It's A Trap!

A number of historians and political analysts have come forward to point out that the USA is falling into an old political trap: divide and conquer. We are an increasingly polarized nation, treating each other as if we're fans of opposing sports teams rather than a whole society looking to its best interests. As the left and right move apart, they leave a gap in which a demagogue fits perfectly.

Human nature lends itself to tribalism, but a nation needs to see itself as a tribe or it will fall apart. I recently saw a comment to this essay that asked, "So what can we do?" In this case, the "we" would be those on the left. I don't have the answer, but I suspect that a good first step would be to recognize the trap and avoid it. In our eagerness to protest - and why wouldn't we be? We're angry! - we fail to see how this plays into the executive branch's strategy of false dichotomy. We say, "No discrimination!" and the other side says, "The liberals care more about immigrant rights than citizens."

Of course, this isn't true. Liberals have a long history of caring for those who struggle to care for themselves. Conservatives (the fiscal kind) have a long history of supporting open borders. But we can't talk about middle ground when each side is busy fighting to score for their team. We've fallen into the trap. Who ultimately wins? The Trump administration, by consolidating their power.

I understand the anger. I'm an immigrant. My parents struggled with visas, finances, and the family we left behind. I'm a feminist and a support abortion right. My first instinct on hearing about the new Supreme Court nominee was to say, "Obstruct him! For the next four years! Let the right have a taste of their medicine." My reaction the new immigration order was that it's a BS political stunt that hurts innocents.

But all of that, once again, plays into the trap. Tit-for-tat is a losing strategy without cooperation. Who wins in the Prisoner's Dilemma? The jailer. Only if the two prisoners share information and agree to cooperate will they benefit. 

The Trump administration is playing this country - and our Congresspeople - like a zero-sum game. It isn't. We need our representatives in Congress to communicate and cooperate with each other - and this has to go both ways or it fails! We need to push less on emotional hot-buttons and more on the legislative gridlock that's tearing us apart. If we keep falling into a punishing tit-for-tat trap, we all lose. We lose economic prosperity, jobs, global power, and social progress. Meanwhile, the jailer wins.

The question left in my mind is: How do we get through to the other player when we've locked ourselves in separate rooms?