Excuse me for bringing up Newt Gingrich again--I hate to admit that he is saying anything relevant to our current political situation--but I note that Gingrich is now going around promoting an anti-Islamic movie, and saying that we need a federal statute banning judges from relying upon Shariah law, as if this were one of the most pressing problems facing our nation. Gingrich is only one of the voices stirring up fear of Islam, which has also been manifested in anti-mosque demonstrations in New York and elsewhere. Somehow we were able to keep a lid on anti-Muslim hysteria during the Bush presidency, and maybe Bush deserves some credit for that, but unfortunately this form of hate and fear has been creeping out into the mainstream recently.
My biggest disappointment with the Obama era so far is that instead of approaching our national problems with a cooperative spirit, as was promised during the 2008 campaign, we seem more polarized than ever. I do not blame Obama for this, because the president seems to be one of the few still preaching that we should put aside red and blue, black and white, right and left, us and them, and start thinking about all of us being in the same boat. I blame us for being unable or unwilling to accept this message. It is not so easy for us to overcome our instinctual combative drives. Viewing the world in us vs. them terms may be hard-wired into our DNA. We seem to need enemies, foreign or domestic. We think that we cannot win unless somebody else loses. Maybe we should not have been surprised that after electing a president whose whole platform was built around commonality and unification, people have rebelled against that very vision.
This election season, the media can be counted on to keep us focused on which party is going to win, and which party is going to lose. Appealing to the voters' competitive instincts is also probably the best way for each parties' candidates to get their supporters fired up. But it might be more constructive to look at the election as a test of the extent voters will respond to negative messages of hate and fear, as opposed to positive messages of hope and change. The loudest voices we are hearing now are of course the angry ones. My hope, however, is that voters will tune out negative campaign ads, and turn away from candidates who appeal to hate and fear, and that quieter voices will prevail in the voting booth.