Afghanistan really is another Vietnam …

After nearly 20 years, four presidential administrations, and thousands of deaths, the United States armed forces precipitated a departure from Afghanistan, marking one of the most significant foreign policy disasters in American history.  Why was this such a disaster?  Because the Taliban, whom the United States removed from power in 2001, reclaimed authority over Afghanistan with little resistance from the American trained and equipped Afghani military forces.  The United States invested nearly $1 trillion and thousands of lives only to see the pre-war status quo return.  

Why did America send forces to Afghanistan?  

American foreign policy in the Middle East radically changed after the events of September 11th, and the immediate objective of President George W. Bush became the elimination of al-Qaeda and the capture or kill of its leader, Osama bin Laden.  The Bush administration immediately clarified to the world that no distinction would be made between terrorists and those who harbored terrorists.

Bin Laden and al-Qaeda had been hiding out in Afghanistan for years at that point, and of course,  conducting a number of terrorist attacks against the United States.  For a variety of reasons, the ruling members of the Taliban refused to turn over bin Laden and his followers to the United States.  The Bush administration and the American people were in no mood to negotiate, thus the American mission included not only eliminating al-Qaeda, but removing the Taliban from power.

In its mission, the United States incorporated the Northern Alliance (an amalgam of Afghani rebel groups), Great Britain, Germany, Italy, Australia, and Canada.  In the first two years of this war, this coalition effectively removed the Taliban and dispersed al-Qaeda.  The time since then included a great deal of counterinsurgency work, slowing stamping out the remnants of these groups.  The coalition has been very effective in killing the enemy, holding cities, and occupying territory.  However, the United States could not stay in these towns forever, nor could they eliminate every member of these groups.  Despite 20 years of fighting, the Taliban always held certain regions of Afghanistan and maintained a sizable base of support from the people.

What mistakes were made in this war?

Sadly, this war was doomed to failure from its inception because the United States did not learn its lessons from the Vietnam War.  

The United States chose the wrong objectives.  After the attacks on September 11th, the United States would settle for nothing less than direct military action to apprehend or eliminate responsible parties.  In seeking justice for those attacks, they made the mistake of attempting regime change in Afghanistan, a nation with a history as the ‘graveyard of empires’ (see: Soviet-Afghan War).  

No, the Taliban would not willingly give up bin Laden or his al-Qaeda followers, but would it not have been possible to send American forces into Afghanistan with the mission of attacking terrorist bases and ignoring Taliban forces unless they attempted to disrupt the American mission?  This type of military action would allow Americans to pursue and eliminate its enemy while refusing to engage in a long term project of overhauling a nation’s political and governmental system.  

The objectives chosen by the Bush administration sent the United States into almost a virtually endless conflict because it not only declared war on terrorism, but did not distinguish between terrorists and those who harbored them.  A war on terrorism is a war on an idea, and there will always be terrorists in the world.  The United States cannot police the entire world.  Simply put, America spread itself too thin.  This problem became more salient after the start of the Second Gulf War in 2002.

In Vietnam, the United States also chose poor objectives.  Rather than focusing on helping a poor nation victimized by imperialism, the United States was concerned about the spread of communism and stopping it at all costs.  The country was too afraid to lose a proxy war to the Soviet Union and this guided their intervention in a nation they had long ignored.

Regime change doesn’t work without wholesale support from the people.  After the Allied victory in World War II, the United States had tremendous success in its occupation and rebuilding of several nations.  In Europe, American forces established a strong military presence in both Germany and Italy.  In Japan, the United States solely took control and took a firm position in South Korea.  American influence undoubtedly affected these nations and the establishment of new governments in the post-World War II era.  American cultural imprints are still visible today in these places.  So, why has the United States failed to repeat these successes?  

In the cases of Germany and Italy, their nations and societies were not radically different from American culture.  A common Western cultural vibe translated to an easy transition away from the ugliness of fascism.  Also, these nations needed the help of the United States to push back against the aggression of the Soviet Union.  They wanted an American presence far more than they wanted a Soviet presence.

