Your Take: Combating the AHF
In the past couple of years, there has been an increasing amount of a term The Fulcrum’s Debilyn Molineaux has coined: the “a**hole factor.” The AHF is characterized by the lack of empathy and concern for our fellow human beings and the disdain for our differences.
We have seen this come up a great deal when discussing the complementary nature of progressive and conservative values. Where one group prioritizes the community responsibility to the individual, the other group prioritizes personal responsibility to avoid burdening the community. One set of values prioritizes liberty from government, the other liberty with the help of government, and so on. Neither is correct or incorrect in their values. These are creative tensions for us, the American people, to manage and navigate. It’s how we keep our democratic republic healthy; so it can be of, by and for the people.
So we asked our readers: What remedies would you suggest to begin extracting the AHF? How would you go about extracting denigration and humiliation from everyday political discourse? And how should we begin to heal the wounds that have sprung from toxic polarization due to the AHF?
The following responses have been edited for length and clarity.
AHF is ad hominem and it’s used to avoid addressing the issues in an adult manner in a proper debate. One attacks the other person rather than address the issue and nothing gets done. Although it keeps the duopoly in business by creating a straw man opponent. Educate the electorate to ask intelligent questions that either demonstrate the lack of difference between the parties or their lack of serious solutions to the issues facing the country. It would also be nice to have a media that educates rather than only entertains. -Michael Bannerman
No one can be responsible for how other people choose to speak. We, on the other hand, are responsible for whom we choose to listen to. Just as the best way to get out of a closed loop in one's own thoughts is to overwrite it with a new subject, we as a culture need to overwrite the gossip, rumor, innuendo, fake news, trash talk, exaggeration, retribution and sludge with balanced arguments. Everyone is the hero of their own journey, but if they are rudely pursuing their own point of view, it means that they are either frustrated and probably have a weak argument — or the listeners aren’t acknowledging their valid points. Here’s the thing, our culture doesn’t reward finding out what we can agree on first before resuming the prizefight with, well, the prizes of ad revenue, prestige, sponsors and press. Better a mutual quest narrative with a common enemy than the us-versus-them tribal myths. What if we overwrite all the noise with where we can agree, first, instead of never-ever getting there? It might even evaporate many of the other reasons for angst. -Jon Denn
I think there's a tendency to believe the AHF is a top-down phenomenon whereby politicians and political pundits decide to introduce the AHF into their political talking points and we the people have to deal with the consequences. I'd argue instead that it's a bottom-up phenomenon caused by us, the people.
In supply-and-demand terms, the supply (political talking points) is always going to respond to and be influenced by the demand (the will of the people), not the other way around. Politicians and the media don't add the AHF to their talking points because they want to; they do it because there's public demand for the AHF. The demand isn't obvious to most of us in the center, but consider the fact that news stations with sensationalized headlines get more views and politicians with a strong AHF get more attention and news coverage. These clear rewards for using an AHF are strong demand signals incentivizing politicians and the media to act this way. The solution, then, is to fix the demand. The solution is to fix us. Until we recognize the many ways in which we are providing clear demand signals to increase tribalism and the AHF in political talking points, we'll never get to an effective solution. Just like the war on drugs, focusing on "solving" the supply isn't going to work as long as there is underlying demand. The best solutions are typically bottom-up grassroots solutions, and the solution to polarization is no different. -Travis Monteleone
As a teaching veteran who always dealt with the AHF from students, I have some suggestions. One is getting different-thinking people into a room together. If we don't talk with each other, we will never solve the problem. Once together, all statements have to be "me" and "I" statements and avoid "you" statements. When responding, one must start with a repeat of what they just heard before they can add more to the conversation. This worked well with children in a one-on-one situation, as well as in group discussions. But everyone has to come to the table willing to follow the rules. If one is not willing to follow the rules, one cannot sit at the table. -Lisa Parisi
We should reread and then rewrite the Declaration of Independence. Everyone knows the preamble:, " We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." That makes a good starting place, but read the rest of the original Declaration of Independence. There is a list of specific grievances, many of them still (or once again) relevant in today's world. It would be a good exercise to have a bipartisan panel create an updated list of grievances committed by either or both parties of the government. No sacred cows. Once a list is agreed upon (probably ranked to account for unresolved issues), each issue can be weighed against the pillars of life, liberty and happiness. The panel should also weigh the current structure of our government to ensure that each part of the government supports the "unalienable rights" of the people. In other words, we need a new Continental Congress with the guts to confront our current government structure and streamline American democracy as a tool for building the future rather than its current structure that is designed to preserve the past. -Don Child
Simply said, arguing with and disparaging people who have views different from yours does nothing to heal our nation. For the most part, conservatives and progressives are both right and both wrong. Sit down and talk to people with different views. Communication is a great equalizer. There are things we agree on that are more important than those we disagree about. One thing I truly believe is that this is our country and somehow we must find a way to get along. We are destroying the best part of the United States when we get violent. We must talk to each other with love for our country and for healing for all of us. -Terry Gibson.
