American Politics Must Return to its Intellectual Roots

Mac Connors, Crier Staff

As another election is upon us, the end of the trite campaign slogans and the dire commercial warnings from both parties is in sight. While they are irritating during the campaign season, these slogans and advertisements are a hallmark of the American republican spirit. However, in recent decades, as our politics have become more divisive, the intellectual spirit, which once illuminated our nation’s polity has degenerated into nihility. While this dissolution is the result of many problems, there are several that stand out as paramount.

One of the most frequent attacks that is often hurled around today by those on both sides of the aisle is the line “you’re a fascist!” Fascism is not just a buzzword, but a political ideology that was expounded by dictators in the mid-twentieth century, such as Mussolini and Hitler. It consists of an opposition to socialism, liberalism (in the classical Lockean sense), democracy, and individualism. In other words, it is a political ideology which articulates a totalitarian state, used to control every aspect of people’s lives. In his 1944 essay “What is Fascism?”, the English writer George Orwell explains that fascism in most polity is a moot term, used to smear one’s political opponents. Orwell states “it is in internal politics that this word has lost the last vestige of meaning. For if you examine the press you will find that there is almost no set of people — certainly no political party or organized body of any kind — which has not been denounced as Fascist during the past ten years.” Orwell goes on to point out the specific groups that have been deemed fascist from conservatives and socialists to opponents of the war and supporters of it, thus showing its inconsistency and triteness. This flippant use of the words fascist has also permeated our politics in the present age. If I had a nickel for every time my liberal friends called President Trump fascist or my conservative friends called President Biden fascist, I would not be going to school here, but rather living in a mansion on the Amalfi coast. Rather than retreating to the same political name calling, those on both sides should critique their opponent’s positions with reason and respect. This will certainly go a long way in restoring the fabric of our polity in America.

While semantic demagoguery is certainly pervasive in America, there is another major issue which has plagued our modern politics. This issue could be summed up in the slogan “the personal is political.” In February 1969, the feminist writer Carol Hanisch wrote an essay by this name and published it in a femenist collection of essays known as Notes from the Second Year: Women’s Liberation. In her essay, Hanisch talks of the conflation of “therapy” and “therapy and politics,” which she simplies into the “personal” and the “political.” Hanisch argues that operations of personal life, such as a woman’s appearance, childcare, and the division of household work, are not only personal, but political in nature. Inevitably, Hanisch concludes that in order for society to be reformed in the ways she desires, all things that are personal must be made political. This too, has led to a massive breakdown of our political order. Today, people must fear the discussion of politics, as any criticism may be construed as a personal attack on somebody. If the liberal bashes Donald Trump, the conservative finds their hero and “god-like” figure desecrated by unholy blasphemy. If, on the other hand, the conservative dares to criticize the “sacrament” of abortion, the liberal explodes with rage over the infringement on their “fundamental right.” This is the very political order Hanisch wills in her essay and though her essay may deal with specific issues, the message of “the personal is political” has been extrapolated to politics writ large. 

To move forward from this epoch, it is essential that people stop thinking of politics as something which is composed solely around their emotions. Americans must also use reason and logic to criticize one another, not simple and musty slogans that should have died long ago. In the words of the Roman senator Cicero, “The wise are instructed by reason, average minds by experience, the stupid by necessity and the brute by instinct.” May Americans follow his advice and be wise when they vote in this election.