The Danger of Political Parties: We Were Warned

Why don’t we just stop yelling at each other?

A few days ago, during a socratic seminar in my Time to Think class, my teacher interrupted our discussion to congratulate the class on our ability to debate like rational human beings. In a time when the country seems split down the middle and with politics as polarized as ever, it seems that we have forgotten the key to having an effective argument: acknowledging validity of the other person’s ideas.

Humans have this really cool ability to communicate with each other through the advanced language system that we’ve been building and editing since the first person ever pointed at something and gave it a name. These days, however, we have all mastered our mother language, but for some reason, we’ve lost the ability to really communicate. Sure, we can tell each other our ideas and argue till the cows come home, but are we really gaining anything from our conversations? Think about the last time you turned on your TV to watch CNN. You most likely read a caption on the bottom that said “BREAKING NEWS: New Allegations Against President” then watched a reporter try to interview a few experts before eventually bringing the issue to a panel discussion. If you’re anything like me, this process has probably brought you more anxiety and frustration than a working sense of the day’s news, which, by the way, is not the way cable news is supposed to work.

An interviewer asks a question and gets no response or is interrupted, a panel of experts talk over each other for ten minutes straight, there’s a split screen between a daily White House Press Briefing and a running commentary by a senator from the opposite side of the aisle; all of these scenarios are more confusing than educational and convince me that the only source of news I need is Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. But here’s the problem:

I identify as a liberal, someone who typically favors candidates from the Democratic Party and believes in a welfare state, so I tend to find get my daily news through more liberal-leaning sources of media; The New York Times, CNN, PBS, and the occasional satirical late night television host. I hear the words Republican or conservative and I’m immediately prepared to disagree with the source and brace myself for an argument. But here’s the thing, that’s really bad.

Labels cause a lot of trouble and the moment someone or something identifies as either liberal or conservative, most audience members have already decided whether or not they’re going to agree or disagree with the source. I’ll admit it, I’m guilty of this. Political parties are so polarized in today’s day and age that nobody even dares to be a moderate. Unfortunately, parties are typically simplified down to a few controversial policy points and whoever happens to be the party’s most popular, recognizable member becomes that group’s symbol. This is not the way things should be done. Once we generalize politics down to two angry groups arguing all day long and refusing to compromise with each other, we enter a dangerous political climate that can only hurt our country in the long run.

We have this notion that if a Democrat wants to introduce some form of policy or nominate someone to the Supreme Court, all the Republicans will vote against their decision and vice versa. These days, a Republican President has very little sway over legislation if he/she doesn’t come with a matching House and Senate. Politicians are so stuck in their party’s lines that they forget to collaborate and consider issues from all points of view. Just because a social reform comes from a Republican doesn’t mean it’s going to cut some program’s budget or discriminate against a group of people, that’s not what the party stands for, but most Democrats will dismiss the Republican suggestion immediately. If they’re looking through the proposed plan, they often search for that which confirms their pre-existing expectations. I would argue that it’s this confirmation bias that makes our government seem so useless.

George Washington, our country’s arguably most widely accepted and appreciated president, warned us all about the danger of political parties all the way back in 1796. To this day, his words drip with premonition and leave me wondering if he was truly capable of seeing where our politics would wind up a two centuries later. In the words of our first president:

It serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which finds a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions… the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it (Washington, 1796).

Why I Refuse the Refundable Ticket

My choice- Surrender or Victory?

I’ve been in France for a nearly three months now, and I feel comfortable enough to say that I have a relatively decent understanding of the effects France’s most recent tragedies have had on the population. For anybody who has been living in a reclusive wooden cabin in the middle of the forest, there have been numerous, devastating terrorist attacks in the last year that have resulted in high casualties and low self esteem when it comes to security in major cities.

France is not the only country to endure major acts of terrorism recently, but the scale of their two most deadly encounters with extremists, Paris (13 November 2015) and Nice (14 July 2016) have been highlighted in the media as some of the worst in the world. These sorts of attacks are heartbreaking and terrifying, but with time, the community has to return to some sort of normalcy and figure out how to go on with their lives.  

Moving on after tragedy is hard enough on its own, but when the time comes for another highly publicized event, all of the emotions of fear and trauma arise again to torment the minds of every citizen within a 20 mile radius. Terrorism inevitable succeeds in its goal to instil terror simply by attacking and causing grief, but the extent to which it can truly succeed in breaking our society depends on how much control we give that fear. It was not until my host family told me to pay extra for a refundable train ticket to Strasbourg for the annual Christmas Market that I realized just how strong the hold of terrorism is here in France. My host family warned me that they might cancel the Christmas Market, just like they had canceled a festival in Lille last weekend and an air show in Marseille last month.

For some reason, hearing them talk about this broke my heart and filled it with fire; I honestly don’t think I have ever felt as bitter and angry as I did at that moment. I hated it. I hated that the French people were giving in. I hated that they were ready to ignore tradition for the sake of security. I don’t have a very extensive French vocabulary, but I managed to make my feelings quite clear in a three word phrase. “Je deteste ça.” I hissed.

