The Bipartisan Hyperbole Problem
In his inauguration speech, President Trump wanted to make clear that our education system is failing our kids, a legitimate point that both the left and right can largely agree on. However, he made it by claiming that children are left "deprived of all knowledge" by public school. Seriously? All knowledge? I have many gripes with the public school system in America, but one doesn't walk away from it with an I.Q. of zero. This kind of over-the-top rhetoric is not unprecedented for the fledgling president, however. Don't forget, this is the man who claims that President Obama is literally the founder of ISIS, that thousands of people in New Jersey cheered on 9/11, and more. It seems largely impossible for Trump to make a valid point without overshooting the mark by several miles.
|A lot of people who went to public school still think socialism could work, so maybe Trump makes a valid point|
Not to be outdone, Democratic leaders who now find themselves in the minority are similarly resorting to wild exaggeration. Many of them, including Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, recently opposed Trump's executive order creating a temporary travel ban from certain nations--a fairly standard practice in modern politics--by calling it an unconstitutional "Muslim ban." New York Governer Andrew Cuomo argued against federal defunding of sanctuary cities by declaring that Trump could start by deporting him, because his grandparents were legal immigrants, as though that is even remotely relevant. Democratic lawmakers also find themselves these days objecting to every Trump cabinet appointee, usually by declaring that they are the most underqualified and extreme cabinet picks that have ever been made by any president in history.
This is nothing new, of course. Then-candidate Obama claimed in 2008 that his primary election victory was the moment the Earth itself began to heal. Republicans called him a socialist with extremist friends. Not long ago, when Republicans were trying to cut federal funding to Planned Parenthood, Democrats argued it was proof that conservatives opposed access to healthcare for women, as though giving taxpayer money to a private women's health organization is the only possible way to grant women access to healthcare. Naturally, Republicans countered that Planned Parenthood is an abortion factory that only exists to promote the left-wing baby-killing agenda.
|I can't go an entire article about hyperbole without mentioning Godwin's Law|
In the old days, it used to be common political wisdom that politicians need to appeal to the moderates, that votes from the base are a given while undecided votes move the needle. If that's still true, it seems our leaders don't care anymore. They've chosen to appeal to their bases rather than the moderates, by embracing the most overwrought rhetoric they can, portraying the opposition as a twisted charicature of itself while shining a messianic light on themselves. In so doing, they are alienating the moderates rather than vying for their votes.
Maybe I'm just getting old and cynical, but this tiresome tendency seems to be getting worse. Maybe it's always been this way and I'm only just now realizing how deep the rabbit hole goes, but I truly believe we've passed a tipping point. When Trump was elected, there was a news story passed around social media that several transgender teens had committed suicide rather than face a Trump presidency (even though Trump is remarkably friendly to LGBT rights, the first president to go into office vocally supporting same-sex marriage). This news story--like so many other on social media--turned out to be fake, made up from whole cloth. The thing is, I wouldn't be surprised if it had turned out to be true, not because I think a Trump presidency is the end of the world for transgendered individuals, but because sexually troubled teens have been inundated with ludicrous arguments about the dystopian future that awaits them when Vice President Mike Pence declares war on the homosexual menace.
The very same people who were arguing against obstructionism a few years ago are now embracing #resist, declaring that they will do everything in their power to oppose "American fascism." On the other side, those who were decrying the dubious constitutionality of executive orders and nuked filibusters a few years ago are cheering President Trump as he makes America great again through boldly overreaching executive power. It's as though the two political extremes in this nation now live in two alternate realities that have very little in common. Moderates and people looking for reasoned debate and compromise in Washington (not to mention consistent principles) might as well be living on the moon.
|Not the most reasonable political slogan|
This is not to say I lack self-awareness. This website resorts to hyperbole all the time, as my wonderful readers should know by now, but it's different when it's coming from those we elect to lead us. The echo chambers of social media and the Internet are worrisome enough on their own, but when everyone from the president on down is giving us a funhouse mirror view of reality that conforms to our greatest fears about the world around us, it warps everything. The partisans who recognize this jump to the defense of their side--rather than acknowledge the harm--and forgive pretty much anything as long as it leads to victory over the forces of perceived evil.
If change is ever going to happen, it has to start somewhere. We've been rewarding demagoguery and those who debate straw men for far too long, and as a result, we've lost respect for rationality and bipartisan compromise. I pledge to do better here, for I am the only one I can really control, but it is my greatest hope that we can all pop our panic room bubbles and start empathizing with those we disagree with rather than assigning them the worst motives and leveling outlandish charges against them. Let's talk less of impeachment and more of crossing the aisles. We'll only get more angry and polarized otherwise.
-e. magill 2/9/2017