Political opponents need to stop treating each other as enemies

Published 2:50 pm Tuesday, November 15, 2016


Guest columnist

This election was the most rancorous within my memory – an ugly, embarrassing, and unpleasant experience. Thus, what the primary characters say about its conclusion is of interest. Since President elect Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and President Obama all emphasized the need to come together, there is cause for optimism.  The election made them a little queasy as well.

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The most cogent remark came from President Obama.  He argued we must restore “the presumption of good faith in our fellow citizens.”  He is precisely on point. The core of our problem is we treat each other as if we are enemies.  It’s an odd notion, since our liberal friends insist we have no foreign enemies to fear; yet, they consider conservatives a fearsome threat.  Oh, if it were only true that all our national enemies were as benign as U.S. conservatives.

We are not perfect; but, perfection is an absurd standard for pragmatic judgments.  Judgments must be made within the set of imperfect choices.  We are always choosing between imperfect real alternatives.  To do that we must scrutinize each imperfect alternative.  If you cannot discriminate between the pluses and minuses embedded in the alternatives due to political correctness, you cannot make a rational choice.  Within the set of all imperfect choices, I prefer the people of the United States over others.  Apparently, this view is widely shared since the U.S. is the world’s destination of choice.

I made that point to a colleague once who dismissed it as simply the lure of “economic opportunity.”  The uniqueness of the economic opportunity in the U.S. escaped her.  The worst you can expect from others is indifference and that leaves success up to you.  You will receive an occasional hand up from an unexpected source.  Benevolent indifference is an important part of our cultural capital.  Voting with your feet is a strong expression of faith.

The bad news is many Democrat voters, parts of the media, and Hollywood did not get the president’s memo.  In many cities across the country Democrat voters took to the streets to protest Trump’s victory.  They are protesting other peoples’ vote.  What an irony, given the Democrats supposed opposition to voter suppression.  Further, there is a movement among some Democrats to get the Electoral College to overturn the election.  That’s a declaration of war on Trump supporters, a profoundly bad idea.

Beyond the protests, Trump’s election unleashed assaults on his voters.  One middle aged man was dragged from his car and brutally beaten for having “voted Trump.”  The most unnerving of all is the cascade of death threats made on social media.  The characterization of Trump supporters as a “basket of deplorables” continues despite the evidence they are simply average U.S. citizens who love their country and are very worried about their families and their future.

Suspicion of other citizens is stoked, structured, and sustained by the politicians and media who plan to manipulate our emotions.  The politicians and media rob us of the opportunity to deal with real issues.  People use this tactic because they are lazy or cannot counter the positions taken by their opposition.  It is the bottom feeder’s weapon of choice.

 Demonization of opponents is now an acceptable political strategy.  As President Obama says, we must re-establish “the presumption of good faith” and the principle of “the loyal opposition” in our political discourse.  Any politician or media member who violates this core value should be punished at the ballot box or by the withdrawal of commercial support.

Bob Martin is Emeritus Boles Professor of Economics at Centre College.