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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Reconciling a divided America

< world of deep polarization. It can manifest itself in the benign and somewhat trivial, with vociferously-held arguments over The Bachelor, but it also rears its head in politics. There are Republicans and Democrats, who have been at loggerheads on practically every substantive issue for at least the last eight years. There are conservatives and liberals, whose opposing world-views often leave them unable to even engage in conversation to begin with. And then there are those who voted for Trump and those who did not. More likely than not, these two elements of American society have never even come into contact with one another.

This is dangerous. Without any contact, it is easy to create an image of the ‘other.’ Divisive rhetoric that creates an ‘us’ and a ‘them’ (oftentimes condemning the ‘them’ as inherently antagonistic to the ‘us’) can easily be disseminated to anyone willing to listen. Caricatured propaganda can be distributed branding the ‘other’ as inferior to some class that is more ‘deserving.’ Eventually, the ‘other’ becomes dangerous in the eyes of the ‘us,’ creating an existential fear that is not easily quelled. For a politician bent on total power and domination, nothing is more seductive.

Indeed, from time immemorial, politicians have been employing just this tactic. In the twentieth century alone we’ve seen systematic ‘other-ization’ in places that have otherwise been highly enlightened. In the 1930s and early 1940s, Nazi Germany was able to brand, through blame-filled rhetoric, propaganda, and eventually official state policy and law, Jews as incompatible with the German people and nation, threatening its very existence. Notably, this drew on pre-established patterns of ‘other-ization’ of the Jewish people, embodied in, inter alia, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which falsely claimed there to be a council of Jewish elders who effectively controlled all international systems, manipulating them for self-aggrandizement. In the latter half of the 1900s, American politicians effectively branded Communists as the ‘other,’ instilling existential fear in the hearts of all for a physically non-present enemy. Even today, Israelis are effectively casting Palestinians as some threatening ‘other,’ mainly through actions of segregation, caricaturization, and condemning rhetoric.

If one were to never know a Jew or a Communist or a Palestinian (or any other externally-branded ‘other’), it could be easy to see how this fear-mongering and scapegoating rhetoric would be effective. With only this threatening imagery to call on, it seems only logical that an individual would support repressive policies in an attempt to ‘secure’ the state from its ‘enemy.’ But this false logic breaks down the moment the two meet. It is easy to hate an idea; it is much harder to hate an individual.

At our base level, we are all the same. Humans the world over, regardless of their identity or ideology, desire stability, opportunity, and safety for themselves and their family. At this level, there is substantively nothing that separates a Jew from a non-Jew, a Communist from a non-Communist, or a Palestinian from an Israeli. By interacting with these so-called ‘others,’ we can discover this not just intellectually but viscerally.

For us at Carleton, it is imperative that we interact with those individuals who support Trump and his ideology. We may disagree with their political predilections, but we should never criminalize them for their beliefs. Rather than rhetorically branding them as inherently racist, misogynistic and antithetical to our liberal leanings, it is incumbent upon us to learn why they think what they think, to discover what motivates them. Through this process, we can create interpersonal dialogue that moves the conversation away from an us-them paradigm and into something far more productive. Perhaps more importantly, the same effect will occur in the opposite direction. By exposing Trump supporters to ourselves – to advocates of women’s rights, diversity and globalism – we will protect against popular support of the incoming administration’s more repressive policies. If we elect instead to avoid all contact, we become complicit in any future persecution. Only through dialogue and deep personal connection can we protect the myriad rights that, to us, seem natural and inalienable.

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