There is a similar truth in Japan and Korea.  Though these Asian nations were not akin to the Westerners in culture, they did have the problem of the Soviet Union looming over them.  In fact, many historians now believe Japan surrendered to the United States not because of the atomic bombs, but out of a fear of the Soviet Union moving its forces from Europe to assist the United States in the Pacific.  Surrendering to the United States would garner much more favorable terms after the war than surrendering to the Red Army.  Moreover, surrendering to a ‘miracle weapon’ like the atomic bomb would allow Japan to maintain some sense of honor in defeat. 

In both Vietnam and Afghanistan, regime change didn’t work because the people were never unified behind it.  In the case of Vietnam, the United States failed to understand that vast majority of people saw them as the next iteration of colonizers who would pick up where France left off.  The American government propped up weak and corrupt administrations in South Vietnam and Afghanistan which neither controlled the entirety nor had the support of their people.  

It’s also fair to characterize the situations in Vietnam and Afghanistan as internal struggles, rather than external problems of Europe, which sought to protect Western nations.  The divisiveness in Vietnam and Afghanistan meant a unified nation needed for genuine change probably wasn’t going to happen. 

The United States never learned that more troops, more money, and more bombs cannot always win a war.  Groups like the Viet Cong, or the Taliban, are true believers in their cause.  They fight for different reasons than an invading army, and as such, they are willing to lose large numbers of men to achieve their objective.  In Vietnam, the United States killed the enemy at a ratio of nearly 20 to 1.   The ratio is somewhat similar for the 20 years the United States has operated in Afghanistan.  

Don’t let anyone fool you into thinking the United States military isn’t capable of winning a war in the sense of achieving tactical objectives.  The American armed forces clear villages, find and eliminate enemy combatants, and do so with stunning efficiency.  This does not mean the military always wins a war.  An army can achieve its tactical objectives without achieving its strategic objectives.  The enemy in both Vietnam and Afghanistan demonstrated they would continue fighting regardless of the losses.  In the two decades of this war, American troop losses were at 2,442.  Consider the length of time and the losses inflicted on the Taliban, this is a small number.  (Losses in Vietnam were close to 60,000.) Unless the United States killed every last man in the Taliban, they were not going to achieve the victory they sought.  Just like in Vietnam,  citizens were eventually wondering why we were there and if the cost in dollars and human life was worth it.  

No one established a clear exit strategy.  Despite two decades to plan a real exit strategy, four presidents failed to establish one.  Government officials never wanted to create a deadline for leaving, believing it would only encourage the Taliban and other terrorist groups to hold out until American forces left the country.  The policy of multiple presidential administrations was to stay until the military completed its task. 

Unfortunately, the propped up government in Afghanistan (and previously in South Vietnam) relied too heavily on American armed forces as a permanent crutch, one which would never leave until the job was done.  American support in terms of personnel, military hardware, and money seemed like a never-ending spigot which the democratic Afghani government never was too interested in turning off.  President Joe Biden remarked this past week that one more year, or five more years would not make a difference in achieving this objective.  Much like in a game of poker, it’s time to fold the hand when you realize it cannot win.  Yes, you put a lot of money into the pot, but there’s no use in throwing away more resources at a losing proposition.  

Eventually, the American government treated the situation in Afghanistan like Vietnam.  We would leave when the Afghan military could stand on their own and slowly draw down our number.  In the 1970s, President Richard Nixon called it ‘Vietnamization.’  No one created a clever name for it this time, but it’s the same terrible plan — which is no plan at all.

Does the Taliban represent a threat to the United States?  

Yes, and no.  In the traditional military sense, the Taliban has a fighting force of somewhere in the neighborhood of 70,000 men.  The quick fall of the new Afghani government meant that quite a bit of the military hardware provided by the American armed forces haas now fallen into the hands of the Taliban.  Of course no one wants modern military equipment to fall into the hands of some bad people, but the Taliban, as a ruling entity of Afghanistan, is not going to attack the United States.  

The concern Americans should have about the Taliban is the same concern from 20 years ago.  The Taliban provides safe haven to terrorist groups like al-Qaeda, where they can operate training camps and conduct planning for attacks against the United States and its allies.  

