Toxicity in politics today
Ah, the wonderful world of politics- full of respectful banter, cordial transfers of power, and always a direct indicator of the desires of the people. A world where authority figures always act selflessly and in the best interests of the general public. A world where we stand strong and united in the face of ignorance and hatred. Right?
Sarcasm aside, politics are a touchy subject nowadays. Party lines have divided our country into “us” and “them,” rather than the “United States” of our namesake. With our country divided as it is, toxic propaganda generally becomes embedded into our everyday lives from YouTube ads to Facebook newsfeeds. So, how can we move away from this toxicity and towards a less divisive system?
To help answer this question, American history can provide us with some valuable background information, giving us insight into new perspectives. David Wolf, an AP United States History teacher at Conant, explained the importance of history in our daily lives.
“It helps to give people perspective in terms of why these things are going on,” he said. “Especially for young people, because sometimes they need perspective. Understanding tackles ignorance.”
Indeed, history provides us with the context to glean a broader view of situations where we feel as though the world is ending. We can take a step back and learn from our mistakes by seeing parallels between the past and the present. By doing this, we can better understand the circumstances that have led up to this point and determine the best way to navigate through them.
Today, we are living in constant paranoia over a virus that has taken the lives of millions worldwide, a presidential election whose results are being contested in court, and racial injustice rearing its ugly head once again. While these issues may seem apocalyptic (and it may feel like zombies will burst from the ground at any second), we must take a trip into the past and understand that we’ve been here before.
Take one of the major issues that occupies people’s minds: COVID-19. This pandemic may seem insurmountable, but look back to 1918 and the outbreak of the Spanish flu, with nearly 50 million deaths worldwide, according to the Center for Disease Control. Or to the swine flu in 2009. While both of these viruses incited hysteria from the public, we still managed to make it through.
There’s also the issue of fighting over the results of this election. There’s a striking resemblance to the debate in 2000 over the counting of the votes in Florida. Overall, many who had voted for Al Gore and assumed him the winner thought that the world would end with the Bush administration. Yet, we still made it through.
Finally, racial injustice has been fought against for hundreds of years in America. From the Civil War in 1861, to the Civil Rights movement in 1954, the United States has seen people fighting for their rights. There will always be those who refuse to change, but there will always be those fighting for change as well. Even when it seems like all hope was lost with the assasination of Abraham Lincoln or Martin Luther King Junior, we made it through.
History can be tragic. It can reveal the worst parts of humanity, and demonstrate how we have changed over time. It shows us the mistakes and the triumphs, how far we’ve come and how far we still need to go. We can pat ourselves on the backs for what we’ve accomplished, but we must recognize the faults we still suffer from on the daily.
Many young people may brush off the idea of working towards an in-depth understanding of history as “just a graduation requirement,” but in a world where both information and misinformation are readily available, it is imperative to work towards the informed perspective that Wolf spoke on.
And this perspective is what will allow us to progress, leaving behind the ugliness that hatred has infused into the culture surrounding politics today. While fear-mongering and hostility continue to try to divide us, we must learn. And that learning isn’t limited to a textbook. Civilized conversation can allow us to remember that we are all human. Everyone is seeking happiness. We are all just trying to navigate an unsteady future, taking it moment by moment, day by day.
“History is an ongoing story,” Wolf said. “We continue on. When you look at history and what happens to people, it makes you want to make good choices.”
So, how do we move away from the toxicity surrounding politics today? To put it simply, we must become more informed. Being informed means gaining new perspectives by learning from the past, and, above all, keeping an open mind. This will allow us to bring about change and move towards a brighter future.