Sunday Sermon: Politics Involves Conflict

I endorse this sentiment wholeheartedly (boldface mine):

Somewhat disparate as these accounts may be, what they tend to have in common is an aversion to conflict as such and an implicit belief that a healthy politics is always one in which the passions associated with it are kept to a minimum. The problem, put another way, isn’t actually division so much as the act of loudly drawing attention to it, whatever the legitimacy or illegitimacy of the complaints may be. (Joe Biden’s 2017 characterization of the good old days in Washington is a case in point: sure, there were segregationists in the Democratic Party, and sure they may have held political positions that denied basic recognition to fellow human beings, but an aversion to tribalism kept these disputes at a gentlemanly cadence so the system, ultimately, worked!)

In this way, strong political demands of any kind are pathologized as either a product of sociology or as childish outbursts from overly emotional political neophytes. How the political system is perceived to be working matters far more than its realities and, provided some mutual calm can be established between the masses and their rulers, these can safely be ignored or at the very least debated at sufficiently muted decibels.

To state the obvious: while it may have manifested itself differently across decades and centuries, conflict of one kind or another (not to mention outright violence) has been a constitutive part of American life, and not all of it has been created equal. Civil rights leaders who successfully campaigned to end segregation weren’t simply the mirror image of the institutionalized white supremacy they were combating. The same could be said of innumerable other groups and their antitheses, be they trade unionists, feminists, or those who marched in opposition to the grotesque imperial slaughter in Vietnam. Progress, at least of any genuine kind, has always involved excluded and oppressed people agitating against those who oppose their inclusion, and various cultural polarities have inevitably become inflamed in the process

The fact is that beneath the facade of intra-elite camaraderie amid televised partisan rancor, there remain deep and abiding political disagreements between Americans that will only be resolved when one side is defeated or lays down arms.

When people say, “If you’re not angry, you’re not paying attention”, they’re wrong. A lot of people are paying attention, but they would rather not be bothered by incivility and unpleasantness. Instead of dealing with a problem, it’s a lot easier, at least initially, to just yell at the people raising the issue. One way to rationalize away this cognitive dissonance is to equate both sides, rather than making a moral judgement–with all of the attendent difficulties that can entail.

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