In the spirit of Martin Amis’s short story “The Last Days of Muhammad Atta,” I will imagine that this morning James T. Hodgkinson woke up and said to himself, “Today’s the day I’m going to kill those Republicans.”
Fortunately, he failed (I hope; sending best wishes to the shooting victims still in serious or critical condition), but it’s an extremely disturbing moment, another data point of evidence supporting my belief that the most effective metaphor for the relationship between Republicans and Democrats at the present moment is of a toxic marriage between two partners who can never divorce. A few weeks ago, following some outrage that I now can’t even remember, because so many have succeeded it, I noticed an astonishing degree of contempt in the comments written by far-right Republicans on the threads of my Facebook friends and thought of John Gottman’s psychological research on relationships, in which he identified what he calls “the four horsemen” of relationship breakdown: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. All four of them are bad, bad, bad—and I invite you to make your own application to recent events, to find, for example, examples of stonewalling in recent Senate Intelligence Hearings—but in his research Gottman found that behaviors coded as “contempt” were the most important predictor of divorce in the couples he studied.
But Republicans and Democrats can’t get divorced, and I’m sure we’ve all seen how bad things get with the couple who has no fucks left to give about each other’s feelings, health, or well-being. That’s us right now, or our near future. I read a story the other day in Slate about how Americans hoping for a viable third party here should take notes on the recent success of Emmanuel Macron’s party in France. Maybe. I would of course prefer a complete renewal of the entire party system in the United States to a civil war, but I don’t think we’re quite at the point of either of those outcomes yet.
In the meantime, can anything be done to decrease this trend of seeing our political affiliations as constituting group identity in a way that demonizes the other? Is there any end in sight to our tendency to each see ourselves as the Sneetch with the political star on its belly?
Those of you who have followed this blog from its beginning know that I set out to chronicle my efforts to get involved with my local Democratic Party. But I soon discovered that attending the local party’s meetings and events put me in the awkward position of becoming very slightly acquainted with actual people, slightly enough acquainted to be aware that I did not have the standing to criticize or to try to lead change. So when I had doubts about where I could possibly fit into the organization, or concerns about the local party’s ability to hold on to the enormous number of people like me who showed up in a panic after November 9 hoping to do something, it felt churlish to write about my ambivalent feelings about the local party on the blog, so I was silent for a few months and then wrote about other things.
All along, though, I was still participating in the party, but with a lot of uncertainty. I didn’t connect with party connections on social media, because I wasn’t 100% sure that I was going to stick around. And then I finally did find a group that felt like a good fit, a new group, the Allen County Stonewall Democrats, that had a better meeting schedule for me than the women’s group I had tried and that, because it is a new organization, is being created in real time, rather than having a long history that limits the possibilities for change. I volunteered to be part of the planning committee for the Fort Wayne Equality March; not surprisingly, working together on a project accomplished more than attending meetings had to help me to connect with individual people, and after the march was over, I didn’t feel ambivalent any more about the local party. So I friended a bunch of people on Facebook, because even though the Allen County Democratic Party is not perfect, I’m going to stick around.
And ironically, this is what I believe is the antidote to political Sneetch-ism: actual involvement in political work. The work of local political parties is not particularly fun or glamorous, and it is in no way as emotionally satisfying as I suspect that name-calling in anonymous Internet comments must be for the people who like to do that. It’s knocking on doors, asking for money, calling people, explaining party positions, listening to people’s concerns, going to parades to get signatures and register people to vote, driving people to the polls, volunteering in the days leading up to and on Election Day, going to meetings, planning and organizing, trying to improve systems for data and finances, learning the rules in order to follow them, etc., etc., etc. Without the countless volunteers who do these necessary but unglamorous jobs, year after year after year, we would have no democracy at all.
Political actions > political opinions >> political violence. Spread the word.
Part 1 here