Elections by their very nature turn the country into a nation of us-versus-them as various factions fight for votes, largely by denouncing the other side’s candidate and the views and policies that candidate espouses. Every year, this battle feels dirtier and grimier, but this year—2016—feels worse than ever.
In an election cycle during which the word “unprecedented” has been used an unprecedented number of times, we here in the United States have taken to otherizing each other in an unprecedented fashion. (This is happening elsewhere as well, as we see polarized factions of voters otherizing each other in England, France, Germany, etc.)
Donald Trump spent the past eight years otherizing President Obama with his ridiculous birtherism, effectively seeking to delegitimize Obama’s entire presidency. It was a message that resonated all too well with millions of voters. The so-called “birther movement” was so effective that still, this year, the last year of President Obama’s last term, 72 percent of registered Republicans still did not believe that President Obama was born here in America. Furthermore, two thirds of Trump’s backers believe President Obama, a Christian, to be a Muslim. These rumors have been debunked countless times, but, regardless, the otherizing of Obama did the trick.
Trump and the Trumpsters are not the only ones, though, to engage in otherizing. Hillary Clinton famously dismissed half of Trump’s supporters as “deplorables,” effectively otherizing them while labeling them as “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic — you name it.” Although taken not entirely in context, the phrase was quickly hashtagged into #BasketOfDeplorables, a label some of Trump’s followers wore with pride.
Whether we call it stereotyping or labeling or otherizing, we have become expert at it, lumping together groups of people, saying whatever we want about them and calling them whatever we want to—almost always something negative—without seeking to understand those people or to take the time to talk to and listen to them. Instead, we write things like “Those of us who labor in the real world—who built this country, who make it work and who defend it—deal with reality. Most liberals don’t.”
Oh, yes, that’s so true. Liberals don’t deal with reality. Liberals don’t labor in the real world. Liberals don’t strive to make it work. And liberals don’t defend our country. At least, so says Kurt Schlichter, a senior columnist for Townhall.com, who was recruited to write conservative commentary by Andrew Breitbart of Breitbart News (or, as it really should be written, Breitbart “News”).
Of course it is also true that “the more wealth and power one has the more they want, and that those lusting unlimited wealth, and power, are generally either Republicans or avid conservative Republican supporters” because conservatives are selfish, money-grubbing greed monsters who care only about themselves.
Or, at least that’s what someone who goes by the mysterious moniker “Rmuse” writes in PoliticusUSA, the way left-wing online information source that panders to liberals.
Liberals and conservatives are by no means the only groups to be otherized. The LGBTQ community is otherized. Women are otherized. Children with special needs are otherized. Muslims are otherized. Jews are otherized. Minorities are otherized.
This happens across the board. It doesn’t just go from right to left or from left to right.
We otherize rural, blue collar workers without college degrees as rednecks or white trash or worse. We otherize those who work in the upper echelons of Wall Street as cold, ruthless, materialistic, heartless, selfish pigs. We otherize politicians as corrupt, self-interested cronyists.
Otherizing. It’s like labeling and stereotyping and bullying and marginalizing all rolled up into one. And although it tends to be out-of-the-mainstream groups that are the victims of this disdain, it’s probably also true that most of us are guilty of otherizing anyone we don’t understand, anyone we disagree with, anyone we’re afraid of. We justify our dislike of and our distaste for others by demonizing them.
When we do this, we belittle those we don’t understand. When we do this, we dismiss those we assume we have nothing in common with. When we do this, we allow ourselves to no longer hear what the other side is saying. When we do this, we give ourselves permission to look no further, to seek no further understanding, to offer no further compassion.
Of course, we complain and whine and cry foul when we ourselves are otherized in one way or another. And yet we keep doing it to others.
As our political and social discourse devolves into snarky tweets and pithy posts and nasty memes, we mock those we disagree with, we disparage those we don’t like, we pride ourselves on calling-out each other. On calling out others.
It is the others who are making a mess of the economy.
It is the others who are tearing our Constitution to shreds.
It is the others who are undermining marriage.
It is the others who are destroying religion.
It is the others who are taking our jobs.
It is the others who are ruining America.
It is the others from whom we need to take our country back.
Otherizing is so easy, but what do we hope to gain from it? Seems like all this demonizing and maligning and stereotyping and labeling isn’t getting us very far. Seems like marginalizing each other isn’t helping us much. Otherizing has proven to be a pretty effective political tool, appealing to our basest instincts, but once the elections are won, what good does it do? For how long are we going to demonize each other? For how long are we going to willfully, intentionally, purposefully pit ourselves against one another? For how long are we going to keep otherizing each other out of fear or hate or anger?
Because that’s what otherizing stems from: fear, hate, anger. Also ignorance. And intolerance.
Otherizing comes from nothing good. And it ends up doing nothing good.
So let’s stop otherizing each other. Let’s put an end to demonizing and maligning and stereotyping and labeling. Let’s instead strive to see the good in each other. Let’s make a point of finding common ground. Let’s do whatever we can to pull together. Let’s lift each other up.
The truth is that otherizing each other is costing us plenty. The further away we get from one another, the more difficult it is to come together. The less we listen to one another, the harder it is to hear anything anyone else is saying. The more we refuse to understand one another, the easier it is to demonize others. We become less open-minded. We become less tolerant of other ideas and of other people. We become less willing to compromise. We become less able to find common ground.
But listening, hearing, and understanding each other? That doesn’t cost much. Maybe it costs a little time and a little energy. Maybe it taxes our hearts and minds, forcing us to tackle our fears, to stare-down our assumptions. But when we do listen to each other, when we do hear each other, when we do understand each other, well, it pays off in dividends.
I’m willing to suffer the costs and taxes of listening and hearing and understanding. I’m willing to try to come together, to hear what others are saying, to avoid demonizing other people. Because I think ending the otherizing will pay off in dividends by lifting each other up and welcoming one and all so that, together, we can, actually, make this country even greater than ever.
Will you join me?