Also, we should have a serious concern for the individuals left behind in Afghanistan.  In the absence of the Taliban, women gained significant measures of freedom and equality.  Now, the radically strict Sharia Law implemented by the Taliban threatens those gains.  Afghanis who assisted the American military as interpreters, informants, or soldiers face retribution for their actions.  These individuals are so concerned about Taliban rule that they swarmed American airplanes leaving the country and were clinging to the landing gear of aircraft as they took off.  People literally fell to their death rather than live under Taliban rule again. 

Who bears the blame for this disaster?  

Four presidents bear the blame for the policies which led to a terrible result in Afghanistan.  President George W. Bush initiated these policies, established poor objectives, and left future presidents in a situation where ending the war would be unpopular.  Bush created a broad based conflict when a more precise objective was needed.

President Barack Obama followed a sad pattern of increasing American personnel in the region and failing to follow through on timetables at removing troops after these troop surges.

President Donald Trump initiated peace talks with the Taliban during his tenure, and created a deadline for May 2021 for American withdrawal from Afghanistan. 

Now, current President Joe Biden oversaw a withdrawal of American troops which appears haphazard, at best.  Incidentally, the failure of the Afghan military to put up a fight against the Taliban reflects poorly on America as a whole.  However, Biden is the current occupant of the White House, and the buck stops there.  Success or failure rests on him. 

The American people must also take on some of the blame. For years, we supported a broad based war that presidential administrations and Congresses carried on without any real exit strategy. Armed conflicts need definitive, measurable objectives so that we may apply pressure to our government if they do not achieve those goals or if they do achieve them and do not return the military home.

We now must swallow the bitter pill of failure.  Biden did what other presidents probably wanted to do.  He abandoned a foreign policy which wasn’t working.  America’s national interests in Afghanistan could not be sustained without a near permanent military presence.  Neither Biden nor any successive presidents could justify sending more Americans into harm’s way.

Citizens in the United States have rightfully expressed concern about a potential humanitarian crisis we are leaving behind.  Yet, there are humanitarian crises all over the world where we have no military forces.  Do we not also care about those people?  The United States cannot solve every problem of the world.  Attempts to do so continually undermine our credibility when there is a vital interest where American force is warranted.  

Nobody likes a quitter — even in politics

“Voters quickly forget what a man says.”

— Richard Nixon

Politicians are always keenly aware that their tenure in office often hinges on the mood of the electorate.  But politicians have always understood that a scandal would end their career, or at the very least, put it on life support.  Government officials knew this was how the game was played.  A scandal means they fall on their sword and resign.  They embarrass the party, their state, the nation?  Time for them to move on.  Depending on the nature of the mistake, maybe he or she can score a second act after a few years of penance.

There are plenty of examples in the modern era of American politics.  Former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich (R-GA) resigned after an unethical book deal (which also cost him $300,000 in penalties).  I mean, Fox News still lets him make an appearance on their shows, but he’s unelectable.

Anyone old enough to remember Senator Bob Packwood (R-OR)?  The Washington Post ran an article detailing accusations from 10 different women claiming the senator sexually harassed or sexually abused them.  The Senate Ethics Committee recommended an expulsion, and Packwood bowed out on his own.  

Karl Rove, a senior advisor to President George W. Bush, resigned after allegations of exerting improper influence over multiple situations.  

Check out the precipitous drop in Anthony Weiner’s favorability numbers among Democratic voters in New York

Do I need to mention Anthony Weiner (D-NY)?  The former Congressman was a rising star in the Democratic Party, until media outlets reported that he texted nude pictures of himself to various women.  He quit his position in the House, and almost had a shot in a mayoral election in New York City … until he did the same thing again (please google “Carlos Danger.”)

Mark Foley (R-FL), a former House member, resigned in 2006 after allegations surfaced that he was sending sexuality explicit messages to pages.

Larry Craig (R-ID), a senator charged with soliciting sex from an undercover police officer in a public restroom.  Though he maintained his innocence, he resigned in 2007.

Chris Lee, (R-NY), resigned after soliciting a woman on Craigslist and e-mailing shirtless photos of himself.

There are dozens of examples of politicians behaving badly.  But they understood that when confronted with evidence, they needed to do everyone a favor and walk away.   Despite the seemingly endless nature of scandals and foolish decisions of politicians, there are rules even among the sharks.  

