By Charlie McCormick
A new Monmouth University poll is attracting national headlines because it shows that the vitriol of the 2016 election cycle is causing people to lose friendships – and not just friends on Facebook.
The headlines are a bit misleading.
While 7% of the people say they have lost friends due to arguments over politics, 7% have said they have lost friendships during past election cycles.
70% of the respondents believe this year’s presidential campaign has brought out the worst in people – and that is a number we should be concerned about. Is the worst in people, the reality of people? And is our common integrity, civility, just a mask we wear? Or are people’s passions inflamed, and reasoned arguments being sacrificed in those flames?
George Washington, our first president, along with all the other founders of the nation – were promoters of the era known as The American Enlightenment; it was the thinking of this era that allowed America to be born, allowed our revolution to take root.
The American Revolution took place at a time when reason was applied to politics, science, religious tolerance, with a renewed appreciation for arts, music, architecture, and other disciplines. It was a time when people believed the human mind could tackle any problem with a reasoned solution.
In George Washington’s Farewell Address – his farewell to the nation he had fought and sacrificed for – he gave stern warning to what we see today in American politics. He saw America’s demise, he saw the death of the nation, and he saw this in the advancement of political parties.
It is worth taking a few moments to read Washington’s warning below — a solemn warning. Read his prophetic words, take his warning to heart, and don’t let this election cycle of 2016, or any election, bring out the worst in you.
Aspire to a time when America gave birth to a dream that has served us well; aspire to the revolutionary idea that human beings have the capacity to reason, to solve problems, and advance the world. Refrain from falling prey to having your emotions manipulated, your passions hijacked – and channel your passions into reason, positive action, civil communication with a shared integrity.
And remember that election cycles come and go, and it’s probably not worth getting upset with friends who disagree politically; in the words of one of America’s great philosophers, Ralph Waldo Emerson, “It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them.”
EXCERPT of Washington’s Farewell Address (bold added for emphasis)
“I have already intimated to you the danger of parties in the State, with particular reference to the founding of them on geographical discriminations. Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party generally.
This spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind. It exists under different shapes in all governments, more or less stifled, controlled, or repressed; but, in those of the popular form, it is seen in its greatest rankness, and is truly their worst enemy.
The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty.
Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight), the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.
It serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which finds a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.
There is an opinion that parties in free countries are useful checks upon the administration of the government and serve to keep alive the spirit of liberty. This within certain limits is probably true; and in governments of a monarchical cast, patriotism may look with indulgence, if not with favor, upon the spirit of party. But in those of the popular character, in governments purely elective, it is a spirit not to be encouraged. From their natural tendency, it is certain there will always be enough of that spirit for every salutary purpose. And there being constant danger of excess, the effort ought to be by force of public opinion, to mitigate and assuage it. A fire not to be quenched, it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest, instead of warming, it should consume.”