A Political Essay about Partisan Politics by James Bonner

Breaking Free from Party Politics: A Call for Single-Issue Focus in American Politics - Among Other Things.

In today’s polarized political landscape, I find myself an outlier, refusing to conform to the contemporary mold of American politics, as someone who has witnessed the harmful effects of party loyalty and ideological siloing. Our collective failure to prioritize empathy, self-awareness, and individual policies has led to a substandard political environment. When I talk about politics, I am almost always misbranded; to conservatives, I come across as liberal, and to liberals, I come across as conservative. Witnessing firsthand how we immediately respond to one another in such reactionary ways has made it possible for me to argue that we are way too quick to brand one another based on so little. And once the impression has been made, we tend to be branded for life. What makes our situation so much more complex is that this has been a strange decade for American politics. We have legitimate questions about the stability of our lives, this past decade has cast, and continues to cast a heavy shadow over our culture.

          My household growing up was pretty liberal, my parents were both raised in conservative households in the ‘60s and ’70s, and somewhere throughout their lives, before I was born in the mid-80s, they both challenged the conservative purview of their families and registered Democrat. And focusing primarily on developing social and humanitarian belief systems. In my youth, I never had cause to challenge those same beliefs. I still wouldn’t as I got older. I wholeheartedly accepted what seemed to be a foundational principle of liberal beliefs. A kind of broad-spectrum empathy that seemed more present in liberals than conservatives. I couldn’t unsee conservatives who were dressing their policies up as traditional and moral, making financial decisions that were marketed to benefit working-class Americans, but were simultaneously and underhandedly increasing profit-driven ideologies and promoting corporate decadency. It was infuriating, but what was even more infuriating was how conservative constituents would trust without question anything these politicians would say and distrust everything liberal politicians would say.

It was especially disconcerting that the constituents of conservative politicians—who were practically preaching traditional and Christian values on C-SPAN—were clueless to the fact that in their unending struggle to foster religious dogma into policy, they were behaving with striking, sanctimonious aggression. I grew up with the perspective of liberal politicians, who were battling for the individual rights of disreputable and unclean people, condemned for being Godless; while conservative politicians were making every effort to limit the human freedoms of immigrants, minorities, the disreputable, and the unclean, praised for their righteousness. And not because of their behaviors or actions but because they claimed to put personal value in Christian texts. Regardless of what behaviors and actions are being represented. The blatant hypocrisy maddened me. And so, I struggled with religion, and not because of my ‘Godless’ liberal parents who—although they allowed me to decide for myself whether I wanted to attend a church—provided me with the choice to either go to service or to learn about religion, whether I was reading or independently practicing. But because they strongly believed in developing a strong spiritual quality and the importance of believing in something greater than yourself. My struggles with religion were related to the hypocrisy of religious followers.

          As a young adult, I was a registered Democrat and continued to be until roughly 2010. I am neither a registered Democrat nor a Republican, I have considered registering as a libertarian and an independent, but for the same reasons, essentially, that I ‘left the Democrat party’ I can’t in good conscience register to vote for any party, regardless of the flexible interpretations of some ‘third parties.’ On the one hand, I was conflicted with the relationship between politics and our values. How are our values honestly represented in our political atmosphere if we impulsively generalize our belief systems to fit into a single political philosophy? And on the other hand, I was becoming obsessed with the concept of bias. Throughout my life, I have had five life-altering conversations that have either directly or indirectly influenced my worldview. I can remember each conversation with near-perfect clarity. One of the latter conversations made an indirect, although dramatic impression on my purview, and has since broadened my political perspective tremendously. Why was I voting Democrat? It had nothing to do with their politics and had everything to do with the general worldview of others who were also voting Democrat.

Voting Democrat had to do with the behaviors that I valued in people who voted Democrat. The most important behavior, in my opinion, is empathy—because being empathetic demands self-awareness and personal accountability. I no longer recognize that revered behavior among Democrats. That bedrock principle has since shifted to the aggressive, judgmental mindset, "You had better accept everyone, or else." While there's an unquestionable emotional benefit to learning and developing our attitude toward acceptance, the approach matters. And that's the wrong approach. The Democratic party has since lost sight of social equality and is focused more on tribal equality, and they maintain the worst possible understanding of the words, 'inherent' and 'truth.'

We [humans] have a strange drive to fault ideals and communities that we disagree with or dislike for all of the world's problems, either real or perceived. We rely heavily, and subconsciously, on labels, and we rely on stereotypes. Of which our political affiliations are one. Our problems develop when we collectively lack an emotional grasp of who we are individually and inherently. We are primitively tribal, we like to choose sides, and in that one choice, which is sometimes based on little more than reaffirmed sensibilities, we reshape almost everything about ourselves and our worldviews to reflect the same standards and beliefs of that collective. This is an enveloping concept that I cannot relate to politically or emotionally.

Politically, I focus on single-issue politics. And I don’t necessarily mean highlighting one issue over another, but rather that our labors should be directed to policy around individual issues that make sound, human sense—not party-associated sense for political influence or party recognition. This all-or-none mentality is not only stupid but also dangerous; partially because it has become so closely associated with what and who might be right or wrong. And now emotionally, I have a hard time separating the behaviors of liberals and conservatives. I strongly believe that our actions and reactions (our reactions can be more illuminating than our actions) are the measure of a person, and respectively a society.

Values are deeply rooted feelings that inspire the lens through which we perceive and relate to our world; our values empower us, and when united with the values of others our values are reinforced and fortified. Biases are deeply rooted feelings that exploit the lens through which we perceive and relate to our world; our biases cripple us, and when in collaboration with other comparable biases we are largely driven by misleading information and bitterness. What we don’t understand about our humanity is that we have to learn how to be human. In the same way, we have to learn how to listen to what our bodies are telling us; about being hungry, about our cravings, and what stomach and headaches might mean exactly: the cause of, and effectively treating the pain. We must learn how to both listen to and understand our body's expression of emotion. And to develop balanced, open communication between our bodies, minds, and the expression of emotion. Exploring who we are as individuals will allow us to establish strong, secure relationships, and having well-rounded relationships will help us to relate to and make better cooperative decisions. We will not only be better at recognizing sincerity in others but also at being sincere ourselves.

What’s happening right now is unnerving, and what’s more alarming is that most are actively fabricating reasons for what’s happening, without fully understanding much of anything; because we don’t understand much of anything, we accept our fabricated ideals as truth. I can’t help but wonder whether people are actively thinking about where our careless behaviors are headed. It seems that we are comfortable with the idea that five years from now things will be pretty much as they are now, while things aren’t great, they are at least routinely ‘familiar.’

We must know there is no guarantee that anything will be as tolerable in five years as it is now. The way that we are living, well, let me rephrase, the way that we are behaving—in a word, our divisiveness—is not sustainable in this situation; unless we focus on self-awareness and cooperation to improve things, our situation will unquestionably dissolve. These intolerable routines that we build our lives around, that we are familiar with and somewhat comfortable with, and that we cannot imagine going any differently, will retrogress. We must shift our mindset if we want life to be better in five years than it is now.

Our political arena is in dire need of a shift in mindset. Focusing on single-issue policies, cultivating self-awareness, and embracing empathy can bridge the political divide and create a more inclusive and sensible political culture. I hope we find a way to escape the constraints of party loyalty and work towards a future where cooperation and human values guide our decisions. Only then can we move forward together and build a better future for all Americans. 

Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.