By Frances Davis
The signs of collective political depression are visible all around us. Our “all or nothing” thinking – a classic symptom of clinical depression – gives us away. Citizens and interest groups pick a position and stick with it, no matter how fierce the storm. We will band together with our like-minded compatriots, board up the windows, and ride out the hurricane.
We know everything about our opponents and we will fight them. Obstruct! Resist! Our way or bust! Attack the person and the position. Launch a Twitter storm. Whatever it will take. We are all captains who must “win” or go down with our ships. Our hope for the survival of our country under its current form of government – our life raft – lies in learning to move into the eye of the storm where we can think clearly, speak clearly, and negotiate calmly with an open mind for solutions that get us most or all of what we want.
When President Barack Obama was elected 44th President of the U.S., citizens on the right side of the political spectrum saw disaster. The far left had taken over the country and was sending it into the liberal abyss. The “Tea Party” got a boost of adrenalin and booted out moderate Republicans who were able to step into a calmer place to talk, negotiate and compromise with the Democrats for the good of the country. The “Freedom Caucus” is still with us in the House of Representatives to demand hard conservative positions and discourage compromise.
The Tea Party’s website is permeated by “all or nothing” thinking https://www.teaparty.org/about-us/. The organization has all the so-called right answers with “15 Non-negotiable Core Beliefs” that are proclaimed so that the “politically blind see, and deaf hear!” It is difficult for others to come to the table to discuss new paths forward with the Tea Party after being called blind and deaf and being presented with a list of hardline principles that are off-limits for discussion.
When President Donald Trump was elected 45th President of the U.S., citizens on the left of the political spectrum believed our country was doomed. A far right nationalistic leadership had the country in its grip and would take us over the conservative cliff. The “Resist” movement formed. It seems progressives are trying to form their own version of the Tea Party. The pendulum is swinging from left to right, with no end to the harsh polarization in sight.
The Facebook @TrumpResistanceMovement page had 192,951 “likes” and growing (up two percent from last week) as of the writing of this article on EchoingHigher.com. The site damns the current White House without wiggle room by proclaiming a “peaceful resistance to the intolerance and bigotry of the Trump Administration.”
The San Francisco Chronicle speculates that a popular Trump resistance organization called “Indivisible” may be the start of the new Tea Party on the left. Chronicle staff writer Joe Garofoli summarized Indivisible’s strategy:
Members of Congress don’t do anything unless their constituents hold them accountable, either by showing up en masse at district meetings armed with pointed questions (and video cameras to record the confrontation), or by overwhelming their offices with phone calls. That’s just what the newly born Tea Party did to Democrats after President Barack Obama took office in 2009, helping to flip the House back to the GOP in 2010.” http://www.sfchronicle.com/politics/article/Can-Indivisible-do-for-progressives-what-Tea-10995355.php
For the sake of argument, let’s say “Indivisible” and other resistance organizations are successful in their aim to tip the scale to majority Democrat in 2018 and then get a Democrat into the White House in 2020. Would the Democrats attempt to shove unilateral legislation and executive orders down the throats of the rest of the country the way the so-called unified Republican government is attempting to do now? This would not get us the best solutions to our common problems. This success would rile up the far right again to oppose and counter the success. The pendulum would continue to swing while our divided country grew weaker. We have a better, stronger country when we are more unified across the divide, when we search for bipartisan solutions on common ground.
Our country’s collective political persona is depressed. We are caught on both sides with “all or nothing” thinking. Our political process is depressed, and we need to find a pathway out of this state. If we are not working to pave a way out, then we are part of the problem. We need to recapture our team spirit and ability to understand and empathize with other points of view. “Most life events are not ‘completely disastrous’ or ‘absolutely wonderful’ but contain elements of both good and bad,” stated an article on Clinical-Depression.co.uk by Uncommon Knowledge LLP, a UK-based company. “Depression makes people think in absolutes.”
Progress and sensible governing happens when everyone comes to the table with an open mind and willingness to listen and look for creative solutions that don’t leave others behind. Sustainable positive outcomes don’t happen when everyone at the table already “knows it all” and is trying to convince others their way is the only way.
