Some on the left think Obama is evil because he kills and terrorizes innocent civilians with drones. Some on the Buchanan right think Romney is evil for wanting to arm Syrian rebels while the neocons say Obama is evil because he won’t arm the Syrians. The left has been painting a damning caricature of Romney for months, while the right is sure Obama is the incarnation of evil.
Why do Americans like to take such extreme positions? Something in us loves to paint others as evil while excusing the foibles of those in our in-group.
Many of us are sure we know who will be the best President. We know better than to trust the predictions of the most highly trained meteorologists about the weather, but in our far more complex political-economic system, we are sure our predictions are accurate.
Who would have predicted that a bipartisan Governor with little foreign policy experience would become a polarizing leader who initiated two trillion dollar wars? Yet that’s what Bush did. Maybe we’ve got the same type with Romney, but who knows?
Who would have predicted that Obama would not close Guantanamo, would kill Osama and Ghaddafi when Bush couldn’t, and would rain down bombs on isolated villages with drone attacks? Who would have predicted that Clinton and Bush both would sell out American manufacturers to China and enable the emasculation of Glass-Steagall leading to the 2007-8 financial meltdown?
Our basic problem is that we don’t look at trends and forces impacting the future. Instead we put our faith in single individuals. We are sure we know Obama/Romney is the answer. We confuse symptom and result with cause.
We can’t predict what the weather will be, yet in a much more complex system (the world’s political economy) we are sure we know who can change it for the better.
Most concerned Americans are fundamentalists. Whether on the right or left, they are absolutely sure their basic principles are right and the other side is wrong. Any politician who doesn’t come down on their side is evil and politicians who can’t conveniently be placed on either side are wishy-washy flip-floppers.
Sadly, because our political operatives are so polarized and fundamentalist, they can’t and won’t admit that each of their perspectives has inherent flaws. Until we come to that realization, we won’t be able to make any basic improvement in our political economic system. Our polarizing narratives have led to what systems theorists call a wicked mess. Wickedness occurs when people are totally sure their values and ideology are right and unchangeable. A wicked mess arises when polarization on assumptions occurs in extremely dynamic, complex, chaotic situations.
The way out is to find more basic, stabilizing assumptions which lead to converging narratives. Until then, our future will be controlled by those who are not limited by any principle but greed. They will likely succeed, as they usually do, in manipulating and controlling whoever is elected.
Someday, if we are lucky, we may find a leader who knows a truth beyond the platitudes preached by the right and left. He may then lead both sides to recognize they have common interests and common beliefs. On that solid foundation we can build a more sustainable America.
Without it, we will waste our energy fighting over who will have the best deck chair on the sinking Titanic.