“You’re either with us or against us.” –George W. Bush, November 2001
Funny how such a childish sentiment can become the foundation of national policy over a few short years. At the time, it seemed kind of silly, but it truly has sunk into the hearts and minds of the nation. In even the most civilized debates, the sentiment quickly lodges its place and corrupts the dialogue. Everyone thinks the media has taken sides, and perhaps they are right. Perhaps the media had to in order to keep people reading, as the people seem incapable of accepting a balanced argument. While the international community scrambles to keep on our good side, or failing that lashes out with the same inane rhetoric, the people look to the President to tell them who we love and who we shall hate. Ever wonder whether this is really serving our best interests?
Back in the summer, I had a wonderful series of arguments with my father in law. He is an extremely intelligent, thoughtful man, and we never agree about politics. I always look forward to his visits.
This time, the discussions eventually turned to the Israeli-Lebanon conflict, which was very hot news at the time. As usual, we disagreed. His arguments were that Israel had a right to defend herself, that allowing Lebanese terrorism to go unchecked was fueling the fire that had once burned us, that Hezbollah was a threat not only to the Israeli people, but ultimately to the Lebanese people as well. My stance was that the Israeli retaliation had been over the top, and had caused great harm to the Lebanese people, and ultimately weakened the Israeli stance, as it would contribute fuel to Hezbollah’s cause. The stage was set.
We were arguing merrily (if passionately) along, when there came a show stopper. When asked if he understood my stance, he responded that yes, indeed he did: I supported the terrorists.
I was completely taken aback. I had never voiced approval of Hezbollah’s actions. I deplore violence in any form, and truly feel that it only ever leads to more violence. Yet, somehow, my stating that I believed that Israel was wrong had equated to my saying that Hezbollah was right. And this, from one of the people I respect most, both as a person and as an intellectual opponent.
How did this happen?
The same trend is prevalent everywhere I look. If you do not support one side, you must support the other. If you believe that Iran is not the Ultimate Evil, then you must believe they are the Ultimate Good. If you do not support the war in Iraq, you must support the terrorists. If you do not support the President, you must hate the United States.
Of course, it happens on the other side of the political divide, as well:
If you support the President, you must hate the Constitution. If you believe in Jesus, you must want to see the Middle East glassed. If you are against abortion, you must hate women. And so on…
It’s funny, because in talking with individuals, it is hard to find anyone who ascribes entirely to a pre-packaged belief system. Even the most devout conservatives often find fault with the current administration’s fiscal management. Even the most fanatical liberals may believe that a strong military is necessary for our security. There are Christians who believe Allah is the same as Jehovah, pro-lifers who want to see an extensive birth control education program, animal rights demonstrators who will eat free range meat. We are none of us a predictable algorithm.
What does this black and white view accomplish, and whom does it benefit? In a time plagued by violence and uncertainty, it breeds more violence and uncertainty. In a nation devoured by difficult problems, it prevents actual solutions. It feeds fear and hatred of our neighbors, and it benefits no one but those who are intent on bullying their way through to their vision of the future, those who believe that Might makes Right.
We are a young nation, but we are old enough to know better. Talking to others with an open mind does not threaten your own opinions, unless your own opinions are already flawed. Perhaps it’s time we asked ourselves what our goal as individuals and as a nation actually is. Do we want to find the right answer, or do we just want to win?