In the United States, we have our midterm elections coming up on November 8, 2022. Both “sides” of the election (the conservative and right-leaning Republicans and the progressive and left-leaning Democrats) have an alarming number of people frothing at the mouth with vitriol toward their opposing side. The other side, both argue, are an existential threat to democracy. They’re not just wrong or misguided, but nefarious and cunning. They want to harm [insert group here, e.g., children or minorities]. This is the kind of political divisiveness that heralds an inevitable plunge into authoritarianism and totalitarianism. Here is the problem, though: both sides are not exactly wrong about their opponents.
This post was inspired by (A) the fact that the election is coming up soon (as of writing this) and everyone in the U.S. has been inundated with the rhetoric and propaganda, and (B) the above video.
That the Republicans are adhering to a baseless conspiracy theory about the illegitimacy of the 2020 election is clear to anyone not swept up in the religious enthusiasm of Trump’s cult of personality. But I find it interesting that in the above video (and when any other person on the left touches on the issue) the progressives’ denial of the 2016 election legitimacy is never brought up. The bizarre and debunked conspiracy theory that “Russia hacked the election” turned into a four-year long circus of thinly-supported claims (e.g., the Steele dossier) and feverish speculation.
That’s not to say that the number of Republican candidates who buy into the ludicrous lies and conspiracy theories about the 2020 election isn’t troubling and dangerous. It definitely is. But claims of election fraud coming from the right weren’t created in a vacuum.
It’s also the case that, while Republicans (perhaps true to their conservative nature) have concentrated their efforts on seizing power in the political realm, those on the left have undergone a concerted effort over the last several decades to capture cultural institutions (e.g., universities, schools, Hollywood, news media). This sounds conspiratorial (and in the strict sense of the word it definitely is), but it’s also their stated goal (see References below for just a few examples).
My point here isn’t to say that one side is evil and the other side is good. No, that would be way too optimistic. My thesis is that both sides are right when they call the other side evil. Okay, maybe the word evil is too strong. I think both sides are acting all too human (the history of authoritarianism and totalitarianism will attest to that). But the zero-sum, polarized, ideological mindset on both sides will almost certainly conjure great harm to a great many people (even to those who ultimately “win” this absurd race to the bottom).
Yet, political polarization is driven by the powerful engine of a positive feedback loop, where the more extreme one side becomes, the more extreme the other, and vice versa. Truth is jettisoned in favor of narrative, because any admittance that the enemy might possess some kernel of truth is taken as advocating for evil. People will readily gorge themselves at the trough of lies if it is perceived to aid in undermining political enemies.
Here is what is most likely true: politicians care about your well being only incidentally, if at all. Their true loyalty is either to themselves or to an ideological narrative, for the preservation of which they will gladly sell you down the river should you oppose or betray it. The Mitch McConnells and Nancy Pelosis of congress are puerile opportunists who care only for themselves, and will use their positions only to further their own enrichment and self-aggrandizement. The Marjorie Taylor Greenes and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortezs of congress are zealots who will use you as pawns in the service of their ridiculous ideologies.
Yet, in an age of unreason, I’m aware that I’m merely shouting into the void here. All republics seem to persist on borrowed time and all empires eventually collapse.
Herbert Marcuse (1969) Essay on Liberation
Paulo Freire (1970) Pedagogy of the Oppressed
Paulo Freire (1985) The Politics of Education: Culture, Power and Liberation
Gloria Ladson-Billings (1995) Toward a Theory of Culturally Relevant Pedagogy
Gloria Ladson-Billings and William Tate IV (1995) Toward a Critical Theory of Education
Fahs and Karger (2016) Womens Studies as Virus