I’ve been an independent voter since before I could even legally vote. In fact, I remember the exact moment that I realized I was an independent – well, now that I live in Rhode Island, I guess I remember the moment I became “unaffiliated.”
I was in a high school civics and government class in my hometown of North Reading, Mass. learning about the American political system. We specifically were learning what “partisanship” was in that context – a strong, unflinching bias favoring a political party of choice that ignored conflicting evidence or arguments against that chosen affiliation’s agenda in favor of blind allegiance.
The whole notion immediately struck me as completely ridiculous. How could you knowingly, blindly follow something abstract like a political party – something that encompasses countless different issues and could potentially impact your life in very meaningful, tangible ways – like you would root for a sports team whose actions make no actual impact on your life?
Credit to my parents and the Massachusetts educational system, I suppose, for raising me to question things, do my own research and come to my own conclusions, because from what I see in America today, partisanship has disturbingly become the standard in politics. Sides have chosen their teams, and now the only thing that matters is the final score – winners and losers.
But we all lose, if that’s how we choose to engage in political discourse.
Since I was a child, I’ve recognized that very few things in life are cut and dry. If you slip and fall, you’ll get a bruise, if you wear a white shirt you will spill ketchup on it somehow – those kinds of things are certain. But everything else is immersed in endless shades of gray. Appreciating that level of nonstop nuance is likely what led me to becoming a journalist. I have always craved to find out the deeper story behind peoples’ beliefs and why things are the way that they are.
This is why it’s so troubling to me to see people – including some in my own life who I know, for certain, know better – falling into the trap of partisanship. Such a narrow interpretation of life cheapens our reality by simplifying things into two camps – Republicans versus Democrats; liberals versus conservatives; good guys versus bad guys. Partisans are willing to completely forgive the misdeeds of their chosen group while lashing out at the other at every turn.
It’s shocking that it even has to be said, but anybody can be good and anybody can be bad. Titles, like your political party, have absolutely no bearing on your actions as a person. I have always believed that your actions are the criteria for which you should be judged, not whether you wear a blue or a red tie. More importantly, the tie color you choose to wear absolutely should not bear any difference on the level of scrutiny your thoughts, actions and opinions face under the objective lens of truth.
Regardless, because of the proliferation of oversimplified partisanship – exacerbated by a 24-hour news cycle that (on both ends of the political spectrum) profits from creating echo chambers for partisans to revel in news that confirms what they already believe – we now have a very dangerous situation that continues to get more volatile with each passing day.
A legitimate impeachment inquiry has begun in this country, and yet there is a significantly large fraction of our population that will simply never allow themselves to believe that the President of the United States is capable of doing something wrong. Further, this group will seemingly never accept any level of evidence presented to them to prove said wrongdoing. The president said it himself while running, that he could literally shoot somebody in public and his supporters would remain loyal.
That really, really isn’t good. Unflinching support is a recipe for disaster no matter who that support goes behind. There must always be a line that can’t be crossed, otherwise how on Earth do you expect to hold someone accountable when they do something wrong?
True, patriotic Americans are supposed to unflinchingly support American ideals. Americans are not supposed to blindly follow any one person, especially any president, and especially in light of serious, mounting evidence that they have abused the powers of the office they hold.
They certainly shouldn’t offer unwavering support to a president who has demanded the identity of a whistleblower that has threatened their power. If there is nothing to the whistleblower’s claims, the president should have no reason to fear, and will be rightfully exonerated. But whistleblowing is an essential safeguard in our democracy, as there are sometimes no other ways to bring to light illegal activities of those in the highest positions of our government, and must be unimpeded.
But therein lies the exact problem. If you reach a point where your support of someone surpasses everything else – where any evidence of them doing something wrong simply becomes “fake news” or a conspiracy – then you are far beyond the point of being able to reasonably or objectively examine their actions and make your own determination of whether or not those actions are appropriate. You have become a member of a personality cult.
I would write this column whether Donald Trump was a Democrat or a Republican or an Independent, because political affiliation means exactly nothing to me. The president’s actions since taking office have often appalled me, but nothing has shocked me as badly as seeing so many of my fellow Americans continue to support his presidency for no reason other than the fact that he identifies as a Republican, as if that alone is somehow enough to forgive any number of outrageous and overtly questionable actions.
But that’s how partisanship works. It turns you into a glaring, unapologetic hypocrite. Just imagine if Barack Obama faced any of the accusations that Trump has faced or currently faces. Republicans would have been demanding his impeachment years ago, damning all who would oppose it, propping up any evidence as gospel and disregarding any evidence to the contrary. This irony is apparently lost on the Republicans blindly defending Trump today despite a deluge of mounting evidence pointed against him – including his very own words.
We have to be better than this. Nobody is infallible or above the law, and once you’ve willfully surrendered your ability to think critically and objectively, there is no going back. You will be victimized by those who know they can take advantage of your blind allegiance. Whether they’re an elephant or a donkey or a wolf wearing either disguise, you’ll become a sheep.