The Illusion of “Divisiveness”
|September 8, 2012||Posted by Adam T under General|
NOTE: The bulk of this was originally written in May, and has not been published until now.
For the early part of this year, and in recent weeks, the Republicans and the Romney campaign have consistently laid the charge that Obama is “divisive,” that he is running a negative campaign intended to “divide America,” and so on. The problem here is that making the charge is intended to do several things that are, in the opinion of this writer, very nasty and actually intended to divide and conquer.
“You’re being divisive” arguments make the problem being discussed seem insignificant, effectively making it seem as though no problem exists or is just not worth dealing with. In this way, this argument mirrors “both sides do it” or “two wrongs make a right” arguments. This implies that the argument of the person being labeled “divisive” was brought up in order to make people upset and fight with each other, and that the person who made the argument shouldn’t have brought it up in the first place. As long as people make such arguments, sometimes to distract deliberately, no problems can be solved. The effect is to distract from the issue and put the people trying to solve a problem on the defensive.
The goal of such arguments is, at least partially, an attempt to shut someone up. If it works, you do it more. This may also have the illusion of making you think that you are winning whatever argument you are making. And as such, by putting someone in a “you’re divisive” box, you are also effectively arguing a point, and putting yourself on the opposite side, thus being divisive yourself.
In many cases involving Obama and the Republicans, we are discussing obstruction and who is to blame for that – with the Republicans being the clear instigators as a rule, not the exception. We also see this play out regarding the War on Women and War on the Poor or Class Warfare. By making the “divisive” argument against any of those, someone is also effectively arguing that no such problem exists, or is insignificant, and thus should not have ever been brought up.
Bringing up problems and proposing solutions will necessarily involve a lot of discussion, even sometimes arguing and, yes, yelling. This is not inherently bad.
Sometimes, instead of simply putting the opposition on the defensive with a goal of making your side right, it instead makes your side seem less wrong. Admitting that it happens on both sides to yourself is fine, as it helps you to understand that one side is not completely pure. However, pushing the message that “both sides do it” implies that they both do it equally, more or less, and that it therefore has no meaning that they do it at all and/or that because both sides do it you should not vote for or support either side. That is what I find disturbing about the “both sides do it,” muddying the waters, Tu Quoque, I’m-rubber-you’re-glue ways of putting it.
If you think both sides suck, and you loudly proclaim this, you have a goal in mind. If you think only one side sucks but you proclaim loudly that both sides suck, you have a goal in mind. In either case, that goal includes distraction from issues. If you acknowledge to yourself that both sides suck and you need to look at them more carefully, then that’s just fine. It’s the difference between persuasion of others and serious examination of the issues. But proclaiming it loudly means you have decided to divide and conquer.