The landscape of politics changed in 2016, for a number of reasons.  However, it seems clear that the new playbook for politics suggests a different path forward.  Caught in a scandal?  Admit it, deny it, gaslight accusers, but do not resign.  Ride out the storm of disapproval.  Take the beating the press will hand out.  Hide in the office.  But a refusal to resign means a longer stay in power and the hope that voters will forget.

How are we seeing this play out? 

Former President Donald Trump set this tone (though we will see he isn’t the only factor in causing this shift).  Practically any number of gaffes during his 2016 Election campaign would have crushed candidates before him.  Democrats unleashed a video of Trump and television host Billy Bush prior to a taping Access Hollywood, where Trump described how he repeatedly attempted to seduce married woman, and mused about his celebrity status, “I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. … Grab ‘em by the p***y. You can do anything.”  Under the old rules, that would have been damning enough.  However, Trump dismissed it as ‘locker room talk,’ not to be taken seriously. 

In 2018, news outlets reported that Trump’s attorney, Michael Cohen, paid $130,000 to an adult film star for a non-disclosure agreement about her sexual affair with Trump in 2006.  While Trump distanced himself from the payment, he did not deny the affair.

Trump, left, was accused of mocking Kovaleski, right.

During his 2016 campaign, Trump also mocked the physical handicap of New York Times reporter, Serge Kovaleski.

Trump, as president, attempted to leverage Ukrainian officials to conduct an investigation into the Biden family to discredit current President Joe Biden.  This earned Trump his first impeachment.  His second impeachment stemmed from actions on the insurrection at the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021, where he urged on his supporters, who wrongfully claimed that Trump truly won the election.

Any historian or political scientist could write volumes about the insane antics of Trump, but that’s not the point.  Trump’s actions set a terrible precedent because despite evidence of his terrible nature, he refused to step away from politics.  Regardless of what journalists uncovered, or the slew of allegations of sexual assault from dozens of women, Trump defied the unwritten rules of politics.

Trump crossed the Rubicon with his refusal to relent in the face of evidence of his transgressions.  Other politicians (from both parties) now understand they have no obligation to play by the old rules, either.  These politicians hope that once the initial news cycle with their scandal fades away, so will the memories of the voters.  

Remember Governor Andrew Cuomo from New York?  I wrote about his underreporting of COVID-19 deaths in senior centers and the concerning allegations of sexual harassment.  He’s riding the rough waves and refusing to yield to the calls for his resignation, even from his own party.  The New York General Assembly passed laws weakening the power of the governor, but Cuomo remains undeterred.  If the people want him out, they’ll have to vote him out.  Cuomo has already announced plans to run again in 2022.

Congressman Gaetz in the running for world’s most punchable face

Travel westward and catch up with current Governor Greg Gianforte of Montana.  You might remember him for body slamming Ben Jacobs, a reporter from The Guardian.  Gianforte didn’t stop his campaign for House of Representatives, but did receive a misdemeanor conviction for assault and had to pay $4,400 in restitution to Jacobs.  Gianforte served two terms in the House before transitioning to his current role as governor.

Speaking of governors behaving badly, Governor Ralph Northam (D-VA), faced a controversy in 2019 when a medical school yearbook photo surfaced with Northam wearing blackface standing next to a man in a Ku Klux Klan hood.  Northam apologized for the photo, but then later claimed he was neither man in the photograph and had no recollection of it.  Regardless, he resisted the intense pressure for him to resign.

Perhaps the most disgusting politician using this new tactic is Congressman Matt Gaetz (R-FL).  The bombastic congressman faces allegations that he had sex with a 17 year old girl.  Gaetz is also connected to corrupt and disgraced Florida politician Joel Greenberg, who used his position in government to defraud taxpayers and run a sex trafficking ring.  Greenberg recently cut a deal with prosecutors, likely to avoid a long prison sentence in exchange for testimony against his long time ‘friend’ Gaetz.  The congressman admits to nothing and claims “the deep state” is plotting against him.

