The other day, I was listening to the news as they interviewed a Republican political consultant analyzing one of the recent Republican presidential debates. At first he was describing how one candidate or another had either hurt or help their campaign by way of their verbal attacks upon one of their fellow Republican candidates. The analyst eventually stated that his party’s candidates would best be served by not attacking one another but rather by going after the candidates and positions of “the other team”.

The “other team”? Of course, we all knew he meant the Democrats – but I was struck by the description of the other party as being “the other team”. That comment encapsulated for me when I have come to see as a major challenge for our country – defining people who have different opinions from ourselves as “the other”. I have witnessed people from all sides of the political spectrum doing this.

When we create barriers in our minds towards other people simply because they believe differently from ourselves, it makes it harder for us to empathize with them – to put ourselves in their shoes for a moment. Taken to an extreme, we can demonize the other person so much that we lose touch with the essence of their humanity. We want to “win” and ensure that they “lose”. They become something less than “a person”, they become some “thing” that can be neglected, ignored, discounted or harmed.

Independence, Equality and Our Common Bond

Our American Declaration of Independence is an interesting document. Much it deals with the “repeated injuries and usurpations” of the British king towards the American colonies.  Yet to set the proper context for our complaints, our founders felt it was necessary to preface them with this wonderful statement, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

The King had begun treating us as some “thing” that could be neglected, ignored, discounted or harmed. We needed to remind him that all people are equal and have intrinsic value. Maybe it’s time to remind certain political extremists in our country of this fact?

America was built on a self-evident belief in equality as well as unalienable rights.  Such a system’s richness includes its diversity of opinions. Our story is full of political compromise. Our greatness was birthed through recognizing and building into our system the opinions and beliefs of all people. At our core was faith in the power that the common bond of us all being Americans was greater than those differences of opinion. But have we lost that faith?

Old Political Labels

How do you see yourself politically? Do you label yourself as Republican, Democrat or independent? And, why do you call yourself that?

Most people tend to have a set of issues or concerns that are what is most important to you and you look at the major parties and decide which one comes closest to being where you are on those issues.  The party that lines up closest to your high priority issues becomes “your party”.

However, Gallop poll results from earlier this year indicates that a growing number of people are defining themselves as independents (43%), out pacing those identifying with the major parties (Democrats 30%, Republicans 26%).  According to the Gallop organization’s report, ” The decline in identification with both parties in recent years comes as dissatisfaction with government has emerged as one of the most important problems facing the country, according to Americans. This is likely due to the partisan gridlock that has come from divided party control of the federal government…..thus, the rise in U.S. political independence likely flows from the high level of frustration with the government and the political parties that control it.”

However, here is something to consider in this move to calling ourselves “Independent” — it is the members of the party that vote for the candidates in primaries and determine who will ultimately be the final candidates from the major parties.  The “rush to independence” away from the parties that no longer speak for us leaves a smaller and smaller and more polarized populace who remain within the party and are ultimately setting our final candidate choices.   Although I support the idea of a strong third party, maybe we need to find a way to make a course correction within our current framework?

New Political Consciousness

Maybe it’s time for a new political sense — seeing ourselves as “interdependents”?  But let’s be clear — this isn’t a new label, a new category or a new party but rather a new way of seeing ourselves in the political arena, a new political consciousness. This is about taking the existing party structure and making it work for all of us.

What is an “interdependent”?

In my opinion, it is someone who:

  • Belongs to an existing political party or not.
  • Maintains faith in the power that our common bond as Americans is more important than our political differences.
  • Knows that the problems we face are best solved by our working together.
  • Supports political actions that are not only bipartisan, but transpartisan.
  • Votes for political candidates who will work in a bipartisan and transpartisan manner.
  • Votes against political candidates who are stuck in their political ideology to the degree that they will never compromise.
  • Holds to the ideal of “win-win” solutions for all and avoids any “win-lose” scenarios.
  • Recognizes that we are all connected and that people with different beliefs are not to be seen as some “other” to be neglected, ignored, discounted or harmed.
  • Recognizes that every person is created equal and endowed with the rights of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.

We are all in this together, there is no “other team”, it’s just all us Americans trying to forge the best country we can that will treat us equally and offer us all the same opportunity to experience life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

I’m a political interdependent. Won’t you join me?

Mark Gilbert

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Photo credit: IronRodArt – Royce Bair (“Star Shooter”) / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND