A common trope being tossed around news networks and private conversations is that our political discourse has grown so toxic because “both sides” are equally filled with vitriol, corruption, and blind hatred.
Of course that’s the easy position to take. One of indifference. We like to think of it as centrism because the two parties have become so entrenched that to commit to one or the other at this point would be seen as selling out, or not being “woke enough” for some circles. We have to appear impartial no matter what the facts are, because god forbid if we seem more critical of one side over the other.
Friends, I’m here to reject that notion publicly and firmly. There are too many facts in the way for any of us to behave as though either side of our political spectrum is without sin, but at the same time there is no way a sane person could tell you they are the same.
The Democratic party’s left wing is currently being championed by Bernie Sanders (a non-democrat) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who has yet to be sworn in at the time of this writing. These two, while powerful in their own right, face constant criticism, second guessing, and contradiction from the larger more mainstream element of the Democratic party. The most “extreme” left wing figures in American politics hold no seats of particular importance and are not the mouthpiece of the party itself.
The Republicans on the other hand have given endorsement after endorsement to extremist behavior. Beginning with the figurehead of the party in the person of the President, and trickling all the way down to local chapters of the GOP allowing Arthur Jones (an open neo-nazi) to run for congress on their ticket. Of course representatives from the GOP condemned his candidacy by the fall, but they failed to keep a flagrant holocaust denier off of the primary ballot in the first place.
The GOP at large endorsed pedophile Roy Moore in his bid for the Senate, but has come out to condemn white supremacists running on their tickets around the country. They all lost in this recent primary, but why did they feel so comfortable running openly as republican candidates?
Trump has come under fire again and again for hiring white supremacists like Steve Bannon and Jeff Sessions, for referring to neo-nazis as “very fine people” after Charlottesville, and for dog-whistling that he was a “nationalist” in front of the entire world. There is not a counterpart for any of these comments from anyone on the other side. The fact is the fringe of the right wing has been swept into the mainstream over the course of the last 20 years, by inches at first, and then seemingly all at once when Donald Trump handily won the nomination in 2016.
When his perceived enemies were the targets of mail bombs this fall, he never once reached out to the many high profile targets, but instead decided to whine about how the news coverage affected “republican momentum” before the midterms. Those are downright Jacksonian levels of spite.
The good news here isn’t that we have somehow identified the issue. We know what’s wrong and who is perpetrating it. We know that their only answer is not to change their abominable behavior, but to convince us that everyone sucks so “why shouldn’t they?” The good news is that we’ve been through worse than this. We are capable. We have inherited a powerful and storied legacy. We just have to put in the work.
Human beings have only been walking upright for around 200k-315k years. In all that time, Athenian Democracy only shows up in the 5th century BCE, but its direct democracy and participation was not open to all Athenians: You had to be an adult, male citizen. Not long afterwards we got the Roman’s creating their Republic and representative democracy is born. Then it’s down to us and our 242 year history so far.
People had to fight and cry and bleed and die just so we could have to opportunity to get out there and participate in this great American Experiment. They went out there and put it all on the line for us. They went out and changed their world just so we could be in a position to change ours. We have never lived up to our full potential in this country, but this is a tipping point in History. Our lives are not threatened for just participating. There are people who would love nothing more for you to stay home. I want you to disappoint them. Show up. Show out. Live loudly and engage so we can strengthen our Republic together. Just because the midterms are over doesn’t mean the work is done. Stay involved in your communities, make things better where you live and hold your leaders accountable. The torch is no longer being passed, we have to reach out and take it.
Willis Gordon is a musician, stand up comedian, actor, author, essayist, activist, and veteran of the War on Terror. Gordon is committed to quality entertainment and the improvement of our communities through art, action, and inclusion. He organized the “Rock the Block” voter registration concert in 2016, and continues to register voters and fight for civil rights across Stark County. He is the author of The Long Road Home and The Empty Boulevards. His live album, Willis Gordon: Live! is available anywhere you stream music. He wrote the monthly column "The Road Forward: Practical Discussions on Seeking a Better World" for Unlikely Stories Mark V.