You’re not as righteous as you’d like to believe
If everyone were actually as patriotic and morally upright as they considered themselves, we’d be in a very different place in America. Acknowledging our flaws and the complex nature of the problems we face is critical to moving out of our present chaos.
Think about what’s happened over the last couple of years.
Robert Mueller submitted his now-famous report. The House of Representatives impeached the president. The Senate acquitted him. We almost had another Gulf War. The stock market crashed and then soared. we’re in the middle of a pandemic that’s changing life as we know it, and the Senate is holding a trial for the only president to be impeached twice during his term in office.
Be honest. Most of you already forgot we were likely one dead American soldier away from a serious conflict with Iran.
In 2016, Russian chess grandmaster and political activist Garry Kasparov observed, “The point of modern propaganda isn’t only to misinform or push an agenda. It is to exhaust your critical thinking, to annihilate truth.”
And we’re all exhausted.
With the onslaught of information, I often find myself staring blankly at my phone because I’m supposed to have an opinion about everything. Donald Trump is the best. Or the worst. Black lives matter. Or they all do. The election was stolen or that sentiment is just a pack of political lies.
When we’re overloaded, we look for shortcuts. Instead of thinking carefully, we make a complicated world as simple as possible.
Too many of my liberal friends imbibe a steady drip of self-loathing wokeness that provides the moral superiority to dismiss half the country as racist bumpkins unworthy of the secular humanist gospel they’re dishing out. Some have even started flirting with Marxist ideology that literally led to the deaths of tens of millions over the last century.
On the other hand, my fellow conservatives have largely abandoned principles of liberty and a healthy skepticism of government power in favor of unbending loyalty to a man who isn’t the president anymore. We’ve reached the point where it’s easier for an elected official to explain a scandalous affair than disagree with a false political narrative from his or her own party.
In either camp, the question is whether you’re a true believer or not. No longer is the difference a reasoned disagreement over ideas, but rather the divergence between good and evil.
And every last one of us thinks we’re on the right side.
We need to be a little more circumspect. Our absolute sense of righteousness gives way to dogmas which kill curiosity and remove our ability to give any ground. The hardened battle lines are also a reason I left my job in Congress to start a non-profit that invests in projects which reinforce character. As a refresher, character means doing what’s right even when it’s hard.
Most of us learned that as children. Too many of us have since convinced ourselves that doing what’s right when it’s easy demonstrates character provided we do it frequently. As a result, many of us became tinfoil crusaders fighting a shadowy evil empire.
We know our cause is just because the people closest seem to agree. When we pick up our phones, a manipulated stream of information affirms almost all of our ideas. We can have everything we want if only we win the next election.
It’s a grand lie that conveniently benefits the political elite.
The elected officials that we voted for keep us focused on the ones we don’t support. In exchange for feeling like patriots, we do precious little to hold our partisan-aligned friends accountable.
We’re simply picking a team to ride-or-die with and hoping it works out. That’s perfectly fine for college football. It’s a bad plan when it comes to ideas and politics.
Next time you’re blasting a villainous politician on the other side of the aisle, ask yourself what you’ve done to question the leaders you support. You might discover you’re not a brave crusader, just directionally loud.
No one is righteous. Not even you.
Cameron Smith is CEO of the Triptych Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit. The Triptych Foundation promotes a virtuous society through investments in socially impactful media and business. He was recently executive director of the Republican Policy Committee in the United States House of Representatives. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.