Opinion-Politics turn civility to mediocre sport

Illustration by Alex Bihm/The Collegian
Illustration by Alex Bihm/The Collegian

People were quick to call the government shutdown childish, but they aren’t acknowledging the part they played in this mess. If our representatives are bratty kids, it’s our fault for encouraging bad behavior.

Politicians specialize in telling people what they want to hear. Today, however, the political climate is incredibly hostile thanks to a vicious cycle of straw-man arguments, finger-pointing and name-calling.

Somehow, being considered an uncompromising politician is now a positive thing even though half of the job is working with others to find solutions everyone can live with.

American politics have reached such a stalemate that something like the shutdown was bound to happen eventually. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that neither side is willing to bend or talk. That kind of behavior is the exact opposite of what got them elected.

For years now, the political arena has resembled a literal arena with voters behaving more like sports fans jeering and heckling each other during a game. Even if they shouldn’t, plenty of people seem to enjoy this insanity.

This approach to politics does something for people. It feeds some deeply ingrained need to conform and find safety in numbers. It’s the same reason people will always enjoy mocking the opposition. We tend to cope with things that make us feel uncomfortable by laughing at them.

We love having our own views parroted back to us and reaffirmed with an extra dose of derision for anyone who doesn’t agree. It makes us feel superior. It quells any misgivings we have about our own stance. It works on many levels for a lot of different people, which makes it an effective tool for drumming up support.

One thing this approach doesn’t do, however, is allow elected officials to accomplish much once they’ve reached their goals. There is no giving or taking going on, just a bunch of people afraid to lose what they just won. What was once a line in the sand between the right and the left might as well be a huge fault line, for all the back-and-forth we can expect. 

It turns out electing someone based on their ability to trash-talk makes them unwilling to play nice with others.

Politicians are way better at this particular game than we give them credit for because, in the end, the American people gave their votes to politicians who fed their egos and told them what they wanted to hear while bitterly complaining about those lousy politicians from the opposing party who do just that. Too bad the combative, divisive, paranoid measures both parties took leave no room for anything else.

This is the end result of cable news telling people what they wanted to hear, people buying into an “us and them” mentality and people too wrapped up in their own egos to have a civil conversation about politics.

The whole “by the people, for the people” thing doesn’t hold up all that well if the people are happy to turn politics into a spectator sport where the competitors lose points for following the rules.

Why can’t more people get angry about that?