Seeking Positivity Through Times of Political Unrest: How to See the Glass Half Full By: Mea Ayers

No matter where you lie on the political spectrum – far left, far right, or somewhere in between – most Americans can acknowledge that we are in a time of great political unrest. Some may deny this, commenting that they are “perfectly fine with how things are,” and have “never been happier” with our political situation.

Google Dictionary defines unrest as “a state of dissatisfaction, disturbance, and agitation in a group of people, typically involving public demonstrations or disorder.” While not every member of our nation feels ‘agitated,’ it is hard to dispute the reality that there is, indeed, a sizable ‘group’ of the population that are ‘dissatisfied’ with the current government. We live in a day where ‘demonstrations’ taking the form of protests and marches fill our screens, and uncivil statements made by news anchors, colleagues, and neighbors fill our ears. With a rapidly growing lack of respect for people’s freedom to hold their own beliefs without scorn or reproach from someone they know, it is no coincidence that Merriam-Webster’s first example of unrest used in a sentence is “the country has experienced years of civil unrest”.

In a time where news stations have become all-out war zones and not even family reunions are safe-spaces, it is very easy to lose sight of optimism. Many people look at a time like this and say, “What could possibly be worse?” You have a once “trusted” friend who, after an election, has become your greatest “enemy” and critic. People in the government have been fired left and right, and the incessant arguing as to whether it was “the best thing” or “the worst thing” seems to follow you wherever you go. People are afraid to say whom they voted for, fearing that someone in their midst will see their beliefs as the work of pure evil.

So why bother? I have talked to many people lately who have told me that incivility, specifically in our news sector, has kept them from paying attention to the news at all. They would rather be kept in the dark from national news than know what is really occurring in our current political atmosphere. They would rather remain in blissful ignorance than feel victimized by their own TVs.

Our democracy is meant to be an inclusive process, something that truly takes all input into account as building blocks to make the United States into the best nation it can be. It is not meant to be the source of great divide, a series of coinciding cleavages that divide issue, after issue into separate channels that alienate entire sectors of our country.

All of this chaos and negative energy sadly commits more people to the “glass half empty club” day by day. People are more frequently asking and telling themselves hopeless utterings such as,

 

“Will things ever get better?”

 

“What has this country come to?”

“There is no hope.”

 

“My vote does not count.”

 

“Why even care about what is going on?”

 

Throughout history, there has always been one thing that saved us from our demise: hope. Hope isn’t just willing or thinking there is a possibility that things can get better. Hope is trudging down that tunnel when you don’t see a light at the end, when you don’t even know if there is an end.

If we all waited until the light at the end of our tunnel became visible, for our north star or our omen to show us that we were on the brink of something good, we would never be where we are today. Some of the greatest feats to be overcome in our history, such as African American rights, were all as a result of blind hope. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., for example, still looked ahead towards a brighter and better future, even when things seemed bleak. When there was no hope, he created hope. When there was not a good future in sight, he willed there to be one.

I use Dr. King as an example for a specific reason. He held another quality that set him apart and made him successful: his civility. One thing that revolutionized Dr. King’s movement towards equality was his methodology. In a time of violence and war, Dr. King led the movement of peaceful protests. His silent sit-ins spoke many more words than one loud or patronizing statement could have ever made. In a time when things were far from civil, Dr. King discovered the large and crucial cooperation between productivity and civility.

Growing up, many people probably heard their moms mutter a thousand times “kill ‘em with kindness.” As a child, and even sometimes as an adult, such words seem dumb or simply untrue. In a moment of debate, it seems much easier and more productive to attack the other side with a low blow and hit them where it hurts. This is the world we live in. People have grown far too comfortable disrespectfully slandering their foe to delegitimize their claims. What these people don’t realize is that in doing so, their own claims lose legitimacy. While they may have a very viable solution to a very important problem, no amount of sweet-talking can cover up and restore the trust of constituencies into their lawmakers if they have seen them act uncivilly to another human being.

The future truly does lie in civility. If we hope to create a brighter and more efficient political future for later generations and ourselves, just as our founding fathers so desired, then we must posses two qualities: hope and civility.

