Nothing frames the context of a complicated subject like a weird metaphor. As I was driving to town one day recently, I saw a caravan of trucks hauling away the rides from the county fair, and oddly enough it reminded me of politics.
My husband and I discuss the political atmosphere in the country fairly regularly. We have many dissimilar views, but share basic common values. Our conversations are lively to say the least. One of the main things upon which we consistently agree is that toxic extremism is destroying the fabric of society, which was also built on the same kind of dissimilar views and shared common values.
One day during one of those chats it occurred to me that the swings from one political extreme to another seem to be getting bigger. It reminded me of that ride at the fair called Pharoah’s boat, sometimes it’s a pirate ship. I mentioned how it swings back and forth slowly at first, then with each swing it picks up momentum until it is precariously vertical. At some amusement parks they flip full circle. To this he replied, “Yes, but now imagine that if nobody is wearing a safety harness.” The metaphor came to an abrupt stop as we pondered that mental image.
I’m not sure that extremists even realize that’s what they are. It seems that they believe they are standing up for their rights, and must constantly fight harder to shut down the other side. Meanwhile, the rest of us are suffering from ideological whiplash as we try to keep up with what is going on, remain calm, and take care of our families and daily business. The biggest danger is that extremists are running for office and frequently getting elected.
The problem with this mentality is that it has a way of controlling the narrative everywhere we turn, overflowing with righteous indignation and constantly crusading to recruit followers. Social media amplifies even the most ignorant and outrageous voices, drowning reason and compromise as they carve giant swaths of division across the landscape. You are either with them or against them. In their minds there is no other choice.
So how do we change this dysfunctional system that benefits only a few? How do we snatch democracy from the jaws of oligarchs, fascists, out-of-state PAC money, conspiracy theorists, and lunatics? Well, besides a total overhaul of a system that is owned by corporate political parties and career lobbyists, let’s start by electing sane, independent adults. Silent moderates and unaffiliated free thinkers must go to the polls and vote for reasonable people who represent our shared common values. If two individuals like myself and my husband can thrive and live peacefully, then so can the larger groups in society.
The motto for the state of Arkansas is Regnat populus, which means “The people rule.” Ironically, Arkansas has the lowest voter turnout rate in the country, so those being elected probably do not represent the majority of the population. If you watch legislative hearings and votes at the Capitol, it does not take long to realize that the extremists are taking over. Our national representatives are exponentially worse, in my opinion. I think that a lot of people are so disillusioned with political candidates that they don’t bother to vote because there are no good choices.
The first step to bringing common sense and respect into public decision-making is to reject those who continually lob verbal grenades. Word and phrases like “indoctrination,” “woke mob,” “defund the police,” and yes, even “I’m a vegan and you should not eat that, it’s murder,” are red flags warning us that these are not rational people who can be trusted to take care of the democratic process. Knee jerk reactions and blanket condemnations do not achieve positive goals. These are vague, judgmental words and phrases used to manipulate the public. The intent is to whip everyone into a frenzy so they will vote with their anger, not their brains. Do they have a solid plan? Are they qualified for the job? Do they have experience that will guide their actions?
Complex issues can be resolved when people of goodwill come together and listen to all sides with an open mind. The unyielding imposition of the will of a few must be replaced by compromise and respect for differing views. The goal of any elected official should be to serve the greater good, not themselves, a few radical supporters, or their corporate donors.
Time to get off the carnival ride. Load it up. Haul it away.
Shelley Smith is a retired public school teacher living her best life in rural Stone County with her husband and a pack of rescue dogs. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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