Take off your rose-tinted glasses
Letter to the Editor | Tuesday, April 13, 2021
On January 20, 2021, the people of the United States of America and the rest of the world once again witnessed one of the hallmarks of this country’s democracy, as outgoing President Trump and incoming President Biden engaged in a peaceful transfer of power, a lasting American tradition that is envied by millions around the world. Even though the circumstances surrounding this transition were a little more daunting than what the American public is used to, it is safe to say that the rule of law prevailed, and the nation’s institutional framework lived to see another commander-in-chief. That same day, something equally momentous happened all over the country, as millions of people who had spent the previous four years jeering at Trump’s leadership now found one of their own seated at the Resolute desk, while a whole other set of millions who had spent the same four years cheering on “The Donald” were suddenly cast into opposition. In an instant, the dynamics of public perception shifted, and the burden of defending the White House’s actions fell upon Democrats, while Republicans are now the official heralds of doom when it comes to every decision the incumbent administration makes.
The United States entered this new decade with unprecedented levels of division, more so than the country had ever experienced in the majority’s lifetime. Politicians, pundits and political scientists blame the country’s blatant lack of unity on several factors that are most definitely valid, but the way Democrats’ and Republicans’ attitudes towards the government and its actions shifted upon President Biden’s return to Washington D.C. exposed something I have come to see as a devastating flaw in the current American political discourse. Over the past few years, the United States has witnessed a rush of polarization between the right and left, leaving a significant chunk of Americans stranded in the center with no option but continuing to vote — perhaps reluctantly — for political agendas that drive the country deeper into the chasm of irreconcilable division. The historical events of the past decade have further entrenched Americans into their own political positions; Republicans have become more solidly Republican, while Democrats appear to be bluer than ever before. Conservative Americans are now in a position where everything liberal is a malign and evil, and vice versa. Although everyone is entitled to their political beliefs, it is this refusal to budge and accept any good from the other side that has led to an enormous tumor of hypocrisy taking over public opinion and steamrolling any chance at adequately holding the government accountable. If we fail to remove the rose-tinted glasses when judging politicians we agree with, and automatically hold those we disagree with in contempt, we are contributing to the deterioration of America’s institutional fabric.
It seems that in modern times, we are willing to sacrifice democratic principles and norms in the long run to exploit political gain in the short run. A prominent example of this came last fall, when the passing of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg led to the appointment of Justice Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. Last October, Republicans wished to see the confirmation take place as soon as possible, while Democratic opposition favored passing on the nomination to the winner of November’s election. Back in 2016, when Justice Scalia died, the tables were entirely reversed, and it was Democrats who wished to confirm president Obama’s nominee in an election year, while Republicans echoed the same arguments Democrats came to use last fall. What do both political parties think the convention should be? Evidently, whatever benefits their immediate political interests without taking into consideration the ramifications of their decision.
Examples of flip-flopping like this go beyond political norms and conventions, and the aforementioned tumor of hypocrisy has also lodged itself in the way politicians and policy are held accountable. Last spring, when President Trump brought forward a multibillion dollar COVID-19 relief bill propped up by deficit spending, Republicans were more than happy supporting the measure, while some Democrats balked at the cost and appropriation of the funds. When President Biden unveiled his American Rescue Plan upon taking office, the Republican excitement that had pushed through similar legislation a year earlier was replaced by concerns regarding the deficit and government overreach. What should have been a cathartic moment of national unity instead became another opportunity at partisan squabbling because each side refuses to let the other score a clean win for the American people out of pride and desire to see the other fail. This mindset is extremely detrimental to the health of our political discourse, and its impacts scorch the harshest whenever a politician becomes embroiled in scandal. For example, President Trump’s impeachment trials, the Mueller Probe and allegations of corruption and sexual assault against both parties’ politicians are all serious issues that should be treated with inquisitorial attitudes to fish out the truth. However, the country’s divisions automatically end up dismissing and downplaying any scandal as fabricated and exaggerated because it’s apparently easier to accept an alternative reality than come to terms with the fact that those who lead are not perfect and make mistakes.
If the United States is to ever heal from the wounds of political division, maybe we should start by stopping the senseless idolization of our political figures, and by seeing things for what they are rather than what we would like them to be. Things are not perfect because people you like are in power, and they never will be no matter who is. If we are to heal, we should judge impact and actions and be prepared to cede some ground in benefit of the common good. At the end of the day, no matter what we choose to fight for, the next morning we all wake up as Americans. The moment we start valuing democracy over short-term political gain and start shedding the hypocritical opposition to our political adversaries is the moment the United States will be able to turn the page and hopefully close a painful chapter in its history.
The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.