Ill-will and cynicism in politics

Photo courtesy of Joseph Long

Last week, the Technique ran an opinion piece titled “The Right’s Fake Outrage” in which the author derided the hypocrisy of Republicans in their dealings with policy and current events. 

The article is nothing if not clear in its take on conservatives: “Unfeeling”, “demented”, “spineless” and more, all with implicit accusations of dishonesty and racism to add to the stream of invective.

As one generally on the political right, I had some points of dissent with that assessment. The context of the gun control debate frames the bulk of the piece. The author derides conservatives as being “too spineless to come up with counterarguments … about a topic they are unable to defend.” 

The irony in this is clear to anyone with an honest eye to the national conversation. While the response of Republicans following high-profile shootings has become predictable, the Democrats’ proposed solutions rarely extend beyond repetition of the never-defined slogan “common sense gun reform” ad nauseum, coupled with strawmanning the National Rifle Association (NRA) as some insidious incubator and financier of domestic terror. What tangible political prescriptions they do offer are likewise recycled talking points that are heavy on PR acumen and light on specifics, since detail rarely aids in electoral posturing.

The naiveté of the piece’s one-sided cynicism is made clearer by invoking the Mollie Tibbets tragedy. As many readers are likely aware, the 20 year old student was abducted and murdered last month by a Mexican national who was living in the United States illegally. Naturally, many conservative news outlets and politicians have jumped on the story as a rallying cry for tightening immigration law, some exploitatively so.

However, to claim that such behavior is unique to conservatives (as the article implies) is belied by a myriad of counterexamples. 

The same opportunism and agenda-setting exploitation can be seen in much of the media and the political left’s portrayal of illegal immigrants, police and (ironically) gun violence and mass shootings. The case being made seems to be that when Democrats leverage the victims of gun violence to lobby for stricter gun laws, it’s a noble “push for reform to prevent another tragedy”, but when Republicans hold up the similarly heartbreaking story of Mollie Tibbets as a case for stricter immigration laws, they’re exploiting tragedy for political gain.

It’s this kind of cynicism about those politically opposite one’s self — that they are insincere and wholly self-interested — that’s shredding the social fabric of our society. 

When you can immediately dismiss the opinions of entire groups of people per their supposed depravity without having to weigh the merit of their ideas, compromise becomes impossible and we retreat to our respective corners. 

It’s a behavior that has become intrinsic to all sides of our politics — but with noteworthy intensity among progressives in the age of Trump — and until we accept that most of those on the opposite side of the aisle are operating in good faith, it’s unlikely to improve.