Author Charles Wheelen wrote in “The Centrist Manifesto” that we need to be pragmatic to solve problems facing our country, but politicians and the opposing grassroots movements are more concerned with “ideological inputs rather than quality-of-life outputs.” https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/charles-wheelan/the-centrist-manifesto/
Wheelen asked: “What is the problem we are trying to address? Why isn’t the market fixing it? What policy or policies would produce a better outcome? What are the costs of such policies, and who will bear them? What are the reasonable potential compromises that would give most parties most of what they want? Is this a good idea – regardless of which political party proposed it?”
There are good ideas and goals proposed by both conservatives and liberals. Abraham Lincoln said in 1854 http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/quotes.htm: “The legitimate object of government, is to do for a community of people, whatever they need to have done, but cannot do, at all, or cannot, so well do, for themselves – in their separate, and individual capacities.”
There are times when a free market system works, but also times when government intervention is needed at federal level, state level, or local level, and there are times when some balanced hybrid between free market and a government referee is needed to prevent greedy price gouging or abuse of workers. We should be able to have a discussion about the balance between government and free markets without devolving into personal attacks and biased generalizations about people who have different opinions and proclivities. We should be able at least to agree on what the problems are, agree on the non-partisan facts, and then have a collegial discussion on how best to solve those problems for the most good at the least cost.
Unfortunately, however, it is difficult for elected officials to govern and to think sensibly while the pendulum is swinging and the political base on either side is fired up, storming their representative’s town hall meetings demanding their way, with the threat of voting their representative out of office. Compromise and collaboration have become terms to mean “selling out.”
This polarization characterizes depression. The Uncommon Knowledge LLP article continues with advice that we could readily apply to our politics:
All or Nothing, or ‘Black and White’ thinking is the thought pattern that allows us to generate a ‘flight or fight’ response to danger. It is still needed in the world today, but not many times a day in relation to non-life-threatening stress, as so often happens with depression.” http://www.clinical-depression.co.uk/dlp/understanding-depression/all-or-nothing-or-black-and-white-thinking-and-depression/
Citizens get more excited about extreme positions than from middle-of-the road positions. It’s the difference between an ice cream sundae sugar rush, and greens with a vitamin pill chaser we know is good for us but boring.
“Because ‘All or Nothing’ thinking is emotionally arousing, it causes over-dreaming and maintains depression…,” stated the Uncommon Knowledge LLP article. In American politics today, we’re getting dreamers and ideologues fighting for their positions with their hearts and minds closed to the feasibility of their dreams. Some are earnest, perfectly well-intentioned people who are making some great points here and there, but these points in an isolated echo chamber are not doing our country any good.
We must look for signs within ourselves that we are perceiving reality with “all or nothing” thinking. It is “emotionally and physically damaging,” says Uncommon Knowledge LLP, for us as individuals. I contend this thought pattern is also damaging to America. We must challenge ourselves to think differently. Avoid personal attacks on perceived opponents and consider the basis for their concern and how a different approach might get both of you most of what you need. It is possible to disagree without denigrating the person and assuming the harshest of motives. We don’t have to be right all the time, and further, no matter how intelligent, well-read or well-informed we are, we don’t know it all. Not one of us is perfect or all-knowing.
According to Uncommon Knowledge LLP team, all or nothing thinking is found in depressed people everywhere because “it is part of the most primitive of human responses: The Fight or Flight Response. When faced with a life-threatening situation, we must make a snap decision and act on it. There is no time for ‘maybe this’, or ‘maybe that’.”
Our still young America cannot long survive in a “fight or flight” state of being. Name-calling and shouting over each other will not help us find a new pathway. Instead of shouts of “Obstruct!” on the right and “Resist!” on the left, we should be whispering together: “Listen!” “Think!” “Discuss!” “Unite!” It is time to calm down, listen to each other, and find a new sensible path forward that leads to feasible, acceptable, suitable and sustainable solutions.