Bracing myself for the coming year…

By Ashley Bean Thornton

We are almost exactly a year out from the 2024 Presidential elections, and I predict this will be a year of political nastiness.

Sometimes I get frustrated to the point of despair with the ugliness of our political discourse.

When that happens it helps me to step back and think for a bit about what I want, how I think things work, and what big or little thing I can do to make it a little better.

I want us to be able to work together politically to make our community, our state, and our nation a great, and ever better, place to live.  I particularly care about how our political decisions affect those on the lower end of the income scale.  That’s not because I am some kind of saint, and it’s not because I think of myself as being at the lower end of the income scale.  I just think the health, security and opportunity for the people at the low-income end of the scale is the best indicator of the stability and progress of our whole “system.”   I think decisions that make life better for people of modest means, tend to make life better for all of us in the long run – sometimes in the short run.

To be able to make our state and nation “ever better,” or even just to keep it from getting worse,  we have to make decisions together.  We have to pass laws together, we have to figure out what taxes we want to collect, we have to figure out how we are going to spend the money we collect through taxes.

The system we use for that is Democracy. It is a frustrating system, because it is always frustrating to have to work with people who disagree with you, but it’s the best we have been able to come up with so far.

Diversity is frustrating in a Democracy, because it means we all have different definitions of what it means to be a “great place to live.” We seem to have different perspectives and preferences on just about every issue – different ideas about what laws we need, what taxes we should collect, and how we should spend that money.

In practice, when it comes to electing our representatives at least, we generally group these differing perspectives into two big chunks: Liberal and Conservative. Those two big chunks are generally represented by our two biggest political parties: Democrat and Republican respectively.  Of course, this is a gross oversimplification of a wide variety of opinion on a wide variety of issues.  (That’s part of what makes it frustrating.) But,when it comes to actually casting our votes – many times it comes down to those two choices.

Frustrating as it is, I believe this diversity makes us stronger.  We need to look at ideas from different perspectives.  We need to consider how different actions will affect different groups of people. We need the push-pull of “Let’s do this!” vs. “Wait a minute, I’m not sure that’s a great idea.  Have you considered this?”  I believe we would be worse off if one particular group or another always got their way.   Ultimately, we need each other.

But, like I said, it’s frustrating….

If we are not careful, we let our frustrations get the better of us.  I think we are in a time like that now. I think in our frustration, we have developed some bad habits when it comes to the way we conduct our politics.  Three I can think of off the top of my head are…

Bad Habit #1: Making it mean and personal.  — I have seen and participated in several “conversations” on social media lately that were basically exercises in name-calling.  No discussion of any particular issue – just a contest to see who can say the meanest thing about “the other side.”  We call each other “idiots” and “evil” and “ignorant” and “brain-diseased.”   I don’t know about you, but it’s hard for me to objectively consider what someone has to tell me once they have called me a brain-diseased idiot.  I try, but it’s hard.

Bad Habit #2: Focusing on the “horserace” and the individuals.  — I have noticed that when I try to study up on politics on my various media it’s very easy to find information about the “horserace” between the candidates, and the sins (real or imagined) of the candidates and elected representatives.  It’s tougher to find pros and cons about the issues – especially pros and cons that are based on any kind of reliable evidence.   Of course a candidate’s character and experience figures into our decision to vote for and against a person, and it should.  Certainly there are individuals who have acted in ways so far beyond the pale of acceptable behavior that they should not be considered serious contenders to become our leaders.  Most politicians, though, are just run of the mill humans.  They have strengths and weaknesses.  They make mistakes and they behave honorably – even heroically.  Who among us could endure having a television camera tracking our every move, recording our every wrong word, our every stumble, our every bad hair day, our every fashion fumble?  If we insist on only perfect representatives, we will never have any.

Bad Habit #3: Only listening/talking to people who agree with us. — The more we listen only to our tribe the more polarized we become.  I think most of us believe that we can be/are being open-minded even when the only input we get is from people “on our side.”   I have not found that to be true for me.  The more I listen to only one side, the harder it is for me to consider the other side fairly.  The more I try to listen to both sides, the more likely I am to focus on problem-solving instead of just “beating the other side.”

What to do?  What to do?

November 8 will basically be “New Year’s Day” for the year leading up to the 2024 presidential elections.

I feel like I need to make some resolutions about how I want to conduct myself.  Like any resolutions – the trick will be to keep them!  Who knows if I will or not.  The experts in “resolution-keeping” say you are more likely to keep them if you put them down in writing and show them to other people so they can help you stay accountable.  So here goes:

Main resolution:  Stay engaged.  Don’t just avoid the conflict. Get better at participating respectfully and effectively.

Supporting resolutions:   

  1. Do not share political memes.
  2. Speak for myself and my personal experience. Don’t try to speak for other people.
  3. Don’t put words in other people’s mouths, thoughts in other people’s minds. Especially people with whom I disagree.
  4. Try to ask questions out of curiosity instead of disguising political jabs as “questions.”
  5. Try not to lump people into groups. Try to talk in terms of “some” and “sometimes” instead of “all” and “never.”  “Some conservatives/liberals think this…” instead of just “Conservatives/Liberals think this…”
  6. Avoid name calling.
  7. Try to understand what a person is really saying instead of picking apart or twisting their words to confirm my view.
  8. Try to at least take a look at both (or however many) sides of the issues I care about.
  9. Remember that a person is more than just his/her/their politics.
  10. Try to focus more on the issues and less on the individuals.
  11. Look for examples of ways we could work together/are working together instead of focusing only on the ways we seem to be irreconcilable.
  12. Take action. Don’t just fret and gripe.

There are probably lots more things I could do – but I’ll be lucky if I do these twelve!  Forward march!  Happy New Year!

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  1. Pam Allen on October 30, 2023 at 1:13 pm

    Your Number 5 is so important!

  2. Mary G. Mann on November 1, 2023 at 8:42 am

    Excellent food for thought and ACT on. The resolutions we could all practice if only some of us – me – could cope better with the frustration. Thank you, Ashley. I love and appreciate your spirit and wisdom.

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