In his 1796 Farewell Address, former President George Washington warned against the evils of political parties.
“It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection,” he wrote.
More than 200 years later, Washington’s words appear to be astoundingly prophetic.
The two-party American system is deeply and bitterly divided. Some might say that it’s more divided than ever, but political factions within the country have always been a source of brutal conflict — sometimes literally.
In 1856, Democratic Rep. Preston Brooks of South Carolina savagely beat Republican Sen. Charles Sumner of Massachusetts with a cane in the Senate chamber in retaliation of an anti-slavery speech Sumner had delivered several days earlier. Sumner was severely injured and rendered unable to serve in the Senate for three years.
While there have not been any recent canings on the Senate floor, political parties continue to pit one side against the other on a spectrum of issues: gun control, immigration and gay marriage, to name a few. In fact, it almost seems as though some Republicans and Democrats oppose each other on certain issues for the sake of opposing each other.
The scary thing is that many people buy into it.
They fall hook, line and sinker for the nasty half-truths many Republican and Democratic politicians spew at each other.
Don’t believe me? Just scroll down to the comments section in any online news article, and you’ll find a storm of cries that all Republicans are misogynistic, homophobic Nazis and that those stupid bleeding-heart “libtards” will bring this country to financial ruin with their pandering to lazy handout-seekers.
These are juvenile, uninformed generalizations, and it’s these kind of vehement spats that turn one person against another and keep Congress in political gridlock.
Even some of my State Press colleagues get caught up in the rhetoric of opposing political parties. Recently, a State Press columnist wrote a piece extoling the virtues of being a young Republican while erroneously implying that all young Democrats are money-leeching stoners who need to “grow up” and “face the facts.”
The polarizing political environment in which America stews is disenchanting. That’s why I registered as an Independent when I became eligible to vote. I don’t want to associate with the toxicity of modern American political parties.
Many other Americans have become disenfranchised from party politics as well. According to a Gallup poll released in early 2012, a record high of 40 percent of Americans identified as Independents in 2011.
I’m not advocating that all voters should cut their ties with their choice political parties and choose to register Independent. Political parties have their advantages, too. They can help simplify the political process by providing voters a brand with which to associate. Furthermore, there are points to be made for people who are standing on a set of principles and would therefore naturally view the other side of the political spectrum as wrong-headed.
I am advocating for civility.
It’s acceptable to disagree with a differing viewpoint and perhaps admirable to passionately defend a set of beliefs, but nothing of value is achieved when the political discourse devolves into nothing more than taking shots at the other side and squealing with piggish delight at perceived victories.
Moreover, I’m pleading for party voters to take a step back and re-evaluate their typifications of the opposing political party. Not all Republicans are heartless. Not all Democrats are “asses.”
Progress can be achieved without a cane.
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