First, we have to believe it can happen. I know it’s very easy to write off a problem policymakers are debating. You can lose hope thinking that  “there is no plausible way to fix this!” Maybe you feel that “the true bad effects of this problem will be long after I’m gone, so why does it matter?” If we just believe that when there is a will to fix a problem then there is a way solve it, we have successfully achieved the first step towards becoming more optimistic.

Secondly, you have to vote. I know this – somewhat – goes hand-in-hand with hope; your vote wouldn’t be truly authentic, if you didn’t hope or believe that one of the propositions could be a viable way to solve a problem. You also have to know that your vote counts. This can also be a hard thing to accept. How could your one, teeny-tiny vote possibly count or make a difference in a pool of millions if you are the only one that really cares about solving the problem and not just fulfilling a role on a partisan team? Just imagine a world in which every person truly believed that change was possible; each of those votes would be quite small, but together, they could make a tidal wave of difference.

Lastly, proceed with civility. There is no doubt we live in a world that constantly turns to violence over peace and incivility over civility. However, if there is anything our great leaders of change have shown us, it is that we are stronger together and stronger when we are kind. Incivility drives wedges through our society that truly keeps us from achieving our full potential. It prevents us from having an open mind to all ideas, maybe even the one that just may be the very change needed to make our world a better place.

 

The hope of a secure and livable world lies with disciplined nonconformists who are dedicated to justice, peace and brotherhood.

~ Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

 

Let’s Play Ball!

A Fictional Adaptation of Tribalism in Politics in the United States

by Mea Ayers

 

The bets are in. The Facebook posts are up, and the flags are out, lining the front yards. This is the day everyone has been waiting for. Countless hours of preparation and training paired with many days on the road have led to this built-up moment. First, there were the trials. Then, the lineup was released, and fans from every crevice of the nation – city and country, coastal and inland – began to anticipate what the future months would hold. Now, it’s here. The time has finally come! This is a day that will bring a great joy to many and a disappointing upset to an equal amount. This is the first day of the World Series… through the eyes Jenna and Todd Harrington.

***

“Aha!”

When she finally finds the mustard in the back corner of her fridge, Jenna looks down at her phone and realizes that fifteen minutes have passed. Fifteen minutes…

“It’s 12:07! The Party has already started!”

What could possibly be a better way to meet all your new neighbors than to host a pre-game barbecue? As she approaches the front door, Jenna sees through the window a crowd huddled around her husband in the front yard. She assumes the hot dogs must have been a hit!

She straightens her indigo sundress before opening the front door to make her way to the table covered in hotdogs. New York Yankees flags clad her front yard filled with guests. Could this day be more perfect? However, the closer she gets to the crowd, the more she begins to realize that the faces of her neighbors seem…far from pleasant.

That’s not casual conversing. No, that’s shouting! A crowd of angry neighbors is screaming. To whom and for what reason she does not know.

“Todd! What on earth is going on here?” She shouts.

It looks as if the hate is directed towards her husband, but she realizes he’s not the other person yelling. It’s the tall, young guy who lives on the corner lot in the small, red brick house. What’s his name? Joe, Jim, Justin? It’s something with a J, she thinks. She takes a look at the crowd and notices a color trend. Shades of red pop out in a broad range of attire from subtle red buttons to full red tracksuits and painted faces.

For the first time today, she takes a real look around her street. Somehow, she failed to realize that their flag is the only blue flag that lines the street – theirs, and the guy who lives on the corner, the guy who is yelling,

“You can’t rip down their flag! They have a right to have it there.” The man from the corner house shouts.

A middle aged man in a red jersey cackles before responding. “Right? Wow Jamie. You’re one to talk!”

A younger man wearing a ridiculous red morph suit pipes up. “The last thing we need is another person in the neighborhood supporting that team. One is already more than enough to handle.”

Laughs rattle throughout the crowd before the morph suit man’s wife takes the stage. “Yeah, Jamie. Everybody knows the Red Sox are the leading team around here. Their stats are good. Plus, they haven’t had the slip-ups your team has had. Need I mention the pitching scandal?”

“They never found any proof!” Jamie screams.

“Oh please. Everyone knows they’re to blame! I don’t care if there is proof. I don’t care if there isn’t proof. They should definitely be kicked out of the MLB!” The woman responds.

