There’s a reason it seems nearly impossible these days that our country could deal decisively with a genuinely dangerous or unfit leader. It has to do with the way you and I speak every day.
Our problem, if we can stand a little self-reflection, is that you and I habitually label as “dangerous” or “unfit” EVERY SINGLE PERSON with a perspective significantly different from our own. We exaggerate their faults and exaggerate the threats they pose.
We use words like “absolutely insane” or “downright evil” or “totally incompetent” or “worst ever” or “pathetic” or “ignorant” or “sick” or “disgusting.” We throw these labels around pretty easily, using their intensity as our argument.
(I do this, too.)
That lawmaker is “an imbecile.” That judge is “entirely unfit.” This governor is “mentally unstable.” This crisis is “unprecedented.”
No. No, probably not. Usually, that person is actually just . . . different from us. Pretty significantly different. And maybe we have valid concerns around the impacts of their ideas. And maybe we’re right that “they’re wrong.” . . . And sometimes, sometimes, yes, they’re pretty yucky people.
But when we use superlatives–“worst,” “craziest,” “weakest,” “most radical,” “most dangerous,” “most disgusting”–to describe every single person with whom we disagree . . . then we have no effective language left for when there is a truly “worst”-case-scenario.
Psychologists and psychiatrists warned years ago of the genuine dangers of having a narcissist in the White House, but that label carries little alarm when you and I have already been calling every political leader of the opposite party a “narcissist,” a “bully,” “corrupt,” “ignorant,” “mentally unstable” . . .
If we claim at every single election that the opponent is “the most dangerous candidate we’ve ever seen” or “the most incompetent” or “a complete joke”–then what language is left to sound the alarm when it’s actually true?
If every single election season I hear my group’s favorite called “an asshole,” “hopeless,” “an absolute idiot,” “wrong in the head,” or “unstable”–why would I take it seriously when it’s finally true?
It’s like the boy who cried wolf, only it’s us and our sort of lazy habit of calling everything and everyone we don’t like “the worst.”
In reality, very few of us are “the worst.” You and I and everybody exist on a scale. A bunch of little scales, actually. I have some neuroticism, some selfishness, some ignorance, some weakness. And I have some strength, some compassion, some clarity, some courage. And so does that lawmaker you despise. And all “those liberals” or “those conservatives.”
So when four years later a President with an apparent case of Narcissistic Personality Disorder whips up his followers into a frenzy–it’s . . . sort of . . . on all of us. Somehow, we got here together.
We got here together by (among other things) having little tolerance or respect for people who disagree. By automatically labeling “different” as “dangerous.” By demonizing everyone who isn’t like us.
When we live and breathe a constant stream of superlatives, it’s sort of on all of us when “the most dangerous President in history” doesn’t really alarm half of us anymore.
This isn’t to shift the blame away from anybody who deserves a big, big share of it.
It’s a call for you and me to be a part of making this better starting now.
This nauseatingly polarized country is made up of a bunch of you’s and me’s. It IS our problem. We DID get ourselves here. WE make up “the people.”
It’s not all your fault or all my fault, but I think we have more power to change our country’s trajectory than we realize. We can each start by acknowledging that “those people” may be well-meaning, competent people, living somewhere on all those scales. And that we actually CAN live with them and keep working toward good side by side–even when we see good differently (and even when maybe we’re right).
On the other hand, if we keep demonizing all who disagree with us: We lose all credibility; and we wear out the alarm we may actually need on occasion.
Republicans don’t want all the poor people to starve and democrats don’t want to steal all your money or kill all your babies.
And if we take the easy way out by accusing each other of these worst-case caricatures, then when a truly dangerous character shows up, a bunch of people won’t notice.
“I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.” – Donald Trump at a January 2016 campaign rally
If we want the circus to stop, we need to change the way we talk to and about each other. Every. Single. Day.
“They” are NOT all hopelessly evil.
For the most part, they’re . . . people.
Like you and me.
Less labeling. More conversation.