, or conservatism. Infighting with uncompromising positions over where we should fall within the political spectrum is largely the reason for our gridlock, forgetting that throughout our history we have achieved some of our greatest strives as a country with a coalition of widely differing political viewpoints. Rather, this is a comment on the fundamentals of our society, on how we interact as people. The current system of politics-as-usual simply isn’t working, and the tired approaches of the past will only result in continued and worsening polarization.
Ellen DeGeneres recently made headlines for her positive comments regarding her friendship with George W. Bush, wonderfully articulating that we should all be kind to each other, even if we share differing beliefs. I couldn’t agree more. But, I would take it even a step further. I would argue that we are actually more alike than different, and actively pursuing that idea will be the fruitful seed that helps forge our successful journey forward. It will be the true and lasting reconstruction for our internally embattled country. It will be the best of our American ideals. In times like these when we seemed to have lost our way, just remember what our founders spelled out for us at the very beginning of the Constitution: We the People.
William Tanoos is a Terre Haute attorney and was the Democratic nominee for 8th District congressional seat in the 2018 general election.