“What’s in a name?”
I’ve been asking myself that question a lot recently, and not just because this past Saturday marked the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death! It’s a question that comes to mind when I consider today’s political climate and the enmity between the mimetic doubles more commonly known as the Democrat and Republican parties.
To say that the political parties are the same is scandalous according to mainstream culture, and I acknowledge that there are some real and important differences between most members of the two parties. Yet in the quest for power and profit, leaders from each of the major parties have more similarities than differences, with greed, faith in violence, and a desire to “win” or retain power washing away major distinctions.
Corporate profits dictate policy far more than the will of the people that the elected officials are purported to represent. In fact, a recent study has determined that the will of the vast majority of people has no effect at all on policy making. Instead, large corporate donors contribute to both political parties to insure their interests are met. Because people tend to work for those who pay them, representatives are often more beholden to their donors than the will of their voters, making differences between many of the policies of each party more nominal than substantial.
While Republicans may pride themselves on being more responsible with money, decrying “big government spending,” the fact is that more than 50% of every tax dollar goes to the defense department, which Republicans leaders (along with many Democrats) would like to increase. Social welfare programs, meanwhile, are championed by many Democratic voters but are decreased or privatized under both Democratic and Republican leadership. And on the issue that most concerns me, namely, whether the United States will continue her quest for imperial control of the world or humble herself and become a partner in peace, there is near bipartisan consensus among the powerful to continue to wage wars for resources and power. While the Global War on Terror may have begun under a Republican administration, it has been expanded and extended – with drone warfare killing mostly civilians in seven countries — under a Democratic one. The fact is, from the standpoint of most of the world, it is hard to see much difference between the leaders of both parties when both are covered in blood.
With policies that contradict the rhetoric of both parties, partisan identification is increasingly rooted in a sense of “over-and-against” identity rather than actual policy outcomes. Forces of power and greed, wielded by the most wealthy and the politicians who work for them but beyond even their control, find value in keeping partisan warfare alive while ensuring that many of the policies of both parties are financially beneficial to them, to the detriment of the nation and the world. The enmity between the parties, fueled by the media and conventional wisdom, keeps the public divided by labels while unconsciously united in our lack of influence.
But it need not be this way.
Too often, a mental block against a party label keeps us from seeing the good in a politician’s proposals and actions, and likewise prevents us from being critical of those in the party with which we idenitfy. Too often, we interpret the rhetoric of an opposing party in the worst possible light. While we cannot afford to be naïve, we also cannot afford to be overly cynical and hostile. We cannot afford to nurture enmity, no matter how wrong we may think someone is, because we absolutely need to work together in every way possible to change a corrupt political system that is having a devastating effect on the whole world. And when we nurture enmity in ourselves, we inevitably nurture enmity in others, further deepening the chasm between us.
Regardless of political party, most of us would like to live in a democracy rather than an oligarchy. We can come together to demand the reduction of the influence of money in politics, which would be a gateway for leaders to listen and respond to nearly all other concerns, but often other divides keep us from doing so. But people from wide and various perspectives can come together where they agree, building more respect for each other even in disagreements. Non-interventionist fiscal conservatives can join with anti-war social liberals. Pro-life and pro-choice individuals often share a core of compassion for the vulnerable and could unite in helping to make the world safer and healthier for women and children. There are all kinds of unions to be made across the divides of political labels. When enmity no longer divides us, the forces of greed and domination will have to reckon with a nation waking up to a false dichotomy and working to help each other. Compassion and cooperation can have a powerful and lasting impact, awakening the moral conscience even of those who have been ruled by self-interest (which to a degree is all of us).
The spirit of enmity that is destroying the world is also borne out at home in political parties caught up in both corporate control and mimetic rivalry. Our potential to help the world – to replace warfare with reconciliation, reduce our carbon footprint, and build a prosperous peace — is significantly hindered by an inability to let go of the enmity among ourselves. I believe that political labels encourage us to look past each other rather than work together. If we can’t drop them completely, we must at least be willing to look past labels to the people who hold them, and come together where we can to make our voices heard. Our hope lies in each other.