Big time politics comes to West Virginia 

Political operators at the state level see these tactics and they quickly adopt them.  In 2019, Glen Dale Police arrested and charged State Senator Mike Maroney (R-02) with conspiracy, house of ill fame and assignation and prostitution.  The charges were later dropped, despite police finding Maroney’s phone number in a prostitute’s phone and thousands of messages exchanged.  The prevailing thought is that Maroney’s lawyers were going to draw out his trial as long as possible, making the cost of his trial a drain on the finances of the town of Glen Dale and Marshall County.  He currently retains his seat in the West Virginia State Senate.

Delegate Mandt tries to play on fears that ‘they’ are out to get you but he can’t tell you who this mysterious ‘they’ are, and yes, this came from his Facebook page

In the Huntington area, Delegate John Mandt (R-16) is no stranger to controversial statements and actions that would ruin the careers of most politicians. In response to the local mosque in Huntington having a candlelight vigil, Mandt, unprompted, posted on Facebook, “Anything Muslim is going to be associated with Democrats. It’s better to stay away than be associated with them.”  

After a number of other disparaging remarks appeared about the gay and lesbian citizens in the state, Mandt caused another stir.  Just prior to the 2020 Election, Mandt’s number appeared to be up when screenshots of a group chat showed him using inflammatory language directed at gay and lesbian citizens, and Muslims.  In the wake of this revelation, Mandt resigned, but quickly reversed course and said his name was still on the ballot for the upcoming election and asked his supporters to re-elect him to the House of Delegates.  And without hesitation, his supporters did just that.

Last week, Delegate Joe Jeffries (R-22) posted a vulgar and sexually explicit video on TikTok, which garnered a great deal of criticism.  Jeffries made no apology for the video, commenting only, “I’m an elected official, but I’m still a real person.”  Despite being removed from all committee assignments, Jeffries says he has no plans to resign.

Whether or not you approve or disapprove of these men and their actions on a private level is up to you, but the lesson they’ve drawn is clear.  Regardless of their conduct as public officials, none of it means resigning from office.

Why is this happening?

Of course, it’s easy to lay all of this at the feet of former President Donald Trump.  And he deserves a significant share of the blame, but Trump is only the catalyst for this.  A few underlying causes have been simmering … 

1. Decline in trust in the media.  One of the key institutions in holding government accountable holds less sway than it once did.  Sometimes, news outlets make mistakes, or the public becomes dissatisfied with the stories receiving coverage or how they’re covered.  Also, the media reports information which upsets the natural order of our thinking.  People don’t trust the media at times because it makes them aware of events they don’t want to believe.

Gallup’s poll reveals a slow degradation of faith in the media

The decline in the faith in media to report accurately leads destruction of a once trusted voice.  Not even the most objective news outlets have enough credibility for may Americans.  Too often, we do not want to see the overwhelming evidence right in front of us.

2. Tribalism and failure to condemn ‘our guy.’  It’s always pretty easy to pile on the people we don’t like or who don’t represent our views, but what happens when one of our political heroes is mired in scandal?  The refusal of politicians at the highest levels of leadership in their parties and in our nation to condemn the exploits of their bad actors translates to others believing the behavior is tolerable.  Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) are the worst offenders in this regard.  (And before you say in your head, “But what about Pelosi and Biden?,” you should read their comments on Cuomo and Northam.)

3. Post-modernist thinking.  If you aren’t familiar with the post-modernist movement from the 1990s and early 2000s, the key concept from their academic thinking was to call everything into question.  There is no absolute truth and everything is relative.  While post-modernist thinking has fallen out of favor (for a number of good reasons), its residue in American society is that everything in politics can be called into question, vis-á-vis, “fake news.”  Someone makes the claim that Politician A committed certain crimes.  Politicians will explain it away as simply untrue.  A free-floating standard of truth allows politicians to conjure up any explanation for their actions which they can offer as plausible.  

4. Politics of fear.  When any politician finds themselves embroiled in a scandal, they appeal to the fear of the general population to save them.  One tactic is to claim that even if the scandal is true, you can defuse the situation by advocating that a flawed member of your party is still better than even the best member of the opposing party.  Another tactic utilizing fear involves establishing or endorsing conspiracy theories and positing that the evil forces behind the conspiracy.  

