We're Gonna Build a Wall: Echo Chambers and Modern Polemics

It is entirely impossible to have a political opinion all your own.

You might have a unique perspective, you might bring specific insight to the table in political debate. But you cannot maintain a political ideology that isn't shared with other people. That isn't how politics works, and that's certainly not how democracy works.

Democracy is a group effort, and therefore you have to pick sides. That is just a fact. You can find your niche, you can find your subgroup, but ultimately you're going to be on a team of some kind or another of some size or another. Weather you're a big fish in a little pond or weather you're diving head first into the group pool, you're going to be carrying water for somebody.

The problem is that where there's teams, there's competition, and when the stakes are high, that competition starts to really, really matter. Nobody likes to lose, everyone likes to win. What's interesting in this current political climate is that the stakes are higher than they've been in recent memory. You cannot be indifferent when Donald Trump is the Republican Nominee. You're either on his team or you're on another team. What scares the shit out of me is that these teams are about to enter a fight to the death, and we're all going to lose because we're all fighting for our lives.

No one ever wants to admit they're wrong. It's only human. So when you're on one of these teams - whether Democrat, Republican, Green, Libertarian, or any other  - if someone points to you and says, "I don't like your candidate," what you end up hearing is, "I don't like your team," and by extension, "I don't like you." We form these teams because we don't want to be wrong, so we surround ourselves with other people who also don't want to be wrong.

What I find troubling in this political season is that it's not just a matter of not wanting to be wrong. Everyone in this cycle is so goddamned convinced that they're right. Everyone thinks that they are on the right side of history. Trump supporters feel like they are on the front lines of reclaiming what they see as "their" country, Clinton supporters feel like they are the logical next step in the direction of progress, and Stein supporters feel like they are continuing a political revolution that will be judged as right and necessary.

The problem is when you surround yourself only with people who agree with you, when you tailor your social media towards self-validation, when you only read news outlets that align with your opinion, when you seek out agreement with your fellow teammates rather than engage in real, honest, political debate, then you've constructed an echo chamber for yourself. Donald Trump was right: we built a wall. And now that we've entrenched ourselves so deeply because we know just how high the stakes are this year, we are afraid to have our opinions changed. People who would have been natural allies even four years ago now are trying to tear each other apart. "I could not live with myself if I voted for Hillary Clinton." "You are throwing away your vote on a third-party." "Donald Trump is the only person who can fix America." "The entire system is rigged and voting is validating that system." Conversations cannot be held when this is what people are saying.

It's not just in the way we talk with one another, it's in the way we brand our elections as well. Think about what a literal and figurative rallying cry "Yes We Can" was in 2008. I particularly loved "Yes We Can" because it didn't have any first-person pronouns. It stressed unity, but more importantly it stressed support of a candidate rather than dislike of another. Even "I Like Ike" did this, though with more emphasis on the individual. "I Like Ike" and "Yes We Can" have gone by the wayside. "I'm With Her" sounds more like "I Like Ike," but the emphasis there is still on team building and on entrenchment. "I'm with her, not with him. I'm with her, because she's right. I'm with her, join me or you're my enemy." It's worse elsewhere this year, to be sure. Bernie or Bust. Never Trump. Lock Her Up. These are not supportive and they do not lend themselves to debate. Granted, "Bernie, or let's discuss this rationally and try to come to a consensus" is simply not catchy, and "Consider this critical choice you are making for the direction of our country" is way less sexy than "Never Trump," but you notice the trend here is in the direction of polemics rather than discussion, in the direction of hyperbole and sensationalism rather than debate.

But let's face it: who wants to debate when everyone else is wrong? Who wants to have a conversation with someone who hates your guts? Furthermore, why do we even need a debate at all? This is a moot point, because I'm right and you're wrong. Debate is hard. Talk is cheap. Make America Great Again.

I fear for this country because facts no longer matter. I fear for this country because rationality has no place is our discourse. I fear for this country because we're not even trying to find common ground anymore. We simply stand our ground, and we wait for the attack, and we entrench ourselves even deeper. I fear for this country because I think we've gone to deep, we've gone to far. I fear for this country because I worry it's too late.