Column: The political lies we tell ourselves in an age of extremes

A London work by the street artist Bambi, titled Lie Lie Land, depicts a dancing British Prime Minister Theresa May and President Donald Trump. Too many of us are convinced that our political opponents cannot tell the truth. Associated Press
A London work by the street artist Bambi, titled Lie Lie Land, depicts a dancing British Prime Minister Theresa May and President Donald Trump. Too many of us are convinced that our political opponents cannot tell the truth.Associated Press
Published April 25 2017

Almost all of us think of ourselves as honest, as tellers of the truth. But if you are like most Americans you lie — and often — about politics.

Let me give just a few examples of our political lies. Americans like to think of themselves as open-minded, but not when it comes to all things political.

Many of us will not listen to or believe anything said by a member of the opposite party. We are convinced that our opponents are evil and incapable of telling the truth. Because of that, we simply tune them out. We will not read or watch anything from the other party because we believe it is a lie.

Parents always tell their children that they must respect other individuals, even if they look and sound different from themselves. We must respect their religion, customs and ideas. Unless, of course, they belong to the other party.

When New York Times' columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote a column chastising many liberals for stereotyping all 63 million Donald Trump supporters as bigoted, racist morons, he was deluged with hate mail.

One Trump hater wrote that "I absolutely despise these people. Truly the worst of humanity. To hell with every one of them." You might think there would be one decent person out of those millions.

Another Trump hater wrote Kristof, "I hate these people. They are stupid and selfish. Screw them. Lose your jobs, sit home and die." How proud their children must be to hear such expressions of tolerance and acceptance by their parents.

Kristof wrote that it is unreasonable and irrational to dismiss all Trump supporters as racists, sexists and homophobes. Many of them may fit that description, but many more voted for Trump out of other concerns.

Both parties are making a huge mistake to lump together as evil everyone in the other party. How do we form coalitions to solve the most pressing problems of the nation if we think all the members of the other side are despicable, bigoted imbeciles?

Compromise is good. We can't always get 100 percent of what we want, so we must give and take with the opposition. A half loaf is certainly better than no bread at all.

Politics was once like that. More than 40 years ago when I started teaching, the governing norm of the legislative process in Congress was to get along, go along. In other words, everyone had to compromise to secure passage of needed legislation.

The "to get along, go along" norm has been replaced by "if you go along, get out." Compromise is not viewed as a positive condition of politics but as something to despise. Compromise is viewed as a sign of weakness, and anyone trying to reach agreement with the other side will be "primaried." The party will find someone with a backbone to run against you.

Abraham Lincoln must have been a fool when he spoke these words at his Second Inaugural, a month before he was assassinated: "with malice toward none, with charity for all." How idiotic must Lincoln have been not to punish the South? What a weenie.

It is apparent that our nation's politics is at a low point and getting worse by the day. Compromise is out. Polarization is in.

We blame politicians for our nation's problems, but take no personal responsibility in voting in those inept individuals who put the party and themselves ahead of the national interest.

Perhaps Kristof was right to suggest we need to establish an exchange program and send liberals to Kansas and conservatives to Massachusetts. Maybe then we will develop an empathy and understanding for the enemy. Hopefully, we will stop looking at the opposition party as the enemy.

One final political lie. We wouldn't have any problems if it wasn't for the (you pick) Democrats/Republicans.

Darryl Paulson is emeritus professor of government at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg specializing in Florida politics and elections. He wrote this exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.