My host family then looked at me very surprised and almost looked offended. I went on to tell them that the entire point of terrorist attacks is to make us live in fear and to make us feel unsafe- like every city is a war zone and every crowd surrounded by hostile soldiers. If we adopt that mentality, then they win. We say that we are engaged in a war on terror but if that’s true, then each time we cancel an event or chose not to go to a concert or a soccer match because of safety concerns, we lose a battle.

We keep surrendering.

I couldn’t seem to get this across to my host family- they didn’t understand why I was so upset. After all, this was meant to protect me. But the thing is, I want to make my own choice whether or not I go to that Christmas market. I want to decide whether I think the war against terror is a cause worth risking my life for.

If I wanted to shelter myself completely from danger in the United States, then maybe I wouldn’t go to school or shopping malls because of all of the mass shootings. I would never go to concerts or walk down Newbury Street or go watch the start of the Boston Marathon. But I choose to do all of those things because I chose to have faith in law enforcement and faith that the more I demonstrate my endurance despite the constant reminders of danger, the more I prove to terrorists that terrorism doesn’t work. Why? Because I chose to ignore it. I will respect the ones who have died in this war and I will be more cautious when I attend high profile events, but I refuse to stop living my life.

I choose to adapt to my new reality, not hide from it, and I trust my fellow citizens and government officials to do the same. I will ignore the flood of emails I receive daily from the State Department reminding me to avoid crowds, areas of worship, concerts, demonstrations, and basically every else that I walk past every day. I live in a world terror that I cannot escape, so I chose to live in spite of fear to prove that we will win this war.

I am alive and I am not afraid; I have already won.

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Assisted Suicide

Who Gets to Choose?

If I were in bondage, and I begged to be released, would you be punished for setting me free? Would you tell me to wait until I accepted my fate or until my captor one day chooses to release me from my chains? If I freed myself, you would be safe from punishment, yet the process would have wounded me and left me in tatters. Think of how much simpler things would have been, how much less painful, if you gave me the key. There is no difference for a person feeling oppressed by their own circumstance, for the mind can hold chains that are far stronger than metal.

Choosing to die is not a split second decision; it is something that races through your mind maybe once or twice, then more and more frequently until the thought of death consumes you. Can you imagine being so incredibly hopeless that there seems to be no possibility of escaping the wretched weight of the minds’ aggressive attacks? The terminally ill are often in pain, and what right do we have to continuously subject our loved ones to daily torture in the effort to save just a few more days of their lives.

We are tricked by smiles and laughter. We are deceived into believing that a person is incapable of being both happy and miserable at the same time. Someone may feel pleasure while watching a movie or spending time exchanging witty banter with their friends, but that doesn’t mean that they are any better off when the lights are turned back on and the friends leave for the evening. The most crippling moments are those in private when the joy seems to fade from the air. Staring wide eyed and paralyzed at the ceiling, they dread the moment when their eyes open and the trials of the day await them.

We see our loved ones get up in the morning and go about their day. We don’t see the clockwork in their mind ticking away the time until the next bout of happiness may hit, or wondering whether or not that happiness may come at all. We watch the ill suffer in hopes that they can hang on until a cure is found. That hope both enlightens us and constrains us. We tell the ones we love to keep on moving forward, not necessarily for their benefit, but for ours. We don’t want our loved ones to die. We don’t want to imagine lives without them, but we must understand that at a certain point, those people are already gone. They have been replaced by doppelgangers, shrouded in misery, struggling to keep us believing that they are stronger than they feel.

If it comes to the point when a patient is begging for death, for release from the pain of existence, what is a parent, sibling, or lover to do? Keep the suffering bound in torture, or face the wrath of thousands of strangers who will forever judge them for letting their poor child kill themselves? These strangers believe they are upholding the standards of ethics as they accuse husbands of manslaughter after they’ve sat next to their wives and watched them take a drug that erases all of their pain. The prosecutors rarely have any relation to the deceased, yet they feel compelled to argue on their behalf. Do they not think that a parent, spouse, or sibling understands the desires of their loved ones the best?

If there is mutual consent among all parties, there is no one to blame. Poor widows are unable to grieve with mobs gathered around their doors threatening them with threats and handcuffs. Suicide itself used to be considered a noble sacrifice, a preferable death to dying in battle or being held hostage, why have things changed so much? We criticize terminally ill people for cutting their suffering short and releasing themselves from the prisons of their own minds, and how is this different from what used to be thought of as “justifiable” sacrifice.

Death is by no means a good thing, however it can be preferable to a life of suffering. We need to decide as a community whether we want to scorn the dead for the way they ended their lives or appreciate the positive ways in which they lived.

