During the last year, I have spent an unhealthy and inordinate amount of time arguing about politics, race and sports on my social networks.
Many of my friends have begged me to stop, pleading through text messages or private messages or email, imploring me to understand that talking about serious issues on Facebook will never do any good. And they may be right.
But what I've found on the Internet this last year is what has been supported by a frightening Pew Research study: our country is more divided now, across partisan lines, than it has been in a long time. And that division is creating a hatred for fellow Americans, a hatred for people that don't share your political views, that is nearly unprecedented.
What I've come to find true, more than any other thing I've learned from interacting with this other side, is that we have to start working together. We have to start talking to each other, fleshing out meaning from our words, investigating our motives, working together to keep the powers over us in check. It seems so obvious when you say it, but we have to start doing it and doing it honestly. Facebook and Twitter are great tools for these kinds of conversations, enabling us to communicate our ideas and feelings with people we know, people we've never met, and people from all over the country. If we do it responsibly, and honestly, the effect could be tremendous.
So when I say "Dear conservatives, let's not ruin 2015," I mean it quite literally: let us, liberals and conservatives, not ruin it like we did 2014.
Here is my effort at turning over a new leaf of honesty in the new year, and my plea with both my "conservative" and my "liberal" brethren to be more honest with each other and ourselves. Liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, centrists and libertarians, independents and people who claim they hate politics, we're all in it together and we're all responsible for our country's actions -- whether we voted for those actions or not.
Firstly, and most importantly, we need to be better at digesting our news. Liberals need to stop worshiping Jon Stewart and start voting. I love The Daily Show, and I'll watch it until it's off the air, but how about listening to Stewart when he tells us not to use his show as a news source, 'K? It's on Comedy Central for a reason.
Libs should also stop screaming and start talking, and quit trying to inherit the struggles of others. Yes, empathy is important. But using your understanding of the struggles of others, particularly people of color, to advance some kind of sympathy for yourself is a short-sighted and slimy thing to do. It just shows your privilege. (Also, conservatives can try grasping the simple concept of privilege in 2015.)
While we're at it, conservatives need to find another news source that isn't Fox News. Liberals can stop drooling over MSNBC (which misinforms its viewers just as frequently). Or, as a more general rule, we should all start reading our news instead of watching it. Television is a great way to track breaking news, or to watch incredible footage, but it's also designed to keep you watching and to keep you scared (even if that means keeping you misinformed). If you want real news, or real understanding, you're going to have to read to get it.
Here is a good guide:
We need to be optimistic about the economy, for the sake of the economy. There is no doubt things were bad when President Obama took office. For many people, including the African-American community, things have gotten worse or stayed the same. But all news about the economy isn't bad, and both conservatives and liberals need to accept the hard truth that your bank account not growing doesn't mean the country's economy isn't improving. As Steve Benen writes on MSNBC.com, "Economic growth is at an 11-year high. Job growth is at a 15-year high. The stock market is soaring. Wages are rising. Gas prices are plummeting. American manufacturing is improving. The uninsured rate is dropping." We can no longer greet that news with silence.
We need to start being real about our women and men in uniform. That means not acting like every soldier joined the armed forces to kill, or believing every cop gets a high from arresting a person of color. Speaking of uniforms, it also means accepting that the families of people wearing police uniforms are more likely to suffer from domestic abuse than families of people wearing NFL uniforms. It means understanding that many of the men and women who take a gun to their day job, just like many of our country's immigrants who work low-wage, hard labor positions, are probably doing a job you wouldn't want to do yourself. So be grateful for them. Part of that gratitude means caring about the repercussions of their service, and knowing when to shy away from blind hero worship. Like lawyers, doctors, celebrities and athletes, men and women in uniform are fallible the same way we all are. And, like the rest of us, sometimes they are scrutinized unjustly and sometimes they operate with impunity.