Why do campaigns spend so much of their advertising budget on negative campaigns?  They’re effective. They provoke fear through false or misleading statements which make voters worry that if they pick the wrong candidate, society will fall apart.  President Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 campaign ran the infamous “Daisy ad,” which implied a nation led by Republican Barry Goldwater would end up in a disastrous nuclear war.  Not to be outdone, the 1988 campaign for President George H.W. Bush included the “Willie Horton ad,” which painted Democrat Michael Dukakis as soft on crime through a campaign ad aimed at suburban white citizens.

Part of this fear-mongering includes deflecting criticism about a scandal to other problems.  Give the people a greater problem than your scandal to think about, and they will.  “Yes, I make this awful statement, but I’m the only one protecting you from them.  They’re really after you and I’m just in their way.”  

Political Pejoratives: Name-calling in America

Maybe it seems like petty politics, or junior high-ish.  You accept it because it has become the norm.  But it’s a problem that erodes the politics in the United States and it is pervasive, to say the least.  Name calling and labeling now constitutes a major problem in the political landscape that serves only to further divide an already fragmented population.

In the American political system, two major parties dominate elections and government at federal, state, and local levels.  Both Democrats and Republicans have a desire to implement the policies they believe to be best for the nation.  To achieve that end, these parties must first win elections, and that’s tricky.  In that pursuit of electoral victories, our parties have engaged in name calling campaigns that would make a sailor blush (okay, not that bad, but you get the idea).

So let’s take a look at some of the more popular pejoratives in American politics!

The liberal names

Marxist / socialist / communist — The go-to insult for conservatives.  They have used this label for nearly 150 years as a means of terrifying Americans that capitalism is on the way out and government will soon seize the means of production.  It’s also a misnomer because the three terms are not interchangeable.  If a person believes the government should control key aspects of society, that does not make them a communist.  It also ignores the fact that American society has a number of socialist programs which benefit people and provide common goods.

Elitist — When conservatives use this, they are referencing men and women who are highly educated.  The idea behind this pejorative is to mock academics as far removed from most of society.  The irony is that conservatives themselves are often just as ‘elite’ in terms of their income and education level.  

I mean, the cartoon is funny …

Snowflake — The term comes from the fact that scientists estimate that no two snowflakes are alike, signaling a uniqueness in the world.  Conservatives critique the approach of telling young people they are special and unique.  The world can sometimes be harsh and there are some individuals who are not prepared for adulthood, and conservatives mock this shattering of the ideal.  When young people object to the harsh realities of society or express their difficulty in dealing with the world, conservatives mock them for it.

“Fake news” — This phrase isn’t necessarily directed at a person, but it can be.  Former President Donald Trump used this term frequently to describe a news report he didn’t like or portrayed him in a negative light.  He later ascribed it to media outlets he didn’t view favorably.  

The conservative names 

Fascists or Nazis — The liberal answer to being called a Marxist is to refer to conservatives as fascists or Nazis.  Any time government officials undertake a more conservative approach to aa policy, this is the label it receives.  It conjures up images of Hitler and his black-shirted henchman marching through the streets of America or maybe a dystopian television show, a la The Handmaid’s Tale.  (Check out Godwin’s Law for entertaining reading.)

Religious nut / fundamentalist / zealot — The use of these names take aim at conservative religious groups (Baptists and Mormons, of note) who often align themselves with conservatives in political matters.  The liberal segment of society would have the nation believe we are somehow on the edge of a theocracy that would make Iran look kind.  Someone should tell the liberal crowd that most churches aren’t like Westboro Baptist.

Bigot / homophobe / racist / misogynist — I lumped these terms in the same category because they are all aimed at conservative perspectives on society.  Liberals know these terms are strongly charged because they point to the hatred of an entire group of people.  It attempts to establish a binary of us versus them, and unfairly characterizes a large swath of Americans as bitter, hateful people.  Does anyone truly think Republicans have a meeting of party officials and ponder, “how can we discriminate against women this year?”  The irony is that liberals often want to avoid such stereotypes.  

“The wrong side of history” — In many instances, liberal operators want citizens to believe that failure to enact their policies will cause future generations to ridicule them and view them unfavorably.  This presumes that liberals are on the correct side of history, and ignores the fact that our perspectives on history change over time. 