We’ve got to stop name-calling, whether that’s calling out liberals for “woke cancel culture” or blaming MAGA conservatives for everything that’s wrong in the country. Both sides are guilty of either/or thinking — “either you agree with me, or you’re my enemy.” Life is more complicated, and the solutions will be “both/and.” It’s when people start seeing the other side as “the enemy” that the real trouble begins. We’re all doing the best we can. We get up every morning, work hard, pay our taxes, vote, do our best to be good citizens, parents, family members, etc. We’ve got to remember our humanity in common, give each other a break and stop this silliness. Our country’s future is at stake. -Brittany Glenn
When someone denigrates me or someone else, sometimes I will self denigrate myself and then link myself with the original denigrator. -Craig Alciati
The AHF is tough to remove because it brings emotion to the surface and grabs our attention. If we appealed to the logic or thoughtfulness upon which people have built their values systems, it would be unlikely to rise above the noise in our culture.
My first, admittedly crazy, idea is an anonymous debate. We would read the candidates’ responses, which the candidates would have to write or type in real time from their soundproof room. They would only be allowed to speak about their beliefs, understanding of current events and plans for the office they are campaigning to hold – not their opponent. It would be like “The Masked Singer” for politics and would have the hook of mystery to keep people interested, no AHF required. Second idea is to find creative ways to force people to try on someone else’s shoes. For example, when it comes to the debate around gun control I’d talk to my most fervent Second Amendment friends. I’d challenge them to imagine that in our country there are just two gun control laws: 1) To own a gun you have to be a part of a militia. 2) All members of a militia will be held equally accountable when one of their members commits a crime or causes harm with a firearm, including suicide. This blame will be the same whether the act was willful or negligent. Then, I’d ask, “Who would you want in your militia? What rules would there be for your militia?” “ -Jenn Greenberg
While managing a large team at Apple, I started out with a "No A--hole Rule" but quickly realized it wasn't enough to disavow bad behavior. Creating a healthy team culture requires encouraging and rewarding positive action. As a business-driven organization seeking to bridge divides, we expect our political leaders to bring that same spirit of mutual respect and willingness to collaborate and compromise to find solutions to our biggest challenges. Unfortunately our elections do not encourage those behaviors. We need election systems — like ranked-choice voting and open primaries — that require candidates to win support from the majority of voters and disincentivize the toxic rhetoric that characterizes elections in the first-past-the-post system. These simple incentive shifts will change the culture of politics in our nation. -Sarah Bonk, founder & CEO, Business for America
If you want to change the AHF then we need to stop looking at issues from one side or the other. Everyone seems to be in camps and has to abide by the labels within. We need people in the middle. Instead of ideology pushing opinions and people acting as though they are better because they have adopted a label and an ideology, people should look at each issue as individuals. We need moderate Democrats and Republicans who can reach across the aisle and work on the big issues that face this country. We need people who care more about their country than ideology on either side. Until we can stop extremism on both sides and start looking at each other as Americans rather than bad people, things will only get worse. You can only be an a–hole to people you don't care about. Once we start looking at how to solve issues and compromise on our approach we can work together and get things accomplished. As it stands now, whoever is in power just rams things down each other's throats. If you disagree you are an awful human being and if you don't toe the party line or fit the label then you are ostracized. There are good ideas on both sides and we all just want a better country with a good economy that affords opportunities to everyone equally. -Robert Barry
My first wedding ceremony was performed by a female minister. She impressed upon us the idea that “respect” was one of the first things to lose and an underlying reason why marriages fail. Our marriage did fail, but we respected each other in the process and continue to be good friends to this day. I think respect is essential to have fruitful conversations with others with very different viewpoints. I also think a desire to understand the other side and develop a sense of where to look for common ground is important. Extremes are hard to bridge so reframing the conversation to a lesser charged subject may be necessary. -Daniel Howe
Extracting the AHF from personal discourse is a lot easier than from the AH's in Congress and their campaign ads. I have been on political forums now and then, and I ignore vitriol from opposing posters. I found that they will tone themselves down after a while when they sense I am taking the high road. It is simple. Don't use derogatory names for politicians, even if they do. Don't take what they say personally and keep yourself cool and objective. A more tempered discourse can often be sped up by asking them why they are so angry. If something is said that you sort of agree with, tell them so; don't look for stretched counterexamples. The discussion works best by not focusing on what you think or what they should think, but continue to lead them by asking questions. It often doesn't work to show statistics or quote research. It's likely they don't respect your sources, and you don't respect theirs. With appropriate questions, they can be led to think more deeply and perhaps more objectively. At the end, be sure to thank them if they maintain respect and courtesy. -Steve Wilson
1) There is lots of agreement on common goals but the rude and hateful disagreements seem to be on the how of accomplishing goals. 2) I think most people like to share their ideas, expertise and wealth up to some point, but do not want those points dictated or preached. 3) Respectful curiosity expressed sincerely in conversation can lead to a fairly equal sharing of ideas on the how without the implication or demand that everyone do what I do or what my party wants me to do. 4) I think voluntary tithing at any level and in any way is a positive action instead of negative debates of whether the government should solve housing and homelessness or whether taxing the rich should solve it. 5) I think we all can model good behavior to our leaders by practicing on a voluntary level what we might be goaded into preaching and shouting. Instead, simply saying what we are personally doing about issues in a caring and sharing way might be good for others who have an opportunity and safe environment to listen. -Joe Healy