I hate election season for a multitude of reasons, but few things irk me more than the upsurge in meaningless political “patriotism” that accompanies every presidential election. The ungodly amount of flags at political rallies; the bright stars and stripes that adorn our melodramatic presidential debates; the overwhelming hues of red, white, and blue that provide the background for every major network’s election coverage all serve to drown the public with meaningless rituals that supposedly define our love for America.
Both sides of the aisle bear equal responsibility for perpetuating the national contest of patriotism. Democrats and Republicans alike use veterans and coal miners as props to prove their alleged dedication to America’s future. Their incessant cries of “God bless our troops,” and “God bless America” serve as nothing more than a guise to cover their indifference to the affairs of the common citizen.
Unfortunately, these empty customs only represent a small portion of our nation’s mockery of meaningful political discourse. We have no one but ourselves to blame for the greater evil that continues to poison our political discussions.
Virtually every political discussion I’ve witnessed amongst friends or strangers, whether in person or online, devolves into a series of accusations. The phrases “you’re un-American,” or “you’re racist,” or “you’re weak” (along with the occasional expletive) seem to end most debates I’ve encountered. Oddly enough, I’ve never seen someone admit error or acknowledge the validity of an opponent’s point, even when forced into a logical corner. Instead, after a brief exchange of insults, both sides walk away with a smugness suggesting that they’ve won.
It seems that most of us have forgotten the point of political deliberation. Neither insults nor a condescending tone do us much good if the goal of discussion is to convince others of our stance. Sadly, most of us don’t care for convincing the opposition. Rather than attempting to prove the legitimacy of our grievances or point to the flaws of the opposition’s policy proposals, we instead engage in debate for the sole sake of looking eloquent and poised.
Don’t get me wrong: There was a time when I was obsessed with “winning” political debates. Few things proved more addicting than the sweet air of superiority I derived from crushing an opponent’s argument. However, there came a time when my brother pointed out that, despite having spent the vast majority of my life debating conservatives, I had yet to convince a single one of my claims. All I had done, he argued, was contribute to the contempt and animosity that comprise the ever-growing gap between our nation’s two parties.
In light of my brother’s words, I decided to take a step back from the front lines of debate this election season. I refrained from online political forums, ignored the “patriotic” comments of friends, and resolved to simply sit back and watch others argue instead. And in leaving the cesspool of political debate, I discovered the truth that my brother had realized long ago: Most political discussions in our country are absolutely worthless.
Following each presidential debate, I heard a multitude of students laugh off the childish nature of both candidates, failing to realize that their own debates mirrored the same political disasters they mocked. These students were quick to make snide remarks at the expense of the opposition’s average supporter, forgetting that, in doing so, they only strengthened the opposition’s disdain for contemptuous college liberals. But no matter: For a brief moment they felt smarter, and that’s what our country’s class of “intellectual” citizens values most.
For the most part, our political discourse proves just as false as the flags at Republican conventions, just as meaningless as the speeches given by Democrats to the blue collar workers they’ll continuously fail, and just as worthless as our insatiable desire to win. We’ve twisted our eagerness to champion a particular cause into an unmitigated desire to look smarter than our opponents. In doing so, we’ve not only helped to create the Trump-Clinton debacle, but we’ve also set the stage for future political gridlock that will undoubtedly come to harm our country for generations to come.
Nathan L. Williams ’18 a current Army ROTC cadet, is a government concentrator in Mather House. His column appears on alternate Wednesdays.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of Harvard’s ROTC program, the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.
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