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Donald Trump’s Twitter

WARNING- TRUMP SUPPORTERS MAY BE OFFENDED BY THE CRITICAL NATURE OF THIS POST

This is part two of my serial 140 characters of First Impressions- Analyzing Political Candidates through Social Media : Donald J. Trump Edition

One 2016 presidential candidate, Mr. Donald Trump, tends to favor the “shock, awe, and mortify” strategy that consists of complaining, scandalous comments, and vicious attacks aimed at his opponents. Trump believes that policy is a topic for a president, not a nominee, and therefore prefers to tell people what not to do and why they’re wrong, as opposed to what our country should do instead while he waits for a room at the White House.

Take this recent tweet, for example:

Within this singular tweet, Trump has managed to criticize the entire world, yell at Isis, and insult a fellow candidate, Hillary Clinton. Trump implies that he can fix it, but can he? I know now that he sees Isis as a threat and doesn’t think that Hillary can do anything about it, but I have no idea how exactly he plans to do anything more than she can.

Since I read the news, I know that Trump has said in an interview that he plans to not only take out Isis’ leaders, but their families as well. I have to admit, I’ve only ever seen a clip of this interview, so perhaps the words were taken out of context, but really, is their any acceptable situation in which one can promise to murder entire families for the actions of one of the family’s members? Anyway, to get back on topic, I know of these plans because I’ve taken the time to do further research into the candidates, not because I’ve scrolled through Trump’s twitter.

Here is yet another example of Trump insulting a politician, complaining about something, then adding a few exclamation points as decoration.

Great! The TSA is falling apart… So? Airports are a total disaster! Okay, well that sucks for us planning on traveling this summer, but what exactly is wrong with the security of our transportation, and how are you going to fix it, Donald?

Finally, to give a final example of Trump’s famous, “Prove everyone else is awful and you may seem tolerable” strategy, I have included a final tweet that encompasses Trump’s feelings on Hillary Clinton’s political views.

Oh, pardon my mistake. Did I say political views? I meant judgement. She has bad judgement and she’s apparently stupid. Whoops, I thought Trump was campaigning for President of the United States, not the President of  Kew-Forest High School’s Freshman class. Donald Trump successfully attributes Hillary’s election to four years of poor government, however he does nothing to explain why he himself is qualified. Donald Trump hopes that his followers already hate Hillary, so he riles them up with various tweets offending her. Trump’s twitter appeals to his supporters, but does nothing to gain appreciation from those he hopes to convert. At this point, Trump knows his audience and uses his tweets to get them fired up.

By reading these tweets, we as an audience immediately feel something deep in our guts. For me, I feel a sort of queasy, uncomfortable sensation that suggests that I am either completely embarrassed that this may be the man who becomes our future President, or I ate spoiled yogurt for breakfast. To an extent, you have to give the man a little bit of credit, he evoked an emotion out of us. Whether we feel riled up and excited after reading these tweets or whether we feel disgusted, we are likely to be talking about one person at the dinner table. He caught our attention with his uncensored, slanderous comments, and we play right into his trap. Trump is the King of emotional outbursts, and he knows how to use social media’s obsession with racy-gossip to his advantage.

Trump’s Twitter Rating:

Content: F

Connectivity: C

Entertainment: A

Personality: F (or A, depending on who’s name is on your car’s bumper sticker)

Next Week, Jill Stein, Green Party Candidate.

140 Characters of First Impressions

140 Characters of First Impressions:

Analyzing Presidential Candidates through Social Media

It’s no surprise that Social Media plays such an key role in presidential campaigning, seeing as how 974 million people have accounts on Twitter. Most people in today’s generation have short attention spans, and they can’t be bothered to read the newspaper, spend a few hours browsing through campaign websites, or even watch an entire political segment on CNN. For that reason, candidates have to find ways to grab people’s attention with as few words as possible, approximately 11 words to be exact.

Twitter is a chronic procrastinator’s dream; a series of short snippets that give you insight into some of life’s most important topics- you know, things like celebrity pregnancy scandals, evil teachers, and of course- cats. Thousands of new tweets stream though people’s accounts every day, and each candidate has a different strategy for breaking through the monotone complaints, angsty rants, and adorable flow of images, that pass before their follower’s eyes.

Throughout this 4 week series, I will be attempting to interpret each candidate’s “Twitter Rating,” and analyze the effects that their different social media strategies have on their campaign. How much can we learn about a candidate by stalking them on twitter? I plan to find out. Keep in mind, my opinions are inherently biased, and I cannot help my prior knowledge and feelings towards each of the candidates. Nevertheless, I plan to use plenty of evidence to support my claims, and it will be up to you to determine your own personal critiques of the candidate’s performance on the Twitter platform. I’d love to hear how you rank each of the candidates, so leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Each candidate will ultimately be judged on Content; the amount of political substance in their tweets, Connectivity; how well they connect and relate to various populations of people, Entertainment; how fun it is to scroll through their feed, and finally, Personality; how well the candidate’s unique voice is translated through the screen.

Week 1: Donald Trump; Republican Nominee

Week 2: Jill Stein; Green Party Candidate

Week 3: Bernie Sanders; Democratic Candidate

Week 4: Hillary Clinton; Democratic Candidate.  

Our first test subject: None other than the ever slanderous Donald Trump. Stay tuned!

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