The hostility being displayed between Americans today is at a level that is frankly shocking. President-elect Donald Trump's inauguration has his opponents in a fit of pique. But in truth, the fury and hatred displayed toward Trump's supporters throughout his campaign was just about as bad.
Plenty of pundits say Americans are more polarized than ever. But we seem to be uncertain about solutions. So what could we do as a society to cool things down a bit? Quite a few things, I think.
1.) Scrap the hypocrisy.
For starters, decide which standard of behavior matters. Then hold yourself and those you support politically to that same standard. A textbook example is Democrats' braying about the Republican Party's (nonexistent) war on women. But they have a history of supporting some of the greatest offenders. President John F. Kennedy was a philanderer, for example.
In 2016, the left was completely gobsmacked that voters on the right were willing to overlook Trump's multiple wives, crude language and inconsistencies. This time, conservative voters took a page out of the left's playbook.
2.) Stop lying about your opponents.
"Fake news" is just another version of "fake narrative." Democrats routinely come up with baseless accusations (think Sen. Harry Reid's allegations that former Gov. Mitt Romney paid no taxes for 10 years) and repeat them ad nauseam with ever-higher decibels of faux outrage.
Conservative voters accuse liberals of being communists who want to destroy the country. If you assume — accurately, in most cases — that your political opponents also want to help people, you might actually get to discuss the merits of their arguments to everyone's general benefit.
3.) Stop being so emotionally invested in the methodology, and focus on the results.
The left wants to focus exclusively on its intentions: "We want to fight poverty"; "we want everyone to have health care." OK, but intentions are irrelevant. They don't excuse policy failures. If it doesn't work, it's time to try something else, even if it's coming from the opposition.
4.) Get the federal government out of our lives as much as possible.
This is a much-overlooked cause of public rancor. But think about it: Very few of us have much influence on or control over federal law, and it is extremely difficult to change a federal statute or regulation, or a Supreme Court decision once it's in place. But this methodology has left millions of Americans feeling voiceless, powerless and resentful.
By contrast, it is far easier to have a say — and therefore, an impact — on the law at the state, county or local level. And truthfully, it's harder to demonize your political opponents at those levels.
5.) Be more entrepreneurial about problems.
The federal government is a very lousy place to try to solve most people's problems. It is bloated, ineffective and inefficient, even when circumstances call for radical change. The ability to pivot quickly in response to a problem is characteristic of small organizations, not large ones.
6.) Stop trying to perfect society.
I didn't say, "improve"; I said, "perfect." There's no such thing as utopia. You are never going to get everyone to agree with you, approve of you or live their lives as you think they should. And this is true notwithstanding the explosion of legislation or lawsuits.
7.) Use persuasion, not power.
Appeal to people's rational self-interest and compassion. Successful advertising, marketing and social media campaigns do this every day.
What do all of these things have in common? A belief in the basic goodness of others and a willingness to let them show it. That would be a good start.