Jenna interjects. “Does anyone want a hot do—“

“WHY DON’T YOU JUST SHUT THE HELL UP Marsha.” Jamie interrupts. “Everyone knows you only spit back out the bullshit your husband feeds you. And he’s an oaf, for crying out loud. Everything he spouts is garbage anyway!”

“OH REALLY! I’m spitting up bullshit now am I. Why don’t I just go ahead and spit up some more!” Marsha takes a step forward and spits in Jamie’s face.

Jamie, seething, wipes his face with one hand and clenches the other into a fist. For a second, it looks to Jenna as if he is actually about to punch Marsha in the face. Feeling that it’s about high time to end this very… unpleasant soiree, Todd steps forward. “You know what, party’s over. Why don’t we all go back to our houses and enjoy the game there? Everyone can grab a hotdog to go. I think this way, things will be more…pleasant.”

The man in the morph suit grabs a hot dog, and proceeds to walk over towards Jamie to pat him on the back. “Have fun!” He says with a smirk. “Enjoy watching your team lose.”

“I’d rather see the whole stadium burn down than watch the Red Sox win. So you better hope they don’t or I’m going to raise hell!”
Dumbfounded by what they just witnessed, Todd and Jenna hastily grab their flag and tins of food and hurry inside. While Jenna prepares two places at the kitchen table, Todd flashes on the TV. A pack of men painted completely blue flash up on the screen

“The Red Sox Suck!” A man on the TV shouts.

Todd flashes the TV back off and makes his way over to the kitchen table. He and his wife sit across from each other, in silence, eating cold hot dogs.

Breaking the silence, Jenna finally speaks up. “I really don’t know what has become of this country.”

***

 

Visualize the two largest rival teams of any sport you can think of. Now, think about those two friends you know that if left in a room to discuss their teams together, the outcome would be a shouting match or brawl. This event is not so unique. Similar acts of uncivility occur all throughout the country between countless teams and people from all walks of life. Kids in middle school all the way up through senior citizens join in on the fight.

Now, pretend that the two “teams” you are visualizing are no longer for baseball, but for political parties instead. Visualize the banners decorating front yards as campaign signs and not flags. The analogy may be unconventional…but it works. We live in a tumultuous time for American politics, a time where people raise their voices and lose their civility. What does it say about our political culture that we can compare our politics to a temporarily consequential sports championship?

Many people can probably visualize a recent instance when a pleasant time was ruined by a political argument. Maybe you were having dinner at the in-laws’, travelling with your friends from the other side of the country, or just enjoying a street barbecue with your neighbors; maybe you didn’t physically witness this uncivility in person but were horrified by something remarked by a news anchor, pop-culture figure, or radio show host. Political incivility has no gender, no age, and no political alignment.

As social beings, we naturally gravitate towards groups, our “tribes” so to speak. It is very easy for us to associate with like-minded human beings, sharing in ideas and belief systems. It is also just as easy to lose sight of respect and bash those with beliefs contrary to our own. According to Psychology Today, this form tribalism in politics causes us to lose our ability to “admit the other side has a good idea because of our own egos, especially if we have publically criticized the other side and rallied for our side.”

While we may associate exclusively with groups that share our belief systems, let us not forget the tribe we are all a part of: The United States. It is OK to debate with others and perfectly fine to agree to disagree. However, when we value the well-being of our personal tribe over the well-being of the country as a whole, that is when we lose our civility. Civility demands, by name, a certain level of courtesy and politeness; it does not demand that we agree with others, but that we respect them and their well-being. When we remark in a manner such as the statement “I’d rather see the whole stadium burn down than watch the Red Sox win,” we are not only being uncivil to others, but to ourselves. We are all part of the “arena” that is this country, and we owe it to the common good of our national tribe to practice civility towards the people we share our home land with.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jimmy Kimmel’s “Lie Witness News”: A Testament to the Growing Unawareness and Incivility of American Voters

Mea Ayers is a high school senior from Houston, Texas who is serving as a guest blogger for the Institute this summer.

In today’s climate, entertainment opportunities seem endless. With bottomless content sources such as Youtube, Netflix, Yahoo, Hulu, and Google widely available to the public, one would think that global and political awareness would increase, right? While Americans are, no doubt, becoming more aware of some events, an online survey from Statista illustrates that only 37% of Americans utilize their internet access to “look for news and information about politics.”