Why do the two sides engage in this behavior?

It wins elections.  We appeal to the fears of human beings because it’s effective.  Fear is a powerful motivator, especially when one side frames the other as an existential threat to a way of life.  In the sense that both major ideologies want to win elections, this tactic helps.  Anyone who examines the 2016 Trump Presidential Campaign will see the effectiveness of labeling opponents:  Lyin’ Ted, Crooked Hillary, Low Energy Jeb, etc.  Thought it’s disgusting, this rallies people behind someone they believe represents them.

Trump mocking his fellow members of the GOP helped his 2016 campaign

We like binaries.  It’s us against them.  When we characterize complex problems with a simple choice of good guys versus bad guys, we typically will pick a side.  Most people find it difficult to research a topic, learn the nuances of stakeholders, and consider the ramifications of various policies.  Not only can it be difficult to understand, but it requires time to process information and genuinely eliminate biases.  When we only have two choices placed before us, the situation becomes less complex and humans love the path of least resistance.

We like justification for our preconceived thoughts.  No one wants to accept that they might be wrong about a belief, and this is even more true when the belief is a long held idea.  If we establish the opposing perspective as somehow mean spirited, evil, or anti-American, it becomes that much easier to call them names and ignore their views.  It’s a form of dehumanization.

Social media makes it easy.  When so much of our discourse takes place online instead of in front of another human being, you don’t really feel bad for calling them a name.  It’s a faceless window you’re criticizing and not a human being with feelings, problems, or a unique life which led them to their beliefs.  On social media platforms, you zing someone and people react to your witty one-liner, but they rarely take time to respond.  You didn’t win the argument, you didn’t ‘own’ anyone.  Our words do more to alienate others rather than win them to our cause.  Also, people use words online that wouldn’t hold up in a face to face conversation. 

Problems which result from the name-calling 

Applying labels is the quick and easy path, and while it can prove effective in winning elections or manipulating the public, it negatively affects us. 

Name-calling affects how we view our political opposites, and it bleeds into life beyond the political.  This is consequence of the fact that social media has multiplied the problem.  Everyone now possessed a megaphone to the world.  People from nearly anywhere on the planet can tune in and read what you believe about any topic.  We treat people as less than human when we ridicule them.  

We pigeonhole the other side.  When you categorize human beings into a broad based category, you make a blanket presumption about the entirety of a person, predicated upon a brief statement.  Everyone else is neatly framed as simplistic, placed in their box, and easily dismissed as not being ‘in the know.’  Simultaneously, we see ourselves as complex people, applying so much nuance to our views, and if people just could see inside our heads, they would understand. We have a tendency to judge entire groups of people on their worst representatives.

Political discourse grinds to a halt.  No one likes being called names or shouted down, so they stop engaging.  When people do not discuss their ideas or perspectives, how can the possibly create solutions to the problems of the nation?  How can a person claim to understand the opposition when they have not listened to perspective?  

The constant use of labels desensitizes us towards genuine dangers to our democracy.  The townspeople ignored boy who cried ‘wolf’ when real danger finally arrived.  So, too, do we ignore certain terms because they have become so ubiquitous.  They have lost their meaning.  The snap reaction of calling someone a fascist or a communist has occurred so often, no one takes it seriously anymore.  

The divide between the left and the right continues to grow each decade

Polarization of our parties and ideologies naturally follows from name-calling and lack of discussion.  The disregard shown to a person for expressing any different idea pushes them further into the other ‘tribe.’ 

We vote for morons.  The polarization, lack of discourse, and the refusal to consider others as human beings means we vote for people based on the party they represent rather than their ability to represent the people.  People elect shills for their party rather than good men and women.  This is how the likes of Josh Hawley, Tom Cotton, and Marjorie Taylor Greene hold office in the United States.

Gridlock becomes normal.  Governments at all levels become unable to effectively create and implement policies because they often need to control the executive and legislative branches to pass legislation.  When governments do not pass legislation, the people suffer. 

So, what do we do about it?

We cannot sit idly, that’s for certain.  While one person may wonder what they can do, they have the ability to affect change.  That’s the subject of the next post.