Mel Graykin: The labels that divide us

  • Demonstrators from the political left and right argue in Berkeley, Calif., on April 27. AP

For the Monitor
Saturday, May 27, 2017

‘Democrats are all sore losers.” “Republicans are all waging a war on women.” “Progressives all want to force everyone to think the way they do.” “All capitalists care about is profits.” “The right is evil.” “The left is destroying the country.”

I am sick of it.

It is very human to categorize things and label them as a shorthand way to talk about them. It is easier to just say “horse” than to have to describe a large hooved mammal bred by humans to be ridden and to pull heavy loads. Instead of going to great length describing people who believe in funding through taxation a government that looks after the basic needs of all its citizens and supplies necessary goods and services, we just say “socialist.” People who support a particular political party or tend to vote for its candidates are identified as belonging to that party.

These labels might be convenient, but they box us into assumptions that may be a far cry from what we actually believe.

When someone accuses the Democrats of being something or other, who are they talking about? The DNC? The voters? A little over a quarter of U.S. citizens identify themselves as Democrats. That’s an awful lot of people. If you sat a representative number of them down in a room and talked to them, you’d discover they don’t all agree. Some would support expanded social programs like what Bernie Sanders proposed. Some would not, concerned by how this expansion would be funded. Some would be dead-set against negative campaigning. Others would see it as a necessary tool to achieve their ends. Likely they would agree that Trump is a terrible choice for president, but as you get down to the nitty-gritty of education policy, how to deal with drug abuse, what are the best ways to promote the goals the Democratic Party is supposed to stand for (indeed, what those goals should be) there is going to be a great deal of argument.

What you won’t get is monolithic agreement. And if you did the same with a room full of Republicans, the same thing would happen. They might all agree on some very broad issue, like smaller government. From there the individual disagreements would begin to multiply.

The fact is, ideology aside, we are all humans behaving like human beings, as herdable as cats.

And, ideology aside, the two parties behave in remarkably similar ways. Take the following two statements:

The Democratic Party gets the prize for being sore losers, obstructionists and pledging to do anything they can to destroy Trump.

The Republican Party gets the prize for being sore losers, obstructionists and pledging to do anything they can to destroy Obama.

The latter was a major obstacle to Congress getting anything done in the last eight years. The former is drawn from a comment to a recently published article in the Monitor.

I almost laughed out loud when I saw it because of the blatantly obvious parallel. Each side accuses the other of doing things they themselves have done. We are so blinded by our affiliations that we don’t see it. What our guys do is okay, or at least excusable, and for a good cause. When their guys do it, it’s criminal, reprehensible and clear evidence of their unfitness to hold office.

It so happens that a Republican-dominated administration is trying to dismantle government programs and laws protecting the environment. I am opposed to this. But I also recall that Republican administrations put many of those protections into place. And that many people who identify as Republicans now are not in favor of what the administration is doing (I know a few of them personally). So I see no point in making enemies of the people who agree with me regardless of their party affiliation.

As much as I dislike labels, I suppose I mostly align with liberal progressives. And yet I cringe when I see the intolerant behavior some in this camp are rightly accused of, attempting to squash the freedom of speech of those with whom they disagree. However, I deeply resent dismissals of progressives as all being intolerant, because damn it, most of us are not.

Make no mistake, there are differences between the parties; each chooses planks for their platform that they think will appeal to a broad demographic. Their respective platforms frequently wind up being inconsistent jumbles of compromises and craziness because we have a two-party system attempting to divvy a wildly diverse population into two camps. It isn’t working, which is why people who identify as independent are rapidly reaching a point where they will out-number the two parties combined.

Republican, Democrat, Progressive, Socialist, Libertarian, Alt-Right, Green, Conservative, Liberal, etc., etc., etc. All an attempt to pigeonhole people based on their beliefs. It is dehumanizing and divisive, especially when we use the labels to attack, asserting that “All X are Y!”

Because some Xs aren’t Y at all.

(Justine “Mel” Graykin lives and writes in Deerfield, and practices freelance philosophy on her website at justinegraykin.com.)