To My Friends Across the Political Divide
A New Year’s plea to those who support the old regime
Editor’s note: Normally, we start every week with our Editor’s Corner column. Beginning this week, however, we’ll be running the column every Sunday rather than on Monday. So keep an eye out for it this coming weekend. Meanwhile, here’s a wonderful new essay by Martin Gurri that we think you’ll really enjoy. Wishing you and yours a happy and prosperous 2024. The Editors
This is me talking about politics to myself. If you disagree with me, you may never see this; my words are immured within an anti-establishment information ghetto and can’t easily reach you. If in defiance of all odds you come across them, you will likely dismiss me and my words as dangerous nonsense. There’s a ghetto of the mind, too.
I’m talking to myself but I want to talk with you, with all of you who disagree. It’s a new year. Hope springs eternal. I don’t do resolutions—sad tokens of human failure—but if I did, it would be to keep talking, talking, talking because someone might hear.
We are a nation of rules. American politics and government are defined by rules. “Our democracy” is an empty abstraction: It doesn’t really exist. Instead, we have rules and procedures for choosing those who govern us and for holding them accountable. The rules aren’t immutable; they evolve, but slowly and with care. This feels boring and uninspiring. It was designed to be that way and it is precisely what makes our country great. If you want excitement, you’ll get a Fidel Castro. That’s the place I came from—a land of political overstimulation and seven decades of tyranny.
We are a nation of rules and the rules are boring. Embrace that. In times of difficulty, go with the boring option. When faced with a frightening crisis, tamp it down with ultra-boring moves. No matter what, stick with the rules.
I can’t avoid talking about Donald Trump but I’m going to make it brief. I know you don’t like him; neither do I. But let’s assume he’s only a politician. He’s not Hitler, Godzilla or the Beast of the Apocalypse—just a guy with a loud mouth and a desperate need for attention. Most Americans think of him that way.
This is not about him. It’s about you.
When you demonize those who disagree with you, you invite treatment in kind. When you refuse to engage in political argument and resort to performative moralizing, you make it clear to any neutral observer that for you there’s only one side, one opinion, one conformist crowd that can ever govern legitimately. The rest are disgusting subhumans who should never be tolerated near the levers of power. When you trample on the rules that say “all are created equal” like that, you are destroying the fabric that holds the country together. And believe me when I say this: You will reap the whirlwind.
Free speech is a rule among us. It’s closely bound to the search for truth. When you justify state censorship, you pitch your camp in the kingdom of lies. And believe me: The chaos you impose from above will erupt with a million times the force and consume you from below.
The law exists to maintain order. It’s not for settling our political disputes. That’s the rule. When you criminalize dissent and equate nonconformity with terrorism, you have lost the thread of how this country works. When you joke about putting opponents in reeducation camps so they can be converted into loyal followers, you channel the regime in Cuba. When you prosecute an opposition presidential candidate, you practice the same style of mafia politics as Vladimir Putin in Russia. When you ban a candidate’s name from the ballot to preserve “our democracy,” you sound, frankly, like you have gone nuts. And believe me: It will come back to haunt you.
You and I may disagree but I have no wish to dismiss you as a moral abomination, or prosecute you for your political views or disqualify the candidates you prefer. Disagreement is information—it’s a favor you do to me, by calling out the potential gaps and the mistakes in the opinions I hold. I realize that in the excitement of the moment, it feels like an enormous gulf separates us. But that is only true if you want it to be: Distance is always a matter of perspective. And you know perfectly well that in your family and among your friends there are individuals who disagree with you politically—people just like you except for this one little thing. You and they are not so different. From where I stand, you and I are not so distant.
The two big parties will nominate their candidates. A few outsiders may find their way into the ballot. We, the American people, as we have done for more than two centuries, will choose among them. The results will be counted state by state and sent to the Electoral College. Those are the rules. If you mess with them, there will be hell to pay. If your side wins, be boring about it—no censorship, no demonization, no show trials. People will love you for it. If your side loses, ask yourself why. Fake news? Russian manipulation? Systemic racism? The totalitarian temptation? Each of those narratives is an insult to the American people, for whom you must retain some vestige of affection and respect.
If your side loses, look in the mirror. You are the reason your side lost in 2016. A man like Trump can only get elected because he’s not you and there are few alternatives. Reflect on how you can win back those who feel so disenfranchised that they would vote for such a man over your choice.
Whatever the outcome, we’ll have to live together. Talk of resistance and civil war is exciting but self-destructive. Be boring instead. Look for common ground in politics. If there is none, then look to our common humanity. Our differences of opinion may seem profound but all of us want what is best for our families, the neighborhoods we live in and the country we love. We can raise our voices in anger but there should be no malice in this debate. If, after the death in battle of 700,000 Americans, Lincoln could feel malice toward none of the enemy, we can do the same after a presidential election—win or lose.
I’m only a voice crying out from inside a media ghetto, but I wish that you could hear me and we could find a way to talk. I wish we could push aside the worst among us and bring the best forward to be the living heart of this crazy pluralistic society. I wish I could open your eyes and let you see yourself the way people see you. For all our sakes, I wish I could persuade you that the rules are the rules, and to break them is suicide. And don’t take it the wrong way, friend, but I’m going to wish you—and all of us—a very boring 2024.