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We can do better

Our long national nightmare, the 2012 elections, is over. Let’s hope our country can recover from the damage.

As the political dialogue here at Duke suggests, the political discourse this election cycle was disgustingly polarized—and it seems likely to grow more polarized in the future. From my own partisan column in the summer (which I rightly got slammed for) to the vandalized Romney-Ryan signs outside West Union, the dialogue was dominated by hyperbole rather than reason, by name-calling rather than bipartisanship.

Today, this polarization is evident on Facebook, where we are shielded from the tempering effect of face-to-face interaction. It is also visible in the cesspool-like comment sections on news sites. As Americans, we have forgotten that we are Americans. We call each other racists, socialists, sexists, fascists, misogynists and communists—often without understanding what the terms mean. Some of us label any criticism of America “anti-American;” others criticize America so much you’d think we were the world’s worst country.

As I wrote in a previous column, “Rather than striving to bridge the gap between our ideals and our reality, we have split into two camps: one group that praises our ideals and ignores our reality, and another that emphasizes our reality and derides our ideals.”

We should be ashamed of ourselves.

Unfortunately, political science suggests this vitriol is no passing thing. Rather than being a symptom of the election’s bitterness, it was the root cause. From K Street to Wall Street to Main Street, American politics is polarizing. As the Brookings Institute found, Congress is much more polarized today than it was two decades ago—and this is because Americans themselves are more polarized. This polarization has resulted in gridlock, which in turn has produced one of the most useless and lethargic government’s in our nation’s history, with a Congress that has passed even fewer laws than Truman’s “do-nothing” Congress of 1948. In a previous column I called this worrying phenomenon the “invisible threat,” but this is misleading. The threat is a concrete one, for it has concrete results. If we don’t tackle it soon our country is going to get so far along in our drawn-out suicide that we won’t be able to recover.

Indeed, the process is already well underway. Our powerful economy is committing a slow suicide, not because of external factors but rather due to a series of bad decisions such as our ridiculous level of military spending. Despite possessing the world’s most advanced arsenal, we continue to devote 19 percent of federal budgeted expenditures to the Department of Defense. This comes at the expense of education and science spending, both of which are just as critical to our long-term economic and national security interests. As a result of campaign rhetoric, Mitt Romney even promised to increase such spending by $1 trillion during the debates. This disregards the fact we have a $1.1 trillion budget deficit this year, owe $16 trillion to other countries and spend more on our military now than at any time during the Cold War.

Fortunately, there is a way out of our perilous economic straits; unfortunately, it requires compromise, and is thus unlikely to happen. Republicans could raise taxes above pre-Bush levels, cut tax loopholes for corporations and reduce military spending. Democrats would have to accept reductions in some entitlements and think seriously about how to make social programs more effective.

While people may disagree with this compromise, for the sake of our country some sort of compromise needs to happen. And it needs to happen soon.

Now that the election is finally over, please—please—let us come together as Americans. Let us stop this slow suicide. Our problems have solutions, if only we can work together. Right now America seems like a ripped, muscular lifeguard who, when pushed into the pool, can nonetheless do nothing but tread water. The sight is pathetic.

We can do better. Why? Because we have done better. The past few months of divisive electioneering have been an absolute disgrace. Yet as Lyndon B. Johnson said: “Yesterday is not ours to recover, but tomorrow is ours to win or lose.”

Let’s win.

Mike Shammas is a Trinity senior. His column runs every other Wednesday.

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