In contrast, many of the nation’s younger citizens appear to occupy their screen time surfing the vast streaming sites that offer whole seasons of kitschy reality shows, the latest and greatest movies, and quarter-hour-long skits referred to as “vlogs.” While many of these videos offer nothing more than a good laugh, a new binge, or a calming antidote to a long day, some offer as many striking yet true insights as laughs. One comedic sketch periodically put on by the late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel is both humorous and alarming: it exposes the very nature of some of the voters that make up our democracy.

“Lie Witness News” sketches are comprised of two parts: one seemingly innocent yet absurdly false question and a group of American interviewees randomly selected off the streets of L.A. According to Time, Kimmel “repeatedly [gets an] unsuspecting passerby to reveal that they may not be as informed on a variety of topics as they think.” Topics range from Beauty Products to the Fourth of July all the way up through Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. The objective of the game is simple: ask the general population about large (and untrue) current events, seeing how much they think they know.

With a title like “Lie Witness News,” one can only anticipate the embarrassing outcome of asking the public if they have heard about “the twitter war between Donald Trump and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.” People offered input over the “controversy” of Dr. King failing to show up to President Trump’s Inauguration (an impossible feat) as well as Dr. King’s “Time on the ‘Celebrity Apprentice’” (simply untrue). Interviewed Americans were all too quick to comment on a modern social media fight that supposedly took place between the President of the United States and a revolutionary historical figure… who was assassinated during the 1960s.

Interview candidates also had interesting commentary on President Obama’s “planned 4th of July confederate flag burning with the last surviving Tuskegee Airman and the Wu Tang Clan.” One interviewee responded that he is “a little” excited and “will” be watching the supposed flag burning, while another reports that he has not only been discussing these 4th of July related “issues” with his friends, but “heard about [them] a month ago.”

While such responses from the public seem humorous on the surface, as one couldn’t possibly believe the California Governor decided to “reschedule the 4th of July to February,” the confidence of the public in their absurd answers proves slightly frightening in a nation that runs off of the rules of democracy and the expectation that every member of society adequately educate themselves on the local and federal political atmosphere.

Despite the obvious conflict of the growing unawareness of the American people presented by this seemingly harmless skit, another problem lies just beneath the surface. Interviewed candidates that chimed in on the debates of these supposed “incidents” were all too quick to take a side. When asked something slightly more important, such as “should Hillary Clinton be impeached,” each person fired back quickly with a definite side and slander on hand, despite that Hillary Clinton is not, in fact, the President.

One interviewee stated on Hillary Clinton’s Impeachment that “she should definitely be out.” When asked “on what crimes,” the same person responded with “I’m not a political person at all, so I really have no clue.” Such a response only highlights the tendency of Americans to polarize, whether they are informed or uninformed, simply for the sake of taking a side. Tendencies and aggression such as these are no doubt major factors that are contributing to the brutal political climate we live in today.

Perhaps the most striking information gathered from the last interviewee’s commentary is that they are “not a political person.” Arguably the main conflict confronting our American political culture today is that there are millions of people who feel they are “not political people” who still tightly grasp onto their partisan ideals. By adopting this belief about themselves, these people give themselves the false reassurance that they don’t need to actually carry out the procedures that every American should when it comes to politics.

While the future of our government is uncertain, one thing is for sure: we are all political people, whether we know it or not. By definition, a democracy is a political system involving a consensus by the whole population. Therefore, if it is a political institution involving everybody, then every person is a “political person.”

Proper participation in democracy calls us to not only actively participate (vote!), but to also use our newly abundant resources to do our research. It is all too easy to follow the ideals of our persuasive neighbors or go into a local election voting a straight ballot. Many would read these warning signs as early indications of an unsalvageable ship, something that is too far-gone and not worth our time. However, if “Lie Witness News” has shown us anything optimistic, it is that we do, indeed, have more access than ever to information with streaming websites and databases. Therefore we owe it to ourselves and our country to carve out a little time and do our research before making another comment on any current event. To us, it may only seem like a small task with a small return; however we will, with civility, be changing our political culture, one less lie at a time.