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From polarization to intolerance

When I started this column, I made one promise to myself: I wasn’t going to write about anything political.

Of course, everything is political to an extent. But I wasn’t going to feed the fire on either side of the party lines.

It’s not because I’m uninterested. Politics forces us to have an opinion, to make a decision, to dig deep and to think about what we believe and why we believe it (or at least it should). But I’ll probably never get into political writing because politics these days are so ... political.

Since the millennial generation came of age, politics have gotten more harsh and intolerant than previously. A February 2014 Pew Research study confirmed what I was feeling: America today is more politically polarized than it was even a decade ago. Republicans are more conservative, and Democrats are more liberal.

It’s not completely a bad thing. As a girl who’s always had a hard time making decisions, it doesn’t bother me that people have stronger political convictions than they used to. It actually might help us accomplish something in the world.

But what bothers me about polarized politics is the hate they seem to inspire for people of the opposite opinion. If you keep up with any of the major news networks, you see it almost every day.

Headlines like “How the liberals are corrupting America” or “The GOP makes another dumb decision” try to tell us what we should believe and how we should feel. And if you read between the lines, they’re telling us to hate each other.

When you watch news talk shows where they have Democrats and Republicans debating an issue on a split screen, the Democrat laughs when the Republican is talking, and the Republican does the same thing when it’s the Democrat’s turn. The laughing heads tell us: “I can’t even explain my superior reasoning to you because you’re not smart enough or righteous enough to understand.”

We’ve gotten to the point that we can’t even have an intelligent argument anymore because if you don’t agree with me, your ideas are dumb or demonic. Actually, they’re so dumb or demonic it’s laughable.

And that’s what scares me the most. It’s not political polarization; it’s political intolerance. If we tell everyone who disagrees with us that their ideas aren’t valuable, we lose the opportunity to reassess our own reasoning and reach a better solution.

Ironically, the people arguing until they’re blue in the face usually want the same result. Ultimately, most of us want a better state, a better America and a better future.

But our different ideas about how to get there tend to keep us from accomplishing anything other than learning new ways to push each other’s buttons. We both want to do what we think is best for everyone, but we’re estranging each other in the process of trying to help.

I’m tired of hearing Republicans are stupid and Democrats are demons. I’m tired of being told that just because I believe this, I’m an idiot, or if I support that, I’m even worse.

People have political views. They aren’t political parties. When I lived in New York, I made friends at the far-from-similar Fox News and Huffington Post, and the cool thing about these people is that they weren’t walking stereotypes. I met minority women who were fiscally conservative and other women who were devoutly religious liberals.

But the sad thing is, when we think about Republicans, we don’t picture minority women, and when we think about Democrats, we don’t picture devout believers. We picture the stereotype, and the stereotype allows us to hate.

The sad thing about hate is it makes politics that should inspire constructive conversations almost intolerable. And the sad thing about politics being almost intolerable is that people who might actually want to write about them avoid the topic like the bubonic plague.

So, yes, I’m interested in politics. But if you ask me whether I’m interested in political writing, I’ll probably tell you no.

Kara Hackett is social media writer for The Journal Gazette. To see more of her work throughout the week and participate in the conversation, go to www.journalgazette.net/coffeebreak, where this column first appeared.

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