"[U]ntil the color of a man's skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes." White conservatives need to stop telling people of color that the color of their skin doesn't make them more susceptible to police violence, to profiling or to a general negative assumption about their character, especially if you've never been a person of color (read: all white people), and especially not when as recently as 2012 a majority of Americans still held "explicitly anti-black attitudes." White liberals need to stop acting like their race issues are becoming worse, when many of the statistics show it is only getting better. The fact that 53% of Americans believe race relations have gotten worse since Obama took office is more a product of click-worthy headlines and sensationalist television news than the day-to-day experience for many. While we may not "agree" about race across partisan lines, we (shockingly) do agree on some solutions. We also need to avoid the illusion that having a black president is some kind of progress for people of color. As Chris Rock so aptly put it (by the way, conservatives need to stop quoting Chris Rock about black-on-black crime), "To say Obama is progress is saying that he's the first black person that is qualified to be president. That is not black progress. That's white progress. There's been black people qualified to be president for hundreds of years."
We need to stop being so scared of guns. Dear liberals, just because someone owns a gun doesn't mean they want to use it, hate gays, love Jesus or are anti-marijuana-legalization. Dear conservatives, just because we "have the right to bear arms" doesn't mean you should have a gun, or that guns are good for the country. Liberals need to stop acting like the majority of Americans are against gun ownership when they aren't. Conservatives need to stop acting like high rates of gun ownership can't be directly linked to the horribly tragic number of gun deaths when it can. As a whole, let's accept the fact that far more people are dying in mass shootings in our country than anywhere else. The issue cannot be ignored any longer, and whether we need to reform our gun laws or work on the mental health of our country (presumably both), we need to do it quickly, in an informed manner and together.
We need to stop acting like Republicans don't care about the poor. As has been widely reported and studied, the "inconvenient truth" for liberals is that Republicans are actually more charitable, and it isn't because they have more money. The motivations for being a giver vary drastically between liberals and conservatives, which is also an important conversation. But the bottom line is that when it comes to caring about the poor, going about it differently doesn't give liberals the right to act like they are somehow better. The belief that wanting to give health care to the uninsured is a more effective way to help poor people than, say, the countless religious organizations that raise money and do community outreach is unfounded. The Bible Belt could teach the rest of us a lesson about how to be better givers.
We need to stop wasting our time and money on pointless, hyperbolic, headline-grabbing accusations. I apologize for the candor, but this one is mainly directed at some maniacal Republican congressmen and congresswomen and the Fox News hosts who feed the beast. Here are four things that you've probably heard about, spent time worrying about, or had to argue about during Thanksgiving dinner: planes disappearing, Ebola, Benghazi, and the IRS. Unfortunately for Fox News, CNN, MSNBC and the like, flying in 2014 was the safest year thus far in the 21st century. I know that doesn't get ratings, but it might be worth including in the endless coverage of these admittedly fascinating plane disappearances. Ebola fear was a fad produced by your cable news networks and has quickly passed. Despite the fact that Fox News is (still?!) calling for the GOP to tackle the Benghazi and IRS "scandals," after years of Republican-led investigation, both the Benghazi and IRS-imposing-sanctions-on-Republicans myths have been debunked.
We need to remember that, quite literally, we're all in this together. The 1% and the 99% is not some anarchist or liberal ideal. Our country's wealth, its health and the politicians on the ballot you vote for are all at the whim of a small group of wealthy elites who seldom have your interests in mind. Part of this truth is because such a shockingly low number of Americans exercise their right to vote. Part of it is because, in politics, money is power. This truth is so evident that I can't decide how to link it, so I'll leave it to you to do the research yourself. It's a liberal myth that these big money-grabbing politicians are always Republican; the truth is almost all of our most powerful politicians are bought and paid for.
As the dawn of 2015 approaches, let's all keep in mind that the men and women of our country, the Jesus lovers and the Muslims, the cops and the criminals, the blacks and the whites, the Republicans and the Democrats, the children and the elderly, and the 10,958 Americans born every day need each other. We need to stick together, to work together, to look out for each other, to keep each other safe and to lend a helping hand when we're capable. Sometimes I wish we could all act with the unity, the same regard for the people around you, as we did in the days following September 11th (with the exception, of course, of the rabid Islamaphobia). And if we could do that in the New Year, without a devastating tragedy forcing us together, we'd